If you haven’t seen Edge of Tomorrow, first go watch it. It’s a genuinely beautiful story that also happens to be unexpectedly funny and occasionally quite heartfelt. It’s worth your time.
As usual, this is not a review. Expect abundant spoilers to follow.
The first of half of the film sees Major William Cage evolve from a reluctant inexperienced deserter into a battle-hardened alien-killer. On his first couple of drops, he can’t even figure out how to take his safety off. By the end of the film, he is demanding extra ammo and battery packs without a hint of fear.
Much of this transformation occurs under the training of uber soldier Sergeant Rita Vrataski. With her guidance Cage becomes a living weapon capable of decimating his enemies through endless repetition and practice. However despite the excellent action scenes, training montages and humorous deaths, the heart of the film really lies in an extended break in the middle of the run time. Here we take a pause from the endless cycle of death and rebirth to examine the prickly relationship between Cage and Rita.
After Cage and Vrataski steal a vehicle and dispatch the mimic hiding in the trailer, the pair cross the French countryside in search of the Omega’s location. Here the narrative takes great pain to place the viewer in Rita’s shoes. After smashing the radio announcing the fall of London to mimics, Cage tries to make conversation with Rita. Not a fan of talking, she shuts him down. She doesn’t want to get to know him, she just wants to win the war.
Hoping to surprise her with his prior knowledge, Cage reveals that she has already told him about a trip she took with her family as well as her middle name. Rita responds that she made that story up and that he is wrong about her middle name. Was she lying in the past or is she lying now? It’s not entirely clear, but either way she puts Cage at a distance.
However Cage is in the precarious situation of getting to know her more and more every day while she still sees him as a stranger. He has learned from her and fought side by side. He has also seen her die in front of him countless times. Despite the urgency of their mission, he has grown to care for her and ultimately needs her to survive the day’s events and wants her to shed her stony exterior and open up to him.
Cage pulls out another bit of information has acquired over their time together: Hendricks. Although he doesn’t know the details, he knows this name is important. However this upsets Rita immediately. She demands to know the circumstances in which she shared this name. Visibly bothered, she tells Cage the truth.
Hendricks was someone Rita cared for deeply, perhaps even romantically. She watched him die over and over and despite her best efforts, she was unable to save him. It’s hard to think of a situation in which a person with the Alpha’s powers could not save someone. It’s even harder to imagine what it what it would feel like to be unable to save someone you love over and over again and then live with that pain for the rest of your life. Rita asks Cage to never talk to her about Hendricks ever again.
Although the film doesn’t tell us, it’s logical to assume that something meaningful must have happened in the past for the ever stoic Rita to have even mentioned this name to Cage. Doing so can only have been either an accident on Rita’s part or an open invitation for Cage to keep trying to connect with her.
Ironically, what Rita experienced with Hendricks is exactly what Cage is trying to prevent himself: the death of someone he cares about and can probably save. However as Cage only has a single day to befriend Rita and try to sway her from her suicidal mission of destroying the Omega in person, this is basically impossible. Cage will eventually realize this by the end of this sequence.
They continue driving until they run out of fuel. Shedding their depowered exosuits, they make their way to a farm house and find a helicopter. At this point the viewer still does not know the truth: Cage has already been to the house, discovered the helicopter, and learned how to fly it. Like Rita, this is still our first time.
After pausing to stitch up Rita’s wounded shoulder, Cage searches the house and brings back coffee. Although Rita is amazed that he was able to find coffee, she doesn’t yet realize what’s going on. It’s only when Cage pointedly remembers that she takes exactly three sugar packets in her coffee that Rita understands that this is not their first time finding the helicopter. Immediately her eyes widen as the realization hits her that Cage has been concealing information from her. She demands to know how many times they have been here. She (and the audience) have been tricked.
Then comes the first of the two big revelations: Cage says no matter how many times they try to take off with the helicopter, one of them always dies. He has not been able to move on from this point because he is not willing to let her die in the same way that Rita was willing to let Hendricks die. He will try again and again because if he lets her die here and kills the Omega, she will stay dead for good.
And then Cage admits, “I wish I didn’t know you, but I do.”
For two soldiers facing an unbeatable enemy and living the same day over and over again, this is a candid statement. In some ways, Cage is still the cowardly PR guy napping in back of a helicopter. Unlike Rita, he did not volunteer for this fight. Being a super soldier doesn’t come naturally to him. And where she finally decided to leave behind someone she loved, he can’t.
Insisting that this is the reality of war, she takes the keys from Cage and starts the engine, alerting the nearby mimics. As the helicopter crashes through the house, Cage kills the mimics and finds that Rita has again been mortally wounded. As death closes in around her, Rita gives another rare admission: her middle name is Rose. This is the second big revelation of this sequence.
Although it’s never confirmed, we can be pretty sure that this time she has chosen to share her real middle name. Even though she has only known Cage for a day, knowing the lengths he has gone to trying to save her and intimately aware of the feeling of watching someone you care about die in your arms day after day, she gives Cage a glimmer of hope. Maybe one day she can be more than just a sword-wielding missile-firing Full Metal Bitch. Behind the persona touted in the media and plastered onto billboards and buses, there is a person in there. A person that Cage can still reach. Underneath the armor, she is a Rose.
This is the person Cage is looking for when he returns to her at the end of the movie. Even though she will have no memory of anything that has transpired, arguably Rita is still the only person in the whole who can truly know what Cage has gone through. She is the only person who has lived through this same trauma and seemingly she has become even stronger because of it. It would be easy to write off the romantic undertones as a sappy Hollywood convention, but it’s hard to see how could Cage not be drawn to the only person who has shared this strange ritual of continual life and death. It is only under Rita’s mentorship that Cage has truly become “baptized” and “born again” in the words of Master Sergeant Farell. It is only at the point of death, a shared dying, that they have even come this far in their fight against the Mimics. That bond is not convention. It is deeply rooted in the characters’ story.
Learning her middle name finally bring Cage to the point of no return. He has tried to find a way to keep her alive but now he sees that the only way he can do that is by starting over without her. She trained him every day. She made it with him as far at the helicopter. But now Cage will leave her out of it. The next day when he normally approaches her to tell her about how he acquired the Alpha’s power, he instead turns around and goes on his own.
After hiding information from each other, personal information in Rita’s case and information about reaching the helicopter in Cage’s case, the two have come to an understanding. Rita can share her secrets because Cage will do anything to save her. Cage can leave her behind because he has admitted just how much he cares. Through Rita’s help, he also has matured enough as a soldier to face the Omega on his own. He doesn’t need Rita to kill it for him anymore. And he’s no longer a coward.