The unreliable narrator is commonly used in science fiction because it works so well with the unknown nature of the storytelling. The narrative is already ripe with things fantastical and unbelievable. Couple that with something deliberately deceptive, and you have all the ingredients for a great story. 2013’w Oblivion was not a particularly well-received movie almost ten years ago. Still, it has seen a modest bump in attention thanks to a smartly timed Hulu streaming release that finds many of us beginning to hunker down for those long winter months of lousy weather and COVID uncertainty. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that it teamed Top Gun: Maverick’s Joseph Kosinski and Tom Cruise.
Tom Cruise’s(Minority Report, Mission Impossible) Jack and Andrea Riseborough(Mandy, Here Before) Victoria are human survivors of a nasty war between alien invaders they call Scavs and Earth. In a voiceover at the film’s beginning, we are told that humans won the battle sixty years ago but at a horrible price. Most of the Earth is uninhabitable, and Earthlings have moved on to a massive pyramid structure called the Tet that sits just outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
The two-person crew of Jack and Victoria are constantly instructed to keep the water harvesting equipment running and not to investigate anything they haven’t been instructed to. Their job is to get as much of the Earth’s resources and ship them back to the Tet for humans to use on the journey to Titan. They must be ever weary of Scavs who want to stop them at all costs. A face on the Tet named Sally guarantees their subservience with an answer and reply seen in many cults.
Although Jack has some doubts, Victoria is able to keep him engaged and on track until several pods containing humans crash land in a forbidden zone, and Jack brings the one survivor back. He’s been plagued by dreams of a dark-haired woman and is drawn to an idyllic cabin by a lake untouched by the nuclear bombs. He has stashed memorabilia he shouldn’t remember or care about. When the woman who crash-lands on his planet turns out to be the person he has been dreaming about, everything he thought he knew is questioned. Here’s everything you need to know about the ending of Oblivion.
What is the Tet, and who are the Scavs?
The Tet is not a human station holding the last remnant of Earth. Instead, it is an alien station controlled and run by artificial intelligence. Instead of organic beings, the alien invaders are a massive artificial intelligence similar to 2036 Origin Unknown. Sally, the voice on the Tet, reinforces the belief that the Scavs are the last of the aliens who fight against humans’ efforts to gather water. None of this is true, however. The Scavs are humans trying to stop the aliens from literally sucking the planet dry. We did not win the war, but we weren’t completely destroyed, either. A small group has been making plans and fighting back ever since. Their leader Beech(Morgan Freeman), keeps the small band of survivors going and thwarts the alien’s work.
Julia is Jack’s wife. He and a handful of other humans were on a mission prior to the war to investigate Titan. He and Victoria were the two astronauts operating the spacecraft when the Tet overtook them. We don’t know how long their original selves lived, but they were cloned, their memory was wiped, and brainwashing erased most of who they were and what they were supposed to do. Since then, they had been unwittingly working for the aliens.
Their communication point on the Tet, Sally, is a computer-generated image created by intercepting communications between NASA and the ship Jack was originally on. Sally was a real person at one time, but the Sally Victoria receives instructions from is not. The Sally program was chosen to ensure loyalty and continuity. Since Jack and Victoria would remember Sally before the war, they would also trust the alien version of Sally.
The ending of Oblivion explained
In the final act of Oblivion, Jack comes face to face with himself and realizes that they are both clones of the original Jack. Victoria, who was killed by a drone in an earlier scene, also came back to life. At this point, Jack has now seen doppelgangers of himself and Victoria.
The Tet has been creating thousands of Victoria’s and Jack’s clones. The artificial intelligence had been cranking out clones of them to be replaced when needed. The Jack and Vika we have been following are just one of many pairs on the Earth at any one time. Each pair is given strict parameters and told to stay within their quadrant for safety. It is actually to avoid running into another version of themselves, though—the carefully crafted lie about radioactive zones aided in this. While Earthlings did try to fight, the alien invasion was so swift we never got off any nuclear arms. The planet was changed, possibly irreparably but not by radiation.
The pairs were programmed to kill the Scavs and protect the drones and the rigs. However, Jack’s heroism was too enriched, and it was just a matter of time before he remembered who he really was. The clones on the ship are backups that can be placed if Jack gets killed by a Scav, a drone, or by accident, or if Victoria’s station is destroyed. The new clone is installed, and any repairs are made. Jack and Vika then have whatever memory replacement is necessary to accept the new clone.
In 2017, the Odyssey, manned by Jack and Victoria and several others, including Julia, went deep into space near Titan and encountered the Tet. After becoming convinced it was hostile, they jettisoned all of the sleeping crew members and entered the Tet. Julia and the rest of the survivor pods crash-landed back on Earth sixty years later, where Jack finds her. The beacon Jack destroyed earlier in Oblivion brought the pods home. He was told it was a Scav beacon, but this was another lie.
Our version of Jack, called Tech 49, also enters the Tet at the end of Oblivion, where he sees the endless pods of Jacks and Victorias. Since the beginning, he had been used as a super soldier along with the drones to defeat humans. Later he was reprogrammed for use as a guard and repairman. Beech had been watching our Jack for years and saw him return time and again to his cabin. He believed he could be convinced of the truth and would fight with the humans.
In the final moments of Oblivion, Beech and our Jack detonated a bomb inside the Tet, and all of the clones fell on Earth. The alien intelligence no longer had control over our planet. We next see Julia living on Earth with her daughter. They are living in the cabin Jack showed her. Another Jack, Tech 52, comes across them with some of the other human fighters. In the voiceover, he says he has been searching for Julia and the cabin.
He says he knows our Jack because he is him. The jack clones all seem to share memories even after being activated. How this is possible, we don’t know, but it could be the result of what cloned them. The Tet was an artificial intelligence and may have infused some of their collective brain power into their clones. It would account for the multiple Jacks being aware of each other’s individual experiences.
We have no way of knowing how many other Jacks and Victorias still exist on Earth. It is also clear that Victoria was in love with him, so we don’t know if she could be a danger moving forward. Her selfless actions to protect Jack and Julia seem to indicate that she is loyal to Jack, though.
Oblivion is a better movie than it was first given credit for. Perhaps now, with Kosinski’s white-hot career, it will get the attention it deserves. It is currently streaming on Hulu.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.