Help, I Can’t Stop Watching Edge of Tomorrow
As the film’s characters repeat the same day over and over, I sit on my couch and do the same.
By KELLI MARSHALL
For the past four months, HBO has steadily aired the science-fiction thriller Edge of Tomorrow (2014). By steadily, I mean this: since February 7, anywhere between three and six times a day, one could flip over to HBO (along with its sister channels) and watch Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt loop through time while attempting to kill alien invaders.
HBO will be happy to know I’ve taken advantage of its scheduling. Since Edge of Tomorrow premiered on the cable network, I’ve probably watched it, or parts of it, at least 20 times. Life is seemingly imitating art here: as Cruise’s and Blunt’s characters repeat the same day over and over, I sit on my couch and do the same. I have even records to prove it:
WTH Is Wrong with Me?
Here’s the thing: I don’t even like science-fiction. I once made it through Blade Runner (1982), but only because I had to teach it in a film noir course. I looked at my watch at least eight times during The Matrix (1999), and I nearly fell asleep 15 minutes into District 9 (2009). Yeah, for the most part, sci-fi and I don’t get along, which is one reason my repeat-viewing of Edge of Tomorrow is so perplexing.
Also, I’m not rewatching Edge of Tomorrow for the reason many fans theoretically return to their favorite films: to analyze things like motifs, messages, and characterization.
Rereading is when fans repeatedly return to the same text again and again, Henry Jenkins explains. Because the fan no longer has to follow the narrative so closely or solve mysteries within it, she can turn her attention to other things like themes, characters, or special effects.
But again, my repeat-viewing of Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t really subscribe to this theory either. Yes, I recognize some of the film’s themes as I watch: sacrifice, survival, and rebirth, the latter of which some have (perhaps appropriately) linked to Scientology.
And, sure, if you’re into such, the special effects are convincing, as the behind-the-scenes video below suggests. But, interestingly — and I invoke that word because I’m trained to analyze media texts — I’m almost never consciously considering Edge of Tomorrow’s form from an analytical standpoint.
So why the hell can’t I stop watching Edge of Tomorrow? We may find an answer to this in Harold Ramis’s Groundhog Day (1993) — a film virtually every critic cites when writing about Edge of Tomorrow because its lead character (Bill Murray) also repeats the same day over and over.
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: Here’s Why
Bill Murray’s repeated days in Groundhog Day call attention to the practice of using multiple takes to create a film, not to mention the film’s editing and cinematography in general. In other words, because some shots and scenes in Groundhog Day are so similar, the viewer, rather than focusing on the story, may be trying to figure out if the takes are actually repeated (they apparently weren’t).
Still, this “meta-cinematic touch,” as Kristin Thompson calls it, is heavily motivated by the film’s narrative, and ultimately it adds to the humor of the film (141). So while the viewer obviously notices the repetition, she’s still pretty deeply immersed in the story.
Edge of Tomorrow functions similarly, I think. The viewer recognizes the meta-cinematic touch, e.g., the repetition of card-playing in the barracks, soldiers’ dropping onto the battlefield, and the line On your feet, maggot! But as in Groundhog Day, these things are heavily motivated by the film’s narrative goal(s), and ultimately they add to its suspense and action (as opposed to Groundhog Day’s humor).
This is why I can come into the middle of Edge of Tomorrow, as I’ve often done over the past four months, and still, for the most part, experience it anew. Because much of the film’s structure requires me to be, I am almost constantly immersed in its narrative.
Indeed, with the exception of a few scenes (e.g., the opening, when Blunt and Cruise hide out in the barn, and end battle), I still have to figure out where I am in the story, especially if I begin watching at random points. Which “on your feet, maggot” is this? Which one of Blunt’s “have I got something on my face” are we hearing? Which of Cruise’s 26 deaths is this?
This is not, for example, my experience with a traditionally structured film like Singin’ in the Rain (1952) or Something’s Gotta Give (2003), both of which I’ve rewatched at least 40 times or more. (Don’t judge.)
If I come in during “Moses Supposes” or Diane Keaton’s and Jack Nicholson’s characters having sex, I know precisely where I am in the story. Unlike Edge of Tomorrow’s, the structure here is so conventional that, like other fans who reread, I often do turn my attention to things like themes, sets, and characterization.
I suppose I can’t stop rewatching Edge of Tomorrow for other reasons:
- It’s always on HBO.
- Blunt and Cruise play well off each other.
- It’s incredibly fun — and in places, incredibly funny.
- I don’t wanna get off my comfy couch.
- For better or worse, I’m a fan of Tom Cruise.
But ultimately, I think what draws me in is the way Edge of Tomorrow calls attention to the filmmaking process and then almost immediately retracts that awareness, always in favor of storytelling. And it keeps me there. Again and again and again.
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