Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Overthinking : Time Travel in Edge of Tomorrow

"Come find me when you wake up!"
- Rita Vrataski
 
Warning: Spoilers abound.

At first glance (and even in its trailers), Edge of Tomorrow seemed to be standard sci-fi fare - marines embedded into powered exoskeletons battling a hostile alien force known as the Mimics in a D-Day-like climactic battle.

William Cage is a former civilian who took up a job as an Army spokesman. Circumstances forced him to participate in the film's central battle, Operation Downfall, in an attempt to retake Europe in a battle reminiscent of World War Two's Invasion of Normandy. He refuses and tries to bribe his superior, leading to him being incapacitated and waking up some time later en route to the said battle.

Unsurprisingly, he is brutally killed after realising that the battle was for naught twenty minutes into the film but not before he kills one of the rarer strains of the creatures (called an Alpha).

He then wakes up, en route to the same battle.

Time travel is a difficult topic to encapsulate in a medium such as films, and very few manage to do it (such as Looper). This is mainly because past films had to deal with the consequences of causality - especially since characters in such stories did not have the privilege of immortality bestowed upon them.

Edge of Tomorrow tries to subvert two birds in one stone - time travel in their universe only worked backwards and it was triggered by death and (perhaps most importantly) was only controlled by one entity at a time.

Essentially, the enemy was led by an a brain-like creature dubbed the Omega, which had the ability to 'reset' time and learn from the tactics of the human forces, essentially allowing them to prepare for the invasion from past experience without it having ever taken place.

The fact that the power can be stolen was a product of extremely lucky circumstances. Alpha Mimics were one-in-three-million and were highly resilient in addition to their already formidable combat abilities. To have a career soldier, Rita, kill an Alpha is one thing but to have Cage kill another while essentially being served as cannon fodder must have been highly improbable. Needless to say, the Mimics try to get the power back in the one way that it could be done throughout the film - by exsanguination of the current holder of the ability.

As such movies tend to go, there are a couple of plot holes which got me thinking and I've been trying to reconcile them in my mind (as I tend to do).

Firstly, how were they able to pass on their ability to a non-mimic host? I'm guessing that the creatures are carbon-based which would have allow them to easily infect humans from their blood. This is lightly implied in the bar in London where war veterans ponder on the purpose of the Mimic's invasion of earth and settle on the theory that they sought to gather resources that are needed by Earth-like organisms.

Secondly, the ability isn't so much as time travel but instead was some sort of time anchor. Rita was lauded for her distinction (as the Angel of Verdun) of having killed hundreds of mimics at the Battle of Verdun - which was later revealed to have been due to the fact that she has fought that particular battle hundreds of times a the previous holder of the reset ability. Her last attempt resulted in an overwhelming victory for the UDF at the cost of losing the ability due to a blood transfusion due to injuries. This sets the premise that people are anchored to a very specific time period once they are imbued with the Alpha's blood, albeit we don't exactly know how such anchors are chosen.

Lastly, the cause for the resets to trigger doesn't exactly make sense from a narrative viewpoint at first glance. The Omega could have easily performed it immediately after Cage blew it up but was unable to which meant that, like humans, it may not have had complete control over its powers as well.

Another possible explanation (and one that makes a lot more viable) is that the reset actually occurs much later in the 'present' timeline. This makes sense when we take into consideration the fact that the Omega doesn't perform a reset immediately after an Alpha is killed even if it is telepathically aware of such - which may very well also explain why it wasn't able to reset the timeline after Cage was mortally wounded before killing the Omega.

This, of course, begs the question:

How lucky was William Cage to have been in the right place at the right time not once but twice?

The odds are approaching nil - and I guess that's why it's called a piece of science fiction. For the record, it's a really good one at that.

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