Action Film

Edge of Tomorrow and the ending that couldn’t be

I finally had time to go see Edge of Tomorrow, the movie based on the Japanese book All You Need Is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Let me start off by saying that I very much enjoyed the movie, and I’m so very glad it got made. It will be one of those films that is slowly shown to people as an end around to get them into sci-fi stuff in the future. I mean, it’s got Bill Paxton being awesome, a very solid Tom Cruise performance where he isn’t running while looking angry, and a fantastic Emily Blount. The cast of supporting characters in J Squad is cool, and the characters manage to be memorable while having extremely little screen time. The plot is fairly straightforward, mostly opting for the Terminator approach to the logistics of it all. I mean, it has some explanation, but it’s cursory at best and isn’t the thrust of the film. Even the ending, which I know some people gripe about, doesn’t break anything. In fact, it does keep with the internal logic of the film and I am happy to argue that in comments.

I was really curious how this movie was going to do the ending. The fact of the matter was, the book ending doesn’t get made into a Hollywood film right now. It’s not even so much that it’s bleak and not happy ending or anything. There are plenty of films out there right now that are masterpieces that have unhappy endings. One might even say that most masterpieces aren’t wrapped up in a happy little bow. I might argue that, and start by questioning what you mean by masterpiece, but I think you get the point. It’s not that the book ending is bleak. It’s that the book ending is brutal in a way that I think you can’t show to audiences right now in America and have them internalize in a way that can make sense right now.

I am often heard to say that Fallout 2 is one of the best games that could never get made in this day and age. The game has a skill called Kama Sutra Master. You can get the reputation Child Killer. You kill the president aboard an oil tanker off the coast of San Francisco. The New California Republic is full of slavers. You can buy, kill, free, or pretty much do whatever to those slaves. Yeah, there are plenty of sandbox games out there that let you do all kinds of things, but not in the geopolitical way that Fallout 2 was doing them. That game had some fucking commentary, son. In that same vein, All You Need Is Kill is a book that can’t get a direct movie translation.

You see, the book story is slightly different than the movie story in a fairly crucial way. In the film, Rita has lost a special power that Cage (Kage) now has. The blood of the alpha gets into Cage, and gives him this time resetting power. Rita had a blood transfusion, so she lost the power to do it. The novel says that any number of people can have this power at once, because it’s more of a signal and frequency thing. This change is what really makes the ending of the movie possible.

The book takes a networking/computing/nerd approach to the Mimics. The Mimics are all part of a network, controlled by a Mimic acting as a server. This server sends out the information that is then transmitted via repeaters or antennas. Killing a server sends out a blast of particles that resets time by 36 hours. If you are caught in the blast, you are part of the information in the 36 hour cycle. The way to stop this is to kill all of the antennas and then kill the server, so that it can’t broadcast. A human caught in the blast becomes an antenna too, because now it is part of the cycle and is attuned to the signal. However, it’s a passive repeater, so only if it has something to pulse out to will it do that. This means that if only the human is left standing, it’s no big deal. Nothing to reset, the human rolls on.

Unfortunately, if there are two such people, it means that one of the humans has to die. The only reason Kage keeps living the same day over and over again after the first time, where he accidentally kills the server, is that Rita is the one who is resetting the day by killing the server every other time. Due to this, both of them are attuned to the specific server/antenna frequency. This all culminates with the ending of the book that I absolutely knew wouldn’t make it into a film: the climax of the novel is Kage and Rita trying to kill each other to be the surviving looper.

This all happens after the two of them share a few personal moments prior to the base being attacked. The novel plays with the Mimics trying different battle techniques in order to try and ensure Kage’s death so that the server survives, because it resets from that initial point each time, without realizing that Rita is the one killing it from that point forward. This finally leads to a surprise assault on the base in a desperate attempt to wipe the forces out before engagement, because it hasn’t worked out for the Mimics yet. After much devastation, Kage and Rita are left standing, and while Kage thinks they are done now, Rita drops that knowledge bomb on him. The ensuing conversation is one between professionals. Each one is sad that they will have to kill the other, but they understand that it has to be done or the time period will never move forward. They also each want to be the one left standing. They are warriors and their survival instinct won’t allow them to just lay down and die.

What follows is Kage and Rita beating the shit out of each other in battle suits as they destroy portions of the base. What comes down to the deciding factor is that while Rita learned her moves from fighting Mimics, Kage learned everything from watching Rita first, and fighting Mimics second. This leads, as you might expect, to Kage getting the better of her and killing her. Despite Rita being more or less of with this, Kage is pretty much destroyed from that point forward, turning into the type of person that Rita was at the beginning of the book.

I strongly feel that given the cultural climate in the US right now, this ending just couldn’t show up on screen. Personally, I felt that this ending was pretty spectacular. The fight did what all good fights do, and advanced the character narratives in meaningful ways. Rita’s death completed her arc in a way that made sense in the book, even if it was extremely visceral. Kage’s victory completed his transformation from someone with zero self worth into a fully functioning member of society. It also managed to sync nicely with the overall narrative of the tale. It’s that much more of a shame that the fight would be been reduced to a conflict between the genders and ultimately reviled for the fact that a man kills a woman after a brutal fight.

Downplaying the very real problem with domestic violence is not something I want to do here. I just simply don’t think that this story presented that. Yes, it was a fight between a man and a woman, but it’s more than that. It’s a fight between two soldiers in mech-suits who each want to survive. Gender plays no part in this conflict, other than the previous use of it in establishing the characters. It saddens me immensely that because of the current state of gender affairs in the US, we would never get this movie ending. I am not upset with the movie we ended up getting, which as I said before was tremendous, but I am disgusted with the fact that the impact of the original tale wouldn’t be felt by anyone because of this.

It’s a goddamn shame that things stand the way they do right now. Maybe one day, if people pull their heads out of their asses long enough to treat everyone like people first, we can get to a point where we can tell new versions of stories in way that truly represent them as equals. Not only would humanity be better for it, but so would so many art forms. Until that time, at least we got a fantastic film and an intriguing book out of this whole mess.

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