In the past week two very different films have premiered that offer completely different versions of the world we know. No, the latest feature from Pablo Larrain and Oblivion, the sophomore film from Joseph Kosinski (TRON: Legacy). The first is set in 1988 Chile at the moment of the overthrow of the Pinochet rule. The second is 2077 post-nuclear war Earth. One is a period piece and the other is a possible future interpreted by us in the present, and thus creates a meaning to the reality in play. Larrain presents his view of the Chilean advertising agency that helped change the entire country. The focus is admittedly small, contained within the world of Rene (Gael Garcia Bernal – The Motorcycle Diaries), the man leading the campaign for the no vote. What Larrain shows us is a nation in sheer utter turmoil, unsure of its own future and what it should do next. By comparison, Jack (Tom Cruise) lives in a world of two, as per the vision of Kosinski. This is the working definition of ‘scorched earth.’ There is no war, there is no violence, there is no future. There is just Jack and his work partner/lover, Victoria (Andrea Riseborough) in an outpost high above the clouds.
No works simultaneously as an entertaining movie and a filmic masterpiece. Shot with low definition ¾ Sony U-Matic tape, the very tape used by the networks at the time, it is able to seamlessly weave in stock footage of the violence and news broadcasts without interrupting the viewing experience. It is groundbreaking cinematography and the applause for such a decision should not cease.
In a present Mad Men world, No is extremely relevant: Rene Saavedra is the man chosen to consult on the advertising campaign for ‘no’ when the country moves to vote on whether General Augusto Pinochet should stay in power for another 8 years or allow for a democratic vote the following year. He is met with the product another team have been working on – a vulgar, cold, repetitious advertisement of Pinochet’s abuses that operates like a medical pamphlet. He pushes for a new kind of reality to be known by the Chilean voters via abstract themes (as per the bloodshed and killings know by its citizens for decades) such as ‘happiness’ (rainbows) and ‘pleasure’ (singing). Originally dismissed by his conservative boss who feels Rene is undermining the brutality of the current regime, Rene fights against everyone, even his own family, to make his view the one known by its citizens. Behind all of this, the ‘yes’ campaigners target Rene and his men, threatening him in the middle of the night through varying degrees of scare tactics. It is a practice with what he projects as the perfect reality for his fellow Chileans – a country that does not know the horrors of its past, only that of a bright, sustainable future.
A hundred years after this, Jack and Victoria are living in the sky and casually roaming the dead Earth to ensure the remaining minerals are extracted without pause so they can finally leave it for the Tet, the new home of civilization. Jack and Victoria know only each other and Sally, the yankee-doodle boss that barks orders via radio signal from the Tet. Far removed from Rene’s modest, middle-class brick home in suburbian Chile where family members strain to cope with such close quarters in pressuring times, these two live in a massive open plan deck complete with a clear-bottomed pool allowing for picturesque night swimming. There are potentially evil plans afoot by an off-the-radar human resistance group intent on capturing Jack (and succeeding, if you’ve seen the trailer) that renegade him with a new theory on the life and work that Sally has taught him.
The world in Oblivion is ruled by five-year mandatory memory wipes. This is accepted procedure for the protagonist and his lover, however he can’t help feeling something is amiss when he starts getting flashbacks to a very pretty girl meeting him on a date to watch the world go by via a rooftop telescope. The world presented in his dreams is pre-apocalypse, similar to the one we inhabit right now. Jack considers this as he motorbikes across the barren desert of the ground, past ships long rusted out from empty seabeds. Sally has created the world he inhabits, post nuclear fallout. Through the practice of the memory wipes Jack has no reason to ever challenge her rule. Until these flashbacks, Sally’s world operates seamlessly without fail. The mining of the land and sea for all of its remainder is her idea of perfection and it is the cost that this comes with that is her own final undoing.
The protagonists struggle with what that means and how it impacts their own situation though Larrain handles it with a lot more finesse. No is one of those films you have to watch at some point in your life. Oblivion is just a rainy Sunday afternoon distraction.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire