Based on the Japanese novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Edge of Tomorrow tells the story of Major William Cage (Tom Cruise), a man who is forced onto the front lines for a major military operation against invading aliens known as “Mimics.” Untrained and unprepared for combat, Cage is killed within minutes – only to wake up 24 hours earlier with no choice but to relive (and die) the same day over and over.
Like many time travel (or time loop) stories, Edge of Tomorrow relies on heady exposition and mind-bending sci-fi ideas which may confuse certain moviegoers. For that reason, we’re here to help breakdown the Major Cage’s ability to “reset” time, as well as explain the film’s ending. Our discussion is going to be full of SPOILERS from here on out – for both Edge of Tomorrow and the All You Need is Kill source material. READ NO FURTHER unless you’re all caught up. You have been warned.
MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW
The Source of Time Looping
In the opening moments of the film, we learn that Major Cage is a government-sponsored talking head who refuses to document the UDF campaign “Project Downfall” from the front lines. Branded a deserter, Cage is forced into military service (as part of J-squad) on the eve of a massive offensive, waking up at Heathrow airport in handcuffs (the starting point for the time loops he experiences throughout the film).
In spite of rigorous planning and secrecy, the Mimics see the attack coming and the offensive turns into a massacre – wiping out humanity’s last line of defense. On the ground, Cage watches as J-Squad and UDF war hero Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) are mercilessly slaughtered by orange-tinted Mimic drones. During the fracas, Cage comes face to face with a blue colored “Alpha” Mimic, exterminating the creature as its acidic blood rains down on his face, killing him. That Alpha blood gives Cage the ability to “loop” (aka reset time by a day).
Through countless trial and error attempts, Cage manages to befriend Vrataski and her physicist confidant Dr. Carter (Noah Taylor) who explain their theories on Mimic physiology. Carter asserts that the Mimics, named for their uncanny ability to adapt to human military strategies, are a highly-evolved hive mind capable of controlling time. At the center of the collective is the “Omega” Mimic, an extremely large and powerful creature that serves as the brain of the Mimic force but is hidden far away from the battlefield for its own protection.
Where the normal orange-colored Mimics are basic workers/pawns, sent into battle for the sole purpose of killing enemies, the Omega also employes the use of the blue-tinted Alphas, who serve as the eyes and ears of the Omega on the front lines. Unlike basic Mimics, Alphas are precious to the collective, and thanks to their direct link to the Omega, contain the head creature’s time-controlling essence in their blood. Should an Alpha die, the Omega resets time but retains the knowledge of everything that went wrong on the battlefield – allowing the creature to make tactical adjustments accordingly, and gain an upper hand in the new time cycle.
The highly-evolved power to wind back the clock is responsible for the extraterrestrial’s unrelenting adaptation to human military efforts, as well as the reason Mimics were able to see Cage’s invasion force coming: because the Omega had already watched it all happen in a previous timeline, and had mapped out a different strategy following one or many resets. In effect, the Omega is able to turn any fight that it experiences into an elaborate trap – until Cage inadvertently hijacks the time-loop ability.
The Rules of Time Looping
At the time of his first death, Cage is drenched in the blood of a dying Mimic, essentially transferring the Omega’s time control ability to Cage. After saving her on the French battlefield, Vrataski reveals that she had experienced the same looping phenomenon during an assault at Verdun, but subsequently lost the ability after she was severely injured and bleeding out. During her time looping, she worked with Dr. Carter to understand how the time reset ability actually worked – attempting to find out if it could be transferred to others via physical contact, blood, or other bodily fluids.
The pair came to the conclusion that only one organism (Mimic or Man) could be in charge of the reset at any given time – meaning that when Rita acquired the ability, the Omega no longer had control, giving Vrataski (and later Cage) a temporary edge. The Alpha blood also caused Vrataski (and eventually Cage) to have visions of the Omega’s hidden location, and Dr. Carter surmised that if they could find the creature in time, before a reset, they could wipe out the entire Mimic invasion force – since the creatures were all extensions of the Omega. As it turns out, Vrataski and Cage’s “visions” were actually traps, planted by the Omega after it had figured out who was in control of the loop – by drawing Rita (and later Cage) to an isolated location, the Omega hoped to reclaim its looper blood, so that the Mimics could regain control of the time reset.
Cage manages to survive the Omega’s trap (by drowning himself) and the encounter encourages him to revisit an abandoned piece of technology that Dr. Carter had built – based on the appearance of Vrataski’s original visions – to track the Omega by hijacking an Alpha’s connection to the Omega. After a number of resets, Cage and Vrataski successfully acquire the gadget, and Cage uses the device on himself (since his body contains Alpha blood), quickly locating the Omega. Yet, during their attempted escape with the device, UDF infantry destroy their getaway car, leaving Cage injured and bleeding out. He awakens hours later with an IV pumping fresh blood into his arm, having lost the ability to reset time – just like Vrataski had months earlier.
As a result, control of the loop reverts to the Omega – but, unless an Alpha is killed, Cage and Vrataski still have time to travel to the creature’s location and destroy it. The pair enlist the help of J-Squad, who Cage manages to convince of the time loop (thanks to the countless hours he’s spent with each of them in prior loops), and the soldiers set out for Paris – where the Omega is concealed underneath the Louvre. No longer able to reset time, Cage and his team only have one shot to kill the Omega, and are tasked with the added challenge of not killing an Alpha. As mentioned, should the team kill inadvertently kill an Alpha, the Omega would reset time, and Cage would not retain any of the memories of his previous exploits.
