Edge of Tomorrow: Resorting to Repetition

Edge of TomorrowLet’s retire the genre of movies that repeat scenes or plotlines over and over again with slight variations.

That’s right, Edge of Tomorrow (2014). You don’t get props from me.

I blame Rashomon (1950) for this. It’s never been my favourite Kurosawa film – despite its vaunted status – owing to its repetition. And I think it sparked a whole crop of flicks using the same tack.

We need more movies that stick to one tale without duplicating it. It seems like some filmmakers see the opposite idea as a kind of gimmick sure to reel in eyeballs. Problem is, the only thing it does, in my opinion, is draw yawns. Even when used properly, like in the case of Rashomon, it wears more than other films of similar quality. Show the same scene many times with even major differences, and the novelty fades after just a few instances. Once that happens, the effects can be deadly.

That was the case with About Time (2013), Richard Curtis’ horrid, temporally skewed rom-com that suggested doing everything twice while enjoying the ride can make all the difference in a person’s life. As an individual with obsessive-compulsive disorder, I can safely say that performing the same behaviours multiple times doesn’t always lead to satisfaction; in fact, it can make the opposite occur. So it was with AT, which took dreariness to a whole new level in its effort to convey the comic possibilities of repeated action.

Without having seen Edge of Tomorrow, I can guess that its storyline – which has something to do with Tom Cruise’s character dying in a futuristic battle multiple times while being stuck in a lifecycle holding pattern – will have the same cinematic results: boredom.

Rashomon Edge of tomorrowHeck, I don’t even think Harold Ramis’ Groundhog Day (1993) makes the cut in this regard, though it certainly uses the device in a creative way … as well as it could be used, I guess. I just don’t adore the idea of watching it over and over again like I do with some of cinema’s greatest comedies.

Recently, I had the opportunity to view Hitchcock’s classic thriller The 39 Steps (1935) on TV, and I was surprised that I didn’t mind his use of flashbacks to cue viewers in on the nastiness of the villains toward the beginning of the film. That’s certainly repetitious. Why don’t I dislike it in this context?

Perhaps it’s because Hitchcock used the device sparingly, without beating you over the head with it. It remains seminal, memorable, without becoming tiresome. Not enough is repeated to make it tedious.

I only wish this could be the benchmark people examine before crafting a tell-the-same-story-multiple-times movie. Not Run Lola Run (1998). Not Groundhog Day. Not even Rashomon. I doubt that’ll happen, but it’s a hope. And I can’t let go of that.

Surely, Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t follow this judicious formula. I can tell just by looking at the ads. Still, we can find salvation in the idea that it might be so bad, its device ultimately may be discarded by most directors in favor of more traditional storytelling options.

Of course, that may be just a dream. If that’s the case, let it not be a recurring one.

Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and operates a restaurant-focused blog called Critical Mousse (criticalmousse.com) that showcases his opinions on the culinary arena. He also blogs about anti-Semitism for the Times of Israel. His views and opinions are his own.

12 thoughts on “Edge of Tomorrow: Resorting to Repetition

  1. Grounding Day is a family favorite that we’ve watched repeatedly over the years, but the key sequence with the repeated tries at the one failed date always finds me leaving the room until it’s over.

    • Nah, not completely. Edge of Tomorrow, I’m sure, is terrible enough on its own, and its manga source material won’t help it. But the skeleton has a solid foundation, methinks, in Rashomon and its repetition-based structure, given the prominence of that film in the cinematic canon.

  2. I recall thinking Groundhog Day was okay (okay), and actually enjoyed Run Lola Run a lot (a lot). In fact, it was Franka Potente’s involvement in the Bourne movies that actually persuaded me to buy the Matt Damon trilogy. Although this movie device (repeated scenes with variations) doesn’t have an instant appeal for me, I always judge a movie based on its own merits, so I would not automatically dismiss a movie that used it. I would just approach it more cautiously.

    • I hear you on that. I just wonder if those films stand up to repeated viewings. Rashomon doesn’t really for me, and I don’t think Run Lola Run would, either. Groundhog Day has some enjoyable scenes, but I feel it gets a bit tiresome after a while. I’m in the minority on this, though, and I admit that freely. 😀

  3. I figure it’s like any other narrative device, Simon. If done well, it can work. But this device is particularly prone to pretension and yawn-inducement. The prospect of seeing Edge of Tomorrow fills me with terror, but I will probably see it anyway. As for Rashomon, it’s obviously quality filmmaking, but I think its novelty — of subject and structure and country of origin for 1950 — all served to inflate it’s reputation. I agree it would not be in my top five of his movies.

    • Agree, Jon–and I I couldn’t have said it better that “the prospect of seeing Edge of Tomorrow fills me with terror!” And I completely concur about Rashomon’s novelty at the time inflating its reputation. Good points.

  4. I hold no brief for the recent Cruise film, but I have to confess to a liking for this theme generally. I love ‘Rashomon’, ‘Run Lola Run’, and ‘Blind Chance’. Although I cannot usually stand US comedies, I also found ‘Groundhog Day’ appealing (at the time…)
    I surprised myself by quite enjoying ‘Source Code’ as well, as a casual TV viewing, and if I researched the titles for long enough, many of the other films that view the same events from different angles.

    I agree that a complete story is more satisfying Simon, but there are occasions where this device can prove to enhance a film, rather than detracting from it.
    However, it is probably true to say that the best ones are already out there, and we might not need more of the same.
    Best wishes from England, Pete.

    • Hi, Pete–I think you’re definitely not alone; I’m in the minority here, especially when it comes to Rashomon … which is strange, because Kurosawa’s one of my favorite directors, and I generally adore his films. I just tire, I think, more of movies that use this device, though I agree that the best ones that employ it have probably already been made.

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