Before Tom Cruise and director Joseph Kosinski combined their efforts to soar on screen and at the box office with “Top Gun: Maverick,” the two collaborated on “Oblivion.” The 2013 sci-fi film tells the story of Earth in the wake of an alien invasion, when the planet stands largely uninhabitable because of the nuclear arms humanity used to defeat the extraterrestrial invaders. Or at least, that’s what we’re told at the start.
About 60 years later, most of Earth’s survivors live on a massive satellite in space called the Tet. The few remaining people on Earth, like Jack (Cruise) and Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), aid the effort to move humanity to a new home on the largest of Saturn’s moons, Titan. To do so, they repair the drones that scour the planet’s surface and keep an eye out for Scavs — the last remaining aliens on the surface — in order to protect the hydro rigs that are taking Earth’s last remaining resources for humanity’s journey.
Things, however, are not what they seem. Jack struggles with vivid dreams that feel like memories and a sense of burnout he can’t seem to overcome. He frequently steals away to a lakeside cabin in a part of his sector somehow utterly devoid of the war’s destruction. When a craft falls from the sky containing several people, including the literal woman of his dreams, it becomes obvious that what Jack “knows” about his life isn’t anywhere near the whole truth. Here’s everything you need to know about the ending of “Oblivion.”
The Scavs dominate a large amount of Jack and Victoria’s attention in “Oblivion.” Early on, we learn these black hooded figures are the last remnants of the invading alien force. While humanity has triumphed over them, these wicked interlopers fight on. Every one of their actions seems directed at disrupting the plan to save Earth’s resources and depart for Titan. Unfortunately, the viewers — along with Victoria and Jack — have been lied to.
The Scavs are survivors. That much is true. However, they’re not alien survivors. They’re human beings. Led by Beech (Morgan Freeman), this group is indeed attempting to derail the mission that Jack, Victoria, and the drones have been seeking to protect and maintain. Needless to say, though, these “Scavs” aren’t doing it to harm humanity. Rather, they’re trying to save it.
Despite the official line that Jack and Victoria have been fed since the film’s beginning, and evidently for years before, humanity did not triumph over the extraterrestrial invaders. There aren’t any alien stragglers on Earth. There are just desperate people struggling to survive. And for years, Jack and Victoria have been contributing to the ever-more-likely extinction of their own species, all while the real enemy was hiding in plain sight.
Once again, what appears to be true at the start of “Oblivion” proves to be an outright lie when it comes to the Tet. At the beginning of the film, the audience is told that the Tet is a giant space station in orbit above the planet. After the ravages of war, it’s where humanity gathered to escape the dying Earth and prepare for the trip to Titan. It’s why Jack and Victoria have stayed behind — to ensure that Earth is properly mined and that the people on the satellite can continue their lives in relative safety until it’s time to leave.
The idea that the Tet is a satellite filled with people is accurate, but it isn’t what you’d think. In reality, the Tet itself is the invading force that destroyed the moon and waged war on the Earth. The aliens, as it turns out, are not humanoids. They’re not even organisms as we understand them. Rather, the only real alien enemy is a vast alien artificial intelligence housed within the Tet. It intends to use the hydro rigs to strip Earth bare of resources to power itself for years to come, but the AI isn’t the only being on the satellite.
There are people in the Tet, but they’re not humanity’s last members. As already noted, human survivors exist on Earth, struggling to endure the harsh conditions and the targeting by the Tet via Jack and Victoria. The people on the satellite are just more Jacks and Victorias — a host of clones that the extraterrestrial AI has on hand to dispatch to Earth to continue the work of strip-mining the planet.
The Jack and Vika the audience meets are but one pair of many on Earth. The Tet has divided the Earth into sectors, each patrolled by a Jack and Victoria clone pair. The supposedly radioactive parts of the planet are lies as well — a way to keep one Jack from encountering another while on patrol. By labeling areas as dangerous and forbidden, the Tet manages to curtail Jack’s activities despite his curiosity. At least, for a while.
