Once in a while, you read a book and you set it down on your chest after finishing it, just contemplating what happened. You are forced to think in new categories, to explore new dimensions. All You Need Is Kill was a book like that for me. Here, we’ll explore some of the major themes in the work that inspired the film “Edge of Tomorrow.” Check out my look at the film. There are SPOILERS in what follows. I’ll not sum up the plot, but a summary may be found here.
Truth and Taste
Right at halfway through the book, Sakurazaka shifts the focus from the main character, Keiji Kiriya, to Rita Vrataski, the American special forces operative who is known as the “Valkyrie” or “Full Metal *****.” There’s a photographer attached to her unit, who realizes the importance of taste and imagery in the matter of truth:
“Great lighting. Days like today can make even a steel-and-rivets airplane look like a da Vinci…”
“I take great pride in the role I play conveying the truths of this war to the public. Of course, 90 percent of the truth is lighting.” (100, cited below)
The somewhat cynical comments echo with our society which is obsessed with appearances. Models are photoshopped, a good logo keeps products in our memories, and a photo is able to shift entire perceptions of a conflict or event. The notion that 90% of truth may be determined by lighting certainly cannot refer to objective truth, but as far as perceived truth goes, it may be on-target in its emphasis on the way imagery can be manipulated to change our perceptions of truth. It is something to guard against.
Later, the same cameraman notes that a picture of a corpse may inspire revulsion or lawsuits, but “on the homepage of the New York Times, it could win you a Pulitzer Prize” (102). Again, these lines speak to the need to be wary of how our perceptions can shape reality as we see it. A self-critical attitude may help prevent some of the pull that someone may exert over us simply by shifting the perspective or lighting just a bit. I’m not calling for a shunning of imagery or anything of the sort–instead, I’m merely pointing out we need to be aware of how the way we view things visually may impact our beliefs, and be aware of the way that visuals may be manipulated.
The Shifting Sand of Human Experience
Keiji, as he experiences the looping of time, begins to contemplate the notion that humanity really is fleeting:
“Our lives should be written in stone. Paper is too temporary–too easy to rewrite.” (85)
The human condition is at the forefront in All You Need Is Kill because there is an urgency throughout the entire novel–how does Keiji end the loops, how might he escape the cycle, how could he end the threat to humanity? Put against the stark backdrop of extinction, Keiji’s reflection on human nature is poignant: humanity fades away. Our stories may be rewritten. If the alien race wins, there could be nothing left. Keiji longs for an experience of transcendence, a way to continue beyond the day-to-day activity of existing. He looks to be written in stone, but even that is not enough.
All You Need Is… Sacrifice
Ultimately, the only way to end the cycle is through sacrifice. Here is where the novel differs most radically from the film it inspired. Keiji is forced to kill Rita in order to break the loop. He must destroy that which he loves in order to save all of humanity. In a moving scene, Rita forces Keiji into battle with her in order to make him destroy her. As she dies from a mortal blow, she speaks to Keiji’s sacrifice:
“The Keiji Kiriya I know wouldn’t sacrifice the human race for himself.”
Keiji is forced to watch her die, realizing that it was the only way to save the human race. It is a sacrifice of the one for the many: a prioritization of the group over the individual. Though it is not explicitly a matter of self-sacrifice, in a way Keiji did just that: he gave up that which he loved most in order to save all of humankind. It is a theme which echoes powerfully with the Christian tradition.
All You Need Is Kill is a masterful piece of military science fiction. It is vulgar–often very vulgar–but it is also filled with themes that cause reflection and deep thought. It’s the kind of novel that sticks with you afterwards, forcing you to think on it. It challenges paradigms which you know hold sway. For the Christian, it teaches a theme of individual sacrifice being valued over individual satisfaction. To borrow from Anthony Weber in his overview, one may find echoes of John 15:13- “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
“Edge of Tomorrow” – Sacrifice, Brutality, and Choice– I explore a number of themes found in the film based on this book. The two are very different, but reflect much of the same imagery.
All You Need Is Kill/Edge of Tomorrow– Anthony Weber looks over a number of themes in the book from a Christian perspective. If you read the book (or are planning to), check out this look in addition to the one you just read by me! Follow his site, because it is fantastic.
Hiroshi Sakurazaka, All You Need Is Kill (San Francisco: Haikasoru, 2004).
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