By now you've seen Oblivion, meaning that your brain probably feels about as contorted as a pretzel. Director Joseph Kosinski's futurist vision of post-apocalyptic Earth still reeling from the aftermath of an alien attack is insanely complicated, beginning with a lengthy prologue establishing exactly how and why Earth became the charred mess it is. But even still, not all of the back story is fully revealed until the very end, as bits and pieces of background info come together assemble in reverse, nearly Memento-style. It's unnecessarily noggin' scrambling, so here's exactly what happened if you're still confused. And if you haven't seen Oblivion yet, then, seriously, why are you reading this? Because, well, there are plenty of SPOILERS AHEAD. Also, check out 12 Sci-Fi movies we've identified that Oblivion blatantly rips off.
1. Aliens Came to Our World — Okay, well that's pretty self-evident. But Tom Cruise's Jack thinks the "Scavengers," as they're called, were defeated and mostly driven off the planet after we decided to "use the nukes" against them. He also thinks humanity left the planet, because utilizing a strategy of all-out nuclear warfare against the Scavengers destroyed the planet's surface, to found a new colony on Saturn's moon Titan. Also, at some point along the way the Scavengers destroyed our moon. Okay.
It turns out that Jack isn't serving humanity at all but rather the Scavengers, who actually do have a continued presence on Earth and basically won the war themselves since they're keeping what's left of humanity on the run. The Scavengers conduct their resource-gathering trade from their giant space station, the Tet. (I guess Kosinski had been brushing up on the Vietnam War.)
2. Why Has Jack Forgotten Everything? — We think for most of the film that it was some kind of memory wipe that prevented Jack from remembering his wife Julia, played by Olga Kurylenko. All he can sense is some deep connection to her and some fleeting snatches of memories of visiting the Empire State Building with her. But it actually turns out he barely has those memories at all because...
3. Tom Cruise is a clone! — Er, or Jack rather. When Jack was a commander aboard the Odyssey, a spaceship commissioned to investigate the Tet when it orbited Titan some sixty or seventy years earlier, he was captured by the Scavengers and his genetic sequencing was used as the template for a race of warriors to fight against humanity during their invasion. What memory engrams the original Jack possessed would be duplicated in the clones and twisted to serve the will of the Scavengers: So the real Jack is dead, and this whole film concerns itself with one of these little fake Jacks that's having a crisis of conscience. Seriously, for the whole movie we're just following one of the pluckier, nicer clone versions of Jack — a clone who's built a little cabin in a patch of woods, listens to a killer record collection of classic rock, and wears a Yankees cap to signify endless devotion. His face was that of an accomplished professional before the war, but after, with the Tet's shock troops all designed to look like Jack, it became a symbol of the enemy.
4. This Is a Lot Like The Host Isn't It? — Surprisingly, yes. Aliens have taken over what's left of Earth, and the main protagonist in this desiccated landscape of misery is someone who symbolizes the alien takeover, and maybe even is a representative of it like the extraterrestrial soul Wanda in Stephenie Meyer's film, but who has some key shred of humanity left. A shred of humanity teased out by...a love interest, of course.
5. The Kurylenko Connection — Jack and Julia (Kurylenko) served as astronauts aboard the Odyssey together as husband and wife. The real Jack was able to blast her into space in a hyper-sleep escape pod before they reached the Tet, so she escaped while he and another astronaut, Victoria, played by Andrea Riseborough were caught and cloned. To maintain control, the Scavengers paired the cloned Jacks and Victorias to patrol certain sectors of Earth, with the promise that one day they'd be able to rejoin humanity at Titan. They wanted Jack and Victoria to become a happy little nuclear family (pun intended). Only problem was that they were forcing the situation. Jack didn't love Victoria. He loved Julia! So when she returned, her escape pod crashing back to earth after decades in which she lay in beautiful, ageless hyper-sleep, it triggered all those memories and long-forgotten emotions cloned into him, making him realize the sham of his existence. Kind of like how the love square in The Host causes Wanda to switch sides and join the humans, Clone Jack's love for Julia causes him to be receptive to a band of human survivors led by a caped, cigar-chomping Morgan Freeman. They tell him that humanity has only one shot left: for someone to fly a nuke into the Tet, preferably a Scavenger clone who would be allowed in Trojan Horse-style to detonate it. That Scavenger clone would need to be turned to their side, though, and what better strategy to lure Jack than to strategically deploy the hotness of Kurylenko's Julia? The Tet was as good as blown up. And even though the Jack clone we'd been following throughout the movie would be destroyed as well, at least there would be many more clones of her late husband for Julia to choose from afterward.
Other questions about Oblivion to ponder:
Why does Jack's patrol flightpath only take him past the remains of iconic Earth landmarks?
Why has M83 composed seemingly a do-over of Daft Punk's TRON: Legacy score?
Why is Melissa Leo seemingly the brains behind the Scavenger operation and why does she have the worst southern drawl heard in any media since Jon Bernthal on The Walking Dead?
Are the Scavengers big fans of The Jetsons? How else to explain Jack and Victoria's stilt-apartment?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt