Hi! It's R. Eric Thomas. From the internet?
In the middle of last spring, I started writing a series for ELLE.com where I rewatched some of my favorite films and wrote about them through the lens of our collective quarantine situation. I wrote about how Hello, Dolly! is really about the very relatable desire to go back to your favorite restaurant after a long absence, how Notting Hill and The Holiday offer another view on being stuck at home, how nostalgia for things lost can propel us forward or hold us back as seen in 13 Going on 30 and Sleepless in Seattle, and the work-from-home prescience of 9 to 5, among many others. I was so grateful to my editor Julie Kosin for letting me take this detour from my column during this period because—maybe you remember—there was literally nothing good happening for so long. I was like, “the joke factory has been commandeered to make PPE and I don’t know what to do.” So, I popped some movies into my DVD player and I did what so many of us do: I sorted out a complex emotional state using the words and actions of a Meg Ryan character.
The Remote Rewind feature lasted from March 17th to April 28th, a hazy, scary, expanse. In a lot of ways it rescued me, briefly, which is what pop culture so often does. It let me mix nostalgia with escapism and then translate it into the present. Remarkably, it’s been almost a year now. Tomorrow is March, which doesn’t make any sense because it has been March since last March. But time is a construct and space doesn’t exist, so what are you going to do? My TimeHop photos act like a countdown clock of final outdoor events—I was on book tour a year ago this time; my last public event was March 3rd at the Audiobook Awards in New York where we were touching elbows out of safety but also sharing crudité platters. The old world!
There was one movie I had planned to write about in Remote Rewind for weeks but could never pull together my thoughts on—Edge of Tomorrow, a 2014 Emily Blunt/Tom Cruise movie. I’m not going to spoil the movie if you haven’t seen it, which you should, but I’ll give you a general sense of what goes on. It’s basically Groundhog Day as a space invasion movie as a World War II movie. Got it? Great! Tom Cruise plays a former marketing exec who is pulled into the worldwide war effort after aliens attack the Earth in the year 2020. He’s conscripted into battle, briefly encounters a very badass Emily Blunt, and then dies. Then he wakes up again at the beginning of the day. For Plot Reasons, Tom is stuck in a loop, forcing him to relive the day and eventually helping him to get trained by Emily Blunt and try to figure out how to save Earth, as Tom Cruise in the movies so often does.
I thought Edge of Tomorrow would be a perfect quarquar movie because it felt so often like we were living the same day over and over again. And I’d already written about Groundhog Day for ELLE.com a few years earlier. As meta as it would be to just keep writing about Groundhog Day over and over again, I thought I should probably not test Julie’s patience.
Edge of Tomorrow has long been one of my favorite movies. I have vivid memories of watching it over and over again any time I could catch it on cable, which seemed to be all the time in the mid-2010s. It had been a few years since I’d seen it last, however. So, one morning in April 2020, thankfully with no aliens in sight, I rented the movie. (Can you imagine if we had had to endure an alien invasion last year on top of everything else. I would have been like “You think you can do better? Have at it! Aliens 2020.” Like, the audacity of trying to invade Earth when we’re all just trying to figure out how to keep our cats out of the Zoom screen during business meetings/trying to see everyone’s cats on the Zoom screen during business meetings. I am offended at the very idea. Unless these aliens are showing up with solutions they better stay their alien butts on Mars, thank you very much. And yes I know we just sent a Jeep Wrangler up to Mars like we took a wrong turn at the carpool lane. What can I say? We are nosy. But it’s not like we’re showing up to the Martian polling place like “What do you mean you don’t have mail-in voting? Y’all need to get your Martian lives together. Tsk tsk.” Everybody, space-wise, needs to stay in their lane. That’s what I think!)
Anyway, I’m watching Edge of Tomorrow, taking notes, trying to formulate a premise for an article that is wry and not heavy-handed and doesn’t end with me ranting about aliens needing to mind their own business. At one point (well, it’s a repeated day movie so technically it happens at several points), Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt find a helicopter. This happened a few times. And then, they got into the helicopter and they flew away. And Reader, this was shocking to me. As I said, Edge of Tomorrow is one of my favorite movies, I’ve seen it multiple times; at no point in any of my previous viewings did Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise fly off in a helicopter.
I was so perplexed that I actually paused the movie and googled to see if I was watching a different version. When the movie was released on DVD, the tagline “LIVE. DIE. REPEAT.” was much more prominent on the cover, so much so that people started referring to the movie as LIVE DIE REPEAT, which is a fine title but unfortunately I do not have room in my head for new information. The film that I rented on Amazon was listed as Edge of Tomorrow: Live, Die, Repeat which is a real Pokemon Gotta Catch Em All marketing strategy. I thought maybe I was watching a completely different movie. Yes, one that had the same first two thirds as the one that I’ve watched so frequently. Why not? I watch every ending of Clue every time I watch it. I am the core audience for revision. What if they just started rewriting the last third of movies and releasing them willy-nilly? You might turn on Back to the Future expecting Marty McFly to end up at the Enchantment Under the Sea dance but what if instead he goes to Washington and ends McCarthyism? Why? I don’t know! You have to watch the movie!
From my internet research it seemed that there were not multiple versions of this movie out there. Just multiple titles. It’s like how people sometimes don’t know if I go by R. or R. Eric or Eric (and by people, I mean me—I literally never know what name I’ve put down for will-call tickets or takeout. I’m always like “I’m here to pickup. It’s under Thomas. Or perhaps under Prince Rogers Nelson. I’ll take whatever you have.”) Then I stopped and asked myself: what was I expecting to happen after the helicopter scene? Emily and Tom were still paused mid-flight; I tested myself. What happens at the end of this movie? I asked myself. Why are you asking me? I don’t even know my own name. I said back. I could not remember the end of this movie. I could describe every part of the first two-thirds beat-by-beat and then… nothing. And then I realized: I’ve watched this movie like 10 times; I’ve literally never seen the end.
I’m obsessed with the deranged energy of finding Edge of Tomorrow on TNT or wherever 5 years ago, saying “Oh! I love this movie!”, watching it for about 90 minutes, and then turning it off mid-scene. Tom Cruise fires up a helicopter and starts to say his next line and this is me:
I was gobsmacked. Didn’t I want to know how they got out of this predicament? I mean ostensibly yes. But also—and this is crucial—apparently not. I was like “They’ll figure it out. BYE!”
I turned the movie back on like “Well… this is a surprising development.” And it was because literally everything was a surprising development. The twist at the end of Edge of Tomorrow is, apparently, a climax and denouement. STEP RIGHT UP FOLKS! This movie has an ENDING!
I watched the last 30 minutes with my mouth hanging open; it wasn’t like anything shocking was happening. I was just like “More events?! After all this time?!” I’m Cary Grant in An Affair to Remember walking around for years thinking I’m all up in the Kool-Aid when I don’t even know the flavor.
The gag is—the ending is just fine. I still recommend the movie but also if you get bored about two-thirds of the way through, you can turn it off and still go on to live a happy and productive life. Apparently. I was listening to the episode of The Rewatchables about the movie (which is very good) and it turns out that when Dough Liman, the director, started filming Edge of Tomorrow, they had only written the first two-thirds. They wrote up to the helicopter scene and then they were like “Roll cameras! This is all Eric needs!”
I think the thing that convinced me that I had seen the whole movie was that it stops and restarts so many times that you get a wave of mini-conclusions. The part of my brain that wanted a juicy little plot arc found itself at a smorgasbord and 90 minutes in I was like “I’m full! Okay, maybe one last biscuit. And put some ribs in a doggie bag. But after that! I’m out!”
Coming up on the last March of our year of Marches, a month full of weird memories, shocks of nostalgia, the shiver of our past selves, and the specter of living the same day over and over again, I’m trying to focus on that moment last April when I sat in my old apartment, Emily Blunt took flight, and I briefly crossed over into another timeline. There’s something poetic about living the same thing over and over, perhaps forever, and then being surprised by the most unexpected event: a conclusion.
Random Thing on the Internet
Here’s JHud singing “Tomorrow” from Annie. So good!
I do not have room in my head for new information,