The Jacks and Victorias on the satellite are backups. Should a human survivor get lucky and kill a Jack, another will replace it the next day. Likewise, should an accident happen and a collapsing tower kills a Victoria, a new Vika will be installed in a rebuilt tower as soon as possible.
While the Earth in “Oblivion” was indeed ravaged by war and its environment was permanently altered by the destruction of the Moon, it turns out that what Jack and Victoria initially believed about the planet’s devastated state was a lie told to them repeatedly by the extraterrestrial AI.
In reality, the Tet’s victory over humanity was so swift and so total that the world’s governments were never able to turn their nuclear arsenal on the invaders. As noted before, the supposed irradiated zones were just a means of artificially dividing up the planet between Jack and Vika pairs. Between the environmental devastation caused by the destruction of the moon and an army of drones and Jack and Vika clones, Earth never stood much of a chance.
The future of the human race does not, in fact, lie orbiting Saturn. There is no colony waiting on Titan. While the invasion did alter Earth and rendered the planet considerably less hospitable than before, it remains capable of supporting life. That is, if The Tet is stopped from draining the planet dry of resources.
In 2017, a NASA crew departed Earth on an exploratory mission to Saturn’s biggest moon, Titan. The ship was the Odyssey, and the team was set to go as far into space as any human-crewed mission ever had. Included on the squad were mission commander Jack, his co-pilot Victoria, and crew member Julia (Olga Kurylenko), who also happened to be Jack’s wife. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned.
Somewhere on the way to Titan, the team of the Odyssey encountered the Tet. Properly reading it as hostile, Jack and Victoria jettisoned the rest of the crew — still in hibernation — in escape pods, sending them back toward Earth. Meanwhile, Jack and Victoria had no choice but to stay at the controls of the command unit as the Tet drew them into itself. It’s not known how long the original Jack and Vika lived after capture, but they provided enough genetic material to create a deadly clone army.
While the Odyssey’s escape craft made its journey to Earth, the Tet cloned a literal army of Jacks. With help from some super advanced drones, this endless wave of brainwashed soldiers overran the planet in record time. For all of Earth’s considerable manpower and technology, it was no match for the Tet, and humanity fell in record time.
After that, the Jacks became repurposed as guards. The AI lied to them about who they were and what happened on Earth. They were told their memories had to be occasionally wiped to explain their lack of history and the strange dreams they often shared. Next, Victoria clones joined the Jacks to create teams. The Jacks and Vikas became co-workers, friends, and lovers all at once — humanity’s last hope of protecting their future, or so they’re told. Finally, drones were dispatched to help each pair take out “Scavs” so the clones would never discover they were actually hunting humans. All that remained was for the Tet to wait until all of Earth’s resources were sucked dry.
Both Jack and Victoria are told that they receive periodic memory wipes for their own good. However, Jack has vivid dreams that don’t seem to come from a previous tour of duty. Instead, he sees a pre-invasion Earth, a New York City teeming with life, and a woman he’s never met. That is, until she falls out of the sky.
More than 60 years after entering hibernation and being fired back to Earth, the Odyssey’s escape pod finally lands. Despite attempts by the Tet to block the homing beacon — Jack is told early in the film that the beacon trying to summon alien reinforcements — the human “Scav” survivors manage to broadcast the signal long enough to bring the escape pod home.
Our protagonist, a Jack clone referred to as Tech 49, sees the craft crash and pursues it. When he arrives, he finds several coffin-like pods filled with people — asleep, but alive. He frees one, a woman who eerily resembles the woman from his dreams. This is Julia, wife to the original Jack and the person who ultimately wakes up Tech 49 to the reality of what’s happening.
Unfortunately, before Jack can wake the rest of the survivors, a drone arrives and opens fire. Despite being the keeper of the drones, Jack is unable to stop them. He saves Julia, but the attack claims the lives of the rest of the NASA astronaut crew.
