MALAKI HARROD ponders ‘Oblivion’ and absence and Lacan
I am not the first to notice that there has been a worrying number of “where did everybody go?” films recently (look only to Will Smith vehicle After Earth coming down the pipe in a little while). Wandering about wondering where the all the chaps have gone is a lot of fun. It’s a variation on the invisible man trope. What do you do? Do you steal cars and go hunting in New York (as in I Am Legend)? Do you wander about trying to work out what happened (28 Days Later)? Or, as here, do you patrol the planet for mysterious “scavs”, and pretend to play baseball in destroyed stadia (Oblivion) and wander about the astonishingly well preserved New York Public Library (both Logan’s Run and Oblivion). Slavoj Zizek, talking about Alan Weisman’s bizarre book The World Without Us notes “this is the fundamental subjective position of fantasy: to be reduced to the gaze which observes the world in the condition of the subject’s non-existence – like the fantasy of witnessing the act of one’s own conception”.
To what extent can it be said that Oblivion is dealing with this same principle. Well, if you skip over some plot holes (so enormous that you cannot help but feel that they are supposed to be there – a kind of Brechtian challenge to the audience to remember – all people are human, all films are false, this constructed narrative must have fundamental chronological and logical errors otherwise – we too – are wandering a confused desert of reality and ur-reality and such) there is something going on.
So (and here, tediously, I suppose I ought to say “SPOILER ALERT”), the film is not without its plays and details on conception, on birth and re-birth (the banks of cloned Cruises within the terrifying space craft calling to mind any number of LA gymnasia and acting classes). There are pools and trips from outdoors to indoors within them. There is the meeting with the clone inside the desert caused by the loss of the world’s water. There is, towards the end, a genuine impregnation by a clone (and then – for family lawyers – a meeting of clone 1’s offspring by clone 2). So – it’s all about birth.