Tom Cruise is slowly strangling himself in some post-apocalyptic desert landscape. Yes, we are watching ‘Oblivion,’ a dystopian future film shot in Iceland, and surely this is how he must have felt when he was here.
It was not a happy time for the world’s highest paid actor, living in a mansion on the hill overlooking Eyjafjör›ur, so far from Hollywood and so close to Akureyri. For one thing, after over a quarter century as one of cinema’s top guns, he turned fifty. This would be a cause of concern for anyone, but for someone trading on his boy-ish good looks, the prospect of old age must seem daunting. To make matters worse, his wife Katie Holmes refused to join him on his birthday, electing for divorce instead. The suit was filed the day before Iceland re-elected its president, who has been in office since Cruise was still married to Nicole Kidman and making his first Mission: Impossible film.
It was not a happy time for anyone. A report that a local supermarket had been closed to the public so that the actor could do his shopping undisturbed turned out to be untrue, but roads were indeed closed off during his stay up north, much to the irritation of local sheep farmers who could no longer go their usual routes. Cruise is in fact one of the few actors with the pull to have the roads near his home in Hollywood permanently closed to the public, but in a country that has long prided itself on social equality and where stories abound of sheep farmers addressing the King of Denmark as an equal, this impressed no one.
While Ben Stiller charmed inhabitants of the East Fjords during the making of ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ and Russel Crowe became a Reykjavík local by pumping iron at the gym and singing with Patti Smith downtown on his days off from ‘Noah,’ the local verdict on Cruise remains mixed. So, was all the suffering worth it?
Well, kind of. ‘Oblivion’ is a superior, if not ground-breaking, science fiction film with a rather obvious plot twist and excellent visuals. A barren, future hell (Iceland, of course) is populated by clones of the world’s most perfect man (Tom Cruise, of course). In between repairing predator drones made to kill sand people in Darth Vader masks, he has fashioned himself a tiny oasis safe for basketball, baseball caps and Led Zeppelin records (these scenes are shot somewhere else).
Northern Iceland here stands in for New York in 2077, and it is by no means the first time Iceland is used as a dystopia. The first time was ‘Enemy Mine,’ made in 1985 in Vestmannaeyjar but sadly then reshot in a studio, and the latest one bar this is Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel ‘Prometheus.’ Iceland will also soon make an appearance in ‘Thor II,’ where it will probably be the home of the Dark Elves, as in the aforementioned ‘Noah,’ but whether it will be portrayed in this as a new paradise or as a world ripe for drowning remains to be seen.
Iceland, then, is most often used to represent Hollywood screenwriters’ idea of a dark and forbidding place. This, in itself, is kind of funny to locals. “Hey, I can almost see my house from here,” one sometimes feels like shouting at the screen. In more optimistic times, many thought New York was what the world would look like in the future. These days, with global warming, it is more likely that the wastes of Iceland are what New York will wind up looking like. Or, to (mis)quote a phrase from Rambo, what most people call hell, we call home.