For a while, Tech 49 Jack’s unusual behavior and voyages to his eclectic cabin don’t seem to have registered with the Tet, and if Victoria’s concerned, she’s not telling. At every check-in, she maintains that she and Jack remain an effective team. Someone who does notice, however, is a man named Beech.
The leader of the human survivors (or “Scavs”) in Tech 49’s sector observes the clone long enough to realize that something about him is off. Essentially, Beech realizes before 49, or anyone else for that matter, that the clone is somehow more connected to his past self than should be possible. Tech 49’s trip to the lake cabin may not have revealed that he was experiencing the memories of the original Jack, but it’s unusual enough for Beech to notice.
As a result of these strange trips, Beech hypothesizes that Jack can be “woken up.” He can learn the truth about what happened to Earth, who he is, and what he’s being asked to do. When Tech 49 does finally awaken, it’s Beech who fills in the blanks about how the aliens used Jack to nearly drive people to extinction. It’s also Beech who pitches the plan of destroying the Tet for good using a bomb that only Jack can complete.
While Jack handles much of the hands-on work required by the Tet, Victoria is his eye in the sky, helping direct him to disabled drones. Additionally, she communicates with “Sally” (Melissa Leo), their supposed mission control contact on the Tet. Like Jack, Vika is aware of their mindwipes every half-decade and seems to be fine with the arrangement at the start of the film. She also seems to have an awareness, perhaps even sooner than Jack, that things aren’t exactly what they seem to be on Earth. However, unlike Jack, she feels highly motivated to maintain the status quo and their arrangement despite this notion. As a result, while the discovery of Julia creates a desire in Jack to learn more, it sees Victoria doubling down on her commitment to the mission.
While the film never offers us the same insight into Victoria’s mind as it does Jack’s, the implication seems to be that while the cloning issues make Jack overly curious, they’ve rendered Victoria overly loyal. As a result, she hides her concerns about Jack from Sally and the Tet until she absolutely must reveal them. Doing so costs her her life but ensures that Tech 49 and Julia can escape the drone attack. Even 60 years in the future and countless clones later, Victoria evidently can’t stop being Jack’s right-hand woman — his co-pilot into danger until the end.
The original Jack’s wife, Julia was part of the mission that first encountered the Tet in space. She’s jettisoned back toward Earth after being placed into the emergency pod with several of her crewmates and dropped into hibernation. The journey takes 60 years, but she does finally land back on the planet. Her arrival and subsequent revelations about her life with Jack finally connect Tech 49 with the original’s memories — the Jack collective unconscious, if you will.
When she and Tech 49 encounter another Jack, Tech 52, the fight between the Jacks results in her getting shot. In order to help her, Tech 49 brings her to his secret cabin to tend to her wounds. While there, the two experience a reigniting of old passions. Their bond fully cemented, Tech 49 starts acting much like the original Jack did 60 years prior. While it defies scientific explanation, her bonding with Tech 49 seems to fully turn him into the original Jack in terms of memories, personality, and commitment to humanity.
Jack and Victoria’s mission contact on the Tet, Sally, is ultimately revealed to be nothing more than a facet of the AI. She’s a false human front — another way to keep the Jacks and Vikas from knowing the truth about the past, their present, and the true purpose of their mission.
The decision by the alien AI to use Sally suggests it has some awareness of the metaphysical issues with the human cloning process. While the Tet may not be aware of the regeneration of memories from the pre-clone Jack that Tech 49 somehow develops, the AI seems to understand that previous bonds evidently carry over to the clones. Therefore, the alien presence selects Sally, the mission control operator on Earth for the Odyssey, as a mask.
