Still on the couch, still not feeling well, and still watching movies, I followed up The Matrix with the film that’s (officially? unofficially?) been retitled Live. Die. Repeat. Whatever it’s called now, it remains one of the best sci-fi action films of recent memory.
Watching, something new caught my attention about how many times Cruise’s character relives the same 24 hour period. There’s no way to count how many times he does, not exactly, but enough references are dropped to realize that we are talking about hundreds of “tries” for each “level” of the fight which together add up to thousands of days. What completely changed how I experienced Cruise’s predicament was realizing that his time can be clumped into years of 365 days.
I know what a year feels like and it sounds like Cruise lived a year or two trying to get off the beach, maybe more. Once he does, how many years did it take to get to the car park? To the farm house? To learn to fly the helicopter without a teacher? When he finally walked into the German dam complex and discovers he’s been lured into a trap and that he has no idea where the Omega alien lives, how many years had he been struggling to get to that point? He gets to London and talks to the general in the hopes of getting the device from his safe that can help him track the Omega for real. We see him do it after he’s already done it so many times that he can count steps and predict the content of phone calls. How does he know about the General’s personal life? Obviously he’s spent days elsewhere discovering information that could be used inside the office when he goes back to make another try. How many tries did finding that info take?
In short, the film keeps reminding us that what we are watching is the nth iteration of Cruise’s experience of this day—this is obvious and comic and cool—but when you start adding up the time involved in these iterations, you realize that even though he has not aged a day, Cruise has lived years, probably decades with Blunt and the others on this base and on this stretch of beach. The place has become his home and these relationships have become real. How could they not? Yet these relationships are not and cannot ever become mutual or deep. Cruise captures the tragedy of this predicament perfectly, becoming not only stronger and more skilled, but also older, quieter and increasingly more lonely as he racks up years of living without aging a day.
The scene that stood out for me this time around, was of Cruise skipping the battle, traveling to London and having a beer. This scene had never before seemed much more than a bit of “stick-to-your-guns, don’t give up or be a coward” claptrap delivered up before the final push to the story’s end. It’s generic and empty really. Yet this time I realized that it’s not. Cruise is trapped and alone in a life that’s gone on for years with no end in sight. He’s taking a break to collect himself and to think and to pull himself back together without any help from anybody because he doesn’t have anybody. And although the film doesn’t say so, we’re likely watching him do that for the nth-time.