“Edge of Tomorrow’s” Lesson: Dying is the Way to Live

Not since The Matrix has a film like Edge of Tomorrow underscored spiritual principles that are central to the Christian faith.

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.'”

– Matthew 16:24-25, New International Version 

“And why should we ourselves risk our lives hour by hour? For I swear, dear brothers and sisters, that I face death daily. This is as certain as my pride in what Christ Jesus our Lord has done in you. And what value was there in fighting wild beasts—those people of Ephesus—if there will be no resurrection from the dead? And if there is no resurrection, ‘Let’s feast and drink, for tomorrow we die!'”

– 1 Corinthians 15:30-32, New Living Translation

“I hope tomorrow will bring / a better you, a better me”

– Siedah Garrett (lyricist), Tomorrow (A Better You, Better Me)

Thanks to the good people at Klout, I attended an advance screening of the Tom Cruise / Emily Blunt sci-fi action film “Edge of Tomorrow,”  and what I found surprised me.

First, it was good. Like, really good. Plenty of good old-fashioned action, but smartly paced and edited, moderated by a delicious time-travel premise, and magnified by two AAA-grade performances by Blunt and Cruise. If “Groundhog Day” and “District 9″* ever hooked up, had a child, and then hired F. Gary Gray’s “Italian Job” remake to babysit on the weekends, that film would grow up to be “Edge of Tomorrow.”

So yes, I was surprised by how good it was.  Mostly because prior to this film I had no experience watching Emily Blunt, and I haven’t been interested in Tom Cruise as an action hero since 2006’s “Mission Impossible III.”

What really surprised me, though, were the numerous spiritual parallels I picked up on as I watched the film. Not since “The Matrix” during my college years have I been so pleasantly surprised about the ways in which a film like this could underscore spiritual principles that are central to the Christian faith.

image002Now I recognize that there’s some confirmation bias here, that because being a Christian is such a pivotal part of my identity and it underscores everything that I do, that it’s not hard for me to find examples of belief in pieces of art or film-making where no such belief is intended, especially since some of these themes are not particularly exclusive to Christianity. Given that the film was adapted from the Japanese novel All You Need Is Kill, the more cynical among us might filter my interpretation through the popular axiom, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

So really, I get it. This is not a Christian film.

But man oh man, if the Apostle Paul was reviewing this film for Variety, his Rotten Tomatoes pull-quote would probably be something like, “I couldn’t have written it any better myself.”

More than any film I’ve seen in years, this action flick illustrates the difficult Christian principle of dying to self — first articulated by Jesus himself at the end of Matthew 16, then expounded upon by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.

See, when we first meet the film’s protagonist, he’s in — forgive the pun — cruise control.  Major Bill Cage is an officer in the United Defense Force, but he’s mostly just a glorified PR rep, doing interviews on major news stations describing the bravery and heroism of the soldiers battling against a fierce, alien menace. This persona is vintage Tom Cruise, cocky and charming, and he’s happy to serve as the mouthpiece of the battle — that is, until he’s asked to actually serve in the battle.

image004

“On your feet, maggot.”

As a punishment for insubordination, Cage is sent into the front lines to fight, armed with a giant, bulky mechanical suit that he knows nothing about operating. And so, quite naturally, he dies.

Again, and again, and again.

See, upon dying on the battlefield, Cage wakes up again at the start of his day, and has to endure his unceremonious recruitment  into the ragtag J squad all over again. Over and over, he keeps reliving the same day. Eventually he encounters Emily Blunt’s mysterious warrior character, who ends up explaining his predicament and guiding him through his quixotic journey. Eventually she trains him to kick enough ass for them to team up and save the world. (I’d say more, but y’know… spoilers.)

Now, the “save the world” part is the part we know and love in these kinds of action movies, but the soul of this film is in the training, in the living and dying and repeating, as the film’s tagline says. As a regular viewer of normal popcorn action fare, I found it delightful to see Tom Cruise eschew his normal unflinching action hero persona to play a guy who freaks the hell out at the sight of actual combat. Part of the pleasure that unfolds is seeing his gradual progression from frightened neophyte to hardened badass, one grisly demise at a time.

And yet, as I watched, I couldn’t help but feel a few dreaded pangs of conviction.

One of the things this film illustrates is that for some, there is a wide gulf of reality between simply talking about something and actually doing it. Cage was an expert at spouting cliches about heroism and bravery, but when it came time to actually strapping in and being brave, he was a grade-A noob.

image006As for me, I’m a worship leader by trade. It’s my job to stand onstage and lead, with words spoken, sung and accompanied by music, into the throne room of worship. It’s my job to know what to say, what to sing, and how to sing it or say it.

But how much am I living this thing out? How often am I singing worship songs outside of worship planning? How often do my heart and my actions lag behind my words and intentions?

I also write for a living. But how often do I read the Scripture aside from the next blog post or magazine article? How often do I feed myself from God’s living Word just because I need it, not because I need to show it to someone else?

These are the questions I would rather ignore, but unfortunately — and also, fortunately — they can’t be drowned out by THX sound design and the sound of crunching popcorn.

The central point of clarity for me came around the beginning of the second act, after Cage meets Emily Blunt’s super soldier Rita Vrataski. Cage, Vrataski and molecular biophysicist Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor) are holed in a room. Rita and Dr. Carter have just explained the situation to Cage, and, in an attempt to infuse a modicum of hope, tell him that he has the opportunity to change his situation and rid humanity of the alien infestation once and for all. All smiles, Cage says something along the lines of, “so how does this work?”

“You have to die,” she says, with neither compassion nor pity. (After all, she is Emily Blunt.)

Cage blanches immediately. Even before he recites his next line, you can see it all over his face. This is not what I signed up for. Waitaminute, I didn’t even sign up! I was unfairly railroaded into this! Why should I have to die so that others can live?

This is the crux of my predicament, day in and day out. And I know I’m not alone here.

As a Christian, dying to self is not simply a handy metaphor that references Christ’s death and resurrection. It is a daily call to yield our very lives in service to the One who gave up His on our behalf. It’s a challenge to walk, sometimes with blind, stumbling gait, into situations that often make us feel like we’re horribly mismatched, outgunned, and overwhelmed. It’s a willingness to fail repeatedly, sometimes even spectacularly, out of a sense of trust in a divine redeemer and friend whose love overcomes our desire for self-preservation.

It’s in realizing, like Paul Schneider in Lars and the Real Girl did, that taking his brother’s condition seriously and walking with him means that “people are going to make fun of him.”

“And you,” the therapist adds.

image008

“Wait, what?”

This is what it means to die to yourself. So when you say yes to Jesus, this is what you’re saying yes to. This sounds like bad news, but in reality, it’s the best news ever.

It means that we don’t have to keep up with the rat race of success, we don’t have to strive 24/7 to be harder, better, faster, stronger — our success can instead be redefined into simply doing our best to follow Jesus wherever he leads. And it’s not that our dreams and goals are meaningless, but rather, precisely because they are so meaningful, we get to trust in the providence of the one who planted them in the first place.

Not only that, but as we endure difficult trials, we not only obtain a baseline level of wisdom that comes from experience, but we — like our heroes Bill and Rita — get the benefit of walking alongside a comfortable, trusted friend who provides guidance and direction. And when we fail and repent, we get to wake up the next day with a totally clean slate and a fresh well of mercy from which to draw.

So take heart and be of good cheer. And if you’re ready for a good time at the movies, go check out “Edge of Tomorrow,” which opens June 6th in theaters nationwide. Because its lesson is one we should all take to heart:

When it comes to the Christian life, dying is the only way to really live.

*I’ve found that most reviewers, when describing the mashup of style and tone go with “Starship Troopers” but that film had like zero gravitas, and it spent way too much time fetishizing the aliens.

About the author, Jelani Greenidge

Jelani Greenidge is an UrbanFaith columnist based in Portland, Oregon. A writer and musician, he blogs at JelaniGreenidge.com.
  1. Veracity like mendacity makes the power in trying to live, or dying for him key in the interpretation of life and living. READ ALL BELOW.

    ***This is a simulated conversation where the reader can explore and fill in the response of the one represented by the waves and exclamation marks. It’s a chance to allow you to see the one-sided craziness of hearing only ‘one’ side. But hopefully you can see the point of the written conversationalist as well. Hope understanding becomes clear, so that you’ll know that to believe everything that’s presented to you as truth no matter the mouth or medium it comes from without looking a little closer to verify its veracity could be disastrous for many. If you cannot verify its validity, wouldn’t it be wise to withhold judgment until an unbiased investigation? Prov. 24:11-12***

    Leave That Saint Alone!

    Umph. But this is toooo confusing. If I was him I would too!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~!!
    Did he break any laws, commit any crimes, or injure someone himself? !!!!
    But didn’t you say Jesus Paid it All it All? !!!

    Ok, then what did he do? ~~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Exhibited undignified behavior. Um. Embarassed you. Um. Talked too much. Um. Wouldn’t listen. Um. Refused help. Um. !!!

    But where did he do all this?!!!!!!
    At home. In his car. On the Phone. On his computer.

    You couldn’t go to his home?~!
    Ride in his car with him?~!
    Talk on the phone to him?!~!
    Send him an e-mail?~!

    I’m sure you did. Well, somebody didn’t tell the truth did they? And you know what, I bet someone could have told him something!~~!

    And you say he has mental problems, and can’t get appropriate mental ,or any medical help that he really needs?~!!!!!!
    Just what makes you believe he can make those kinds of connections if as you say, he’s crazy?~~~~!!!!!
    He is a genius?~~!!!!!
    Oh, now he is a crazy genius?`!!!!!!

    But I thought you said no one told him anything. How and where was he supposed to get the message so he could have either agreed or disagreed to your plan?~!!!!!
    And he thinks he sees visions from Jesus, says he’s God’s representative, and generally talks crazy?~~~!!!!!

    But what I don’t understand is, why kill him, why don’t you just leave him alone. If God is using Him, and you kill him, you just may be the one to fall under judgment.~~(sigh)!

    But that’s what I hear him saying.~ !!!!!!
    Oh, they’re gonna’ kill him?~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Well, if he believes God will save Him, why don’t you accept that?~~~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I think you all need to leave that poor man alone!~~ ~~~~!
    Why?~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~!
    Oh, now the truth comes out. Money. Power. Revenge. Religion. Sex.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~!!!!!
    That is asinine!! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~!
    But who put him there?~~ ~~~ ~~~~~~~ ~~~~~!
    That’s a lie and you know it!!! From what you told me, local governments and governments and politicians across the country used him, local activists used him, clerics used him, secret organizations used him, gamblers used him with even the youths cashing in, his friends and associates retreated, his family rejected him, and even his wife thinks he is losing it. ~~~~~~~~!!!!!!! (sigh)
    Nope, don’t think he’s the one who’s crazy. Think you all pushed this 60-year-old man to the ultimate in desperate, desperate measures, not giving him a clue as to what was going on and now you and his enemies want him to take the fall for what has essentially been your contrived ludicrousy!~~!!!!!!!

    And on top of all that they’re using witchcraft? !!! Oh my Lord!!! It’s no wonder that man is so miserable. Do you know that opens him to every kind of deceiving spirit that can place thoughts that are not true inside his head, can pass this falsehood off as true to an unsuspecting channeler who reports his interpretations as factual, and whoever is using it can share it with as many as they want as if he said it as fact and he did not; and then so much damage could be done it’s not even funny. ~~~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    And that’s the only solution? There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend!!! And he was willing to do just that. Ok. Ok. Listen, it looks to me like his now multiplied enemies have done a superb job of fracturing and splintering his support, from you all and everybody else by pointing out his shameful faults, un-Christian like behavior, his inconsistent faith, his lack of dignity and lack of pride, his retardation, his uncleaness, his docility, and everybody hates him for the way he has dishonored the race, all the while he continues to prophesy to and love those beating him to death. You can’t talk to him. His family can’t talk to him. His friends can’t talk to him. The clergy can’t talk to him. And the doctors won’t help him. Why in the world not?!!!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~!!!!!!!

    Then I don’t blame him one bit!
    It’s just so clear to me that he has some HUMONGOUS enemies
    who are hiding something far, far worse than his exposed wrong,
    which is really no wrong at all; and all of you have been so quick
    and easy to be manipulated and divided, that you are giving this
    man to those who, if he does survive this, wants to make sure no
    one will take him seriously. And Satan has done everything He could
    short of killing this man to make sure everybody hates him so that if
    it were possible to kill him no one would even care. But that’s NOT
    going to happen. I believe this man really is called, really has
    something powerful to say that the devil doesn’t want him to,
    and ‘Pharaoh’ and his daughter he has fooled into believing they are
    just born better so they can profit and have fun while he is fading
    away from the mammoth pain caused by them. That’s why this has
    been kept up. I bet they bribed everyone from doctors, term used
    loosely, to clergy, and all in between to
    pull this off.~~~~~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Well, it just seems to me he cared more about protecting and caring for all of you than you all combined, cared for him. You all need to stop telling this man what he should do and just love him. Do you even know how hard it is to be called, and then this Lady of Kingdoms has, through her craftiness, separated him from everyone he loves and knows so that he is in the dark about what she sends out to make people laugh, disrespect, and want to harm him for things he did not say or do or maybe did say or do but she takes completely out of context?~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~!!!!!

    You’re darn right! She hits and hides her hand! Then because this demon possessed woman wants to make big bucks and to destroy him she starts a smear campaign so that absolutely no one would believe, much less understand him. You need to stop! Stop believing this woman who has left her mark on all of you. Stop believing all those she sends with the latest chunk of lies on him! STOP YOUR MESS! And start as this man has asked, many, mayn, many times for all of you to just believe God. Love the brother. Help this brother heal. According to you, he has been in this spiritual and psychological warfare too long! 35 years is too long to fight Satan alone! Just love him and give the man a break!!! That woman and that whole force behind her is EVIL and you need to hear from God and not her, because as sure as I am black, she is the chief one orchestrating all of this and she probably has the backing of people and agencies you would never believe; she and her Pawdy and a huge slew of people in her network ranging from stars, politicos, medicine, media, from producers, to TV personalities, to movie ruses, to radio hackers, computer hackers, to strangers on the street, and company. I bet they brought in their own bogus “Special Forces” of every persuasion and color to guide all of you in how to deal with this ‘phenomena’. And I bet they told you, now you must never tell him or…the WRATH of KHAN will come down and smite all!! And I bet you bought it, every one of you bought it. And she and the forces are laughing their heads off at the easiest group of all to make a fool of because she really knew how to network, and had them and her witchcraft crew studying him, you, everybody for years and I bet you never even saw her face!!~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~!!!!!

    I may not! But I’ll tell you one thing, you don’t have all the facts either. And I BET mine are at least closer, far closer to the truth than yours.~~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    His arrogance? His pride? His fault? Well how do you like that? You know what?! Despite what that wacked out woman and her Paw, who is holding the truth in unrighteousness, have so nicely put into place, God is the ultimate judge over all. Just admit that you all have been duped. What is evident, believe it or not, is if you persist in opposing and oppressing this man, you and those others may find yourselves fighting against God.~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~!!!

    I don’t care! That council may believe everything they see and hear; but God does not consider what is seen or heard because He knows all truth…and He knows every lie they have told. And they are liars. Big liars. All of them. You know what I believe? I believe God is priming His glistening sharp arrows of justice to strike at His not their appointed time; and when He hits his target it will be all over. Do you hear me? Over! And you know what else? I know He will bless that man abundantly beyond belief forever.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    She’s dead?!!! Heaven help that man because she is controlling things even from the grave! Well, I don’t know what else to say. Good Bye.

    Hmph. (And I thought I knew you well, seems like Satan’s gotten a big hold on you too).

  2. uhhhhhh…. whut?!

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