As for why Sally only appears as a hologram instead of a clone, there are several reasons. First, Jack and Victoria were on the Odyssey when it was taken by the Tet. Sally was on Earth, so there wasn’t a body to clone. Secondly, another clone would increase the risk of exposure, especially a clone that needs to broadcast from space. Why bother with that risk? Finally, there’s the matter of efficiency. A hologram allows the Tet to broadcast from the sky, provides the familiar face needed to manipulate the pairs, and creates no risk of discovery.
With Tech 49 essentially becoming the true Jack again, he and Julia join with Beech and the other Scavs. Unfortunately, before her death, Victoria reveals Julia’s return to the Tet, making her a target. However, this also gives the surviving humans their first true means of getting to the Tet in 60 years. Feigning that he remains a loyal soldier, Tech 49 agrees to transport Julia to the Tet. Anxious to eliminate the threat she represents, the AI readily agrees.
When Jack and Julia’s hibernation pod is pulled onto the Tet, the AI finds itself facing a very different situation than expected. First, Julia is nowhere to be found. Instead, Jack has brought Beech aboard. Second, they didn’t come empty-handed. Instead, they have a bomb. Before the AI can stop them, Tech 49 and Beech detonate the device, sacrificing themselves. The resulting explosion sets off a chain reaction that utterly destroys the Tet and the numerous Jack and Victoria clones onboard. Finally, 60 years after the war on Earth began, humanity has finally, truly, won.
After being made shockingly aware that he wasn’t the only Jack on Earth when fellow clone Tech 49 invaded his sector and put him out cold, Tech 52 seemingly experiences a similar revelation. While viewers don’t see Tech 52 from the time his clone bests him until the end of the film, the character’s final words make it clear that he too has tapped into the original Jack’s memories.
Even more interesting is the suggestion that he also has access to the unique memories of Tech 49. These memories help this version of Jack make his way to the lakeside cabin, a place he’d never been before. As he explains, “I know him. I am him.”
It still takes Tech 52 three years to make sense of those new shared memories, but in the end, they guide him right to the cabin’s front door and Julia. Given that Tech 52 has both the original Jack’s memories and Tech 49’s memories, the final scenes suggest that he will become Julia’s partner now. He is, essentially, the perfect hybrid of both of her lost loves.
Tech 49’s decision to sacrifice himself and save Julia doesn’t just save her life, but also that of their unborn child — the first human born on an Earth free of the Tet in 60 years. Three years later, Julia has become the head of the growing community of survivors who begin arriving at the lake, one of the places on Earth unaffected by both the war and the environmental changes enacted by the Moon’s destruction. While only a fraction of humanity survived the invasion and the 60 years that followed, many of them arrive at Julia’s lake seeking to rebuild their community. Given how the Tet divided the world into sectors, it also seems likely that such evolving communities are forming all over the world.
It may be awkward and halting. It may take generations. But the end of “Oblivion” suggests there is hope for humanity and for the Earth as a whole. By the time the credits roll, the future is finally getting brighter.
“Oblivion” sequel talk has been limited, and there are a few reasons why. First, critics greeted the film with limited enthusiasm, and audiences seemed to feel similarly. Further, while the film wasn’t an absolute flop at the box office, it didn’t perform quite as well as the studio might have hoped given Cruise’s star power.
Second and perhaps more importantly, “Oblivion” pretty definitively wraps up its storylines. The Tet is destroyed and humanity begins to rebuild civilization. Perhaps there are more stories to be told about that or Jack and Julia’s relationship and child, but to date, no such script has emerged. According to Hindustan Times, director Joseph Kosinski did express interest in a prequel film back in 2013, but there’s been no indication that such a project ever moved past the idea stage.
Of course, one should never say never. Cruise’s hit-to-miss ratio has risen in the years since “Oblivion,” making him a surer thing. “Oblivion” stands well as an isolated story, but with Hollywood more invested than ever in building franchises, there could always be another movie on the horizon. It remains to be seen if “Oblivion” will remain one of the many Tom Cruise movies to never get a sequel.