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Edge of Tomorrow and Tom Cruise’s works-based salvation ethic

Josh Larsen

For a science-fiction blockbuster, Edge of Tomorrow offers some surprising parallels to the doctrine of salvation. Too bad they’re largely of the works-based kind.

Edge of Tomorrow is a Tom Cruise vehicle, but it interestingly doesn’t begin as one. Rather than being the hero, Cruise’s character, Maj. William Cage, is a weasel. The movie takes place in the midst of an ongoing war between humanity and invading aliens, and Cage is essentially the United Defense Force’s PR man - in charge of looking good and wooing new recruits to the cause. When he’s assigned to accompany ground troops as part of a massive attack on the enemy’s front lines, he demurs. “I do this to avoid doing that,” he explains in a huff.

He’s sent to the front anyway, where a strange thing happens. After being promptly killed due to his lack of combat experience, Cage awakens to find himself 24 hours in the past, on the eve of once again heading into battle. The cycle continues – death, followed by a “reset” – with Cage given innumerable chances to get things right.

There’s something appealing, at first, about Edge of Tomorrow’s underlying rejection of atheistic fate. Cage’s grim future can be avoided, even after it has already happened! Yet already here a sort of works righteousness creeps in. Cage’s squad leader (Bill Paxton) barks at his troops, “Through readiness and discipline we are masters of our fate.” He even makes them eat playing cards - games of chance - to emphasize his point.

Edge of Tomorrow believes in a try hard and try again (and again and again) salvation ethic.

Cage takes this training well. After a series of scenes that play as comic mishaps – Cage getting killed on the battlefield by stepping the wrong way, resetting, then getting killed again by stepping another way – the movie slowly morphs into a more familiar Tom Cruise action flick. The lessons start to sink in and Cage develops into a skilled warrior. Soon, he’s whomping on aliens before they know what hit them. Cage even teams up with another, equally adept warrior (Emily Blunt) to devise a plan for ridding the earth of this extraterrestrial scourge for good.

Edge of Tomorrow ends, then, where so many Tom Cruise movies have: with Cruise as savior of the world. And he’s gotten there in a very Tom Cruise way, with a lot energy and hard work. The soteriology suggested by Edge of Tomorrow has no need for grace. Rather, it believes in a try hard and try again (and again and again) salvation ethic. Perfection is simply a matter of repeating actions toward a singular purpose. It’s liturgical, in a way.

This is, however, the opposite of the “two kinds of righteousness” put forth by Martin Luther, who wrote that “everything which Christ has is ours, graciously bestowed on us unworthy men out of God’s sheer mercy.” Cardinal Timothy Dolan explained the gift of grace a bit more entertainingly on The Colbert Report recently. “You don’t go (to mass) to win heaven because we can’t earn it,” Dolan said. “It’s a gift and He wants to give it to all of us.”

In a grace-filled version of Edge of Tomorrow, that montage of Cage trying and failing and trying and failing would never end. At least not until Someone told him to rest, confess and admit that when it comes to saving ourselves, much less the world, we just can’t do it on our own.

Topics: Movies, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Theology & The Church, Theology