The Ending Explained
J-Squad is killed-off one at a time while escorting Cage and Vrataski to the Lourve – where entry to the Omega’s lair is guarded by an Alpha. Vrataski sacrifices herself in order to distract (without killing) the Alpha, while Cage tries to destroy the Omega, which is hiding in a flooded portion of the parking garage. As Cage swims downward, he is impaled (and mortally wounded) by the Alpha, who spears him through the chest with a tentacle; in spite of his injury, Cage manages to release a cluster of grenades. The explosion kills the Omega, and since it is the brain of the Mimic collective, its death causes the remainder of its kind on Earth to wither and die, putting an abrupt end to the alien invasion.
Even though Cage survives the detonation, he is doomed to die – that is, until the Omega’s blood, rising through the water, seeps into his wound. As Cage dies he regains control of the Mimic’s ability to reset time – this time waking up hours before he was ever arrested (his usual start point in the loop). Furthermore, certain actions from the previous loop are retained – while others are not. The Mimics are dead following an unknown event (unknown to everyone but Cage) below the Louvre. Yet, J-Squad and Vrataski have all been resurrected, with no knowledge of their role in eliminating the Mimics during the prior time cycle.
Time Loop Paradox
Unfortunately, Dr. Carter’s theories on the Mimics and the time loop are based only on Vrataski’s unsuccessful first attempt at finding the Omega. As a result, the film does not offer a finite explanation from Carter, Vrataski, or Cage regarding what would happen if they succeeded – let alone an outcome where Cage reacquired the ability to reset time. With limited insight, we do not know how the Mimics developed the ability to manipulate time in the first place, or the larger mechanics of the ability. The source material digs deeper into the Mimic’s backstory, but the film adaptation takes a significant amount of liberties. For that reason, within the context of Edge of Tomorrow, it’s unclear whether time manipulation was an evolutionary leap in Mimic physiology, or a technology they created. Is the ability to alter time confined only to a certain area of influence? Or can a single Omega alter time across the entire plane of existence – including the fates of other Mimic collectives around the universe?
Because we are not told all of the rules, there is not one clear-cut explanation for how the final reset could start hours earlier and incorporate the destruction of the mimics, but leave every other variable unchanged. Time travel logic is always a can of worms, meaning that viewers should have no problem coming up with their own ways of explaining the ending. Still, based on the limited information within the film, the end result is a paradox – one that ultimately provides the audience with a (semi-)happy ending at the expense of a more straightforward story of sacrifice that fits within the previously established rules.
Possible Paradox Explanations
That said, years of complicated sci-fi time travel stories (Doctor Who, Looper, Primer, among others) have laid the foundation for an educated guess – one that fits with Dr. Carter’s Mimic theories. The Omega’s ability to reset time and retain memories from the previous loop mean that, to some extent, it exists outside of a traditional observance of time – suggesting that even though time resets for Cage, Vrataski, J-Squad, and human kind, the Omega’s death is a fixed event outside of the loop. In that situation, time adjusts to the change during the next reset – incorporating the explosion and the death of the Mimics. Given that humanity exists within the normal restrictions of time, when Cage’s death causes the final reset, Vrataski and J-Squad are restored to their former positions at the beginning of his loop.
So why does Cage awaken hours before his normal start point on the Heathrow tarmac? In his previous resets, Cage reverts back to his first waking moment, which – since he was previously knocked out by a taser – occurred on the airfield. However, we know from the opening of the film that Cage’s day originally started hours earlier, prior to his fateful meeting with General Brigham, when his helicopter arrived at UDF headquarters. If in fact time has adjusted to the death of the Mimics, then Cage avoids meeting with the General – since Operation Downfall is no longer necessary. For that reason, Cage would never have been marked a deserter, never been knocked out, and would have never awakened on the airport tarmac. As time anticipates and adjusts to the changes, Cage’s waking moment reverts to its original starting point – when the helicopter landed at the UDF.
If that explanation doesn’t vibe with you, it’s also possible that Omega (as opposed to Alpha) blood gave him increased power for the new reset – either by throwing him farther back in time or providing him the agency to decide a different starting point for the reset. After all, the extent of the Omega’s powers are not outright explained (or known), meaning it’s also possible the brain blood allowed Cage to drastically manipulate reality – by choosing a new waking point, as well as pulling destruction of the Mimics into the new timeline. Regardless of the actual explanation, the new waking point allows Cage to avoid his original arrest and retain his Major rank.
As for whether or not Cage is still able to time loop with no Mimics left on Earth, the post-Omega reset should be Cage’s last. It can be assumed that without the Mimic collective around, Cage no longer has the power to reset time. Still, he might want to ask for a blood transfusion, just to be safe. Otherwise, Major Cage is now free to debrief Vrataski on what actually happened – over a cup of coffee (with three sugars).
SEE ALSO: Edge of Tomorrow Review
Edge of Tomorrow is now playing in theaters.
Have your own theory? Feel free to share it in the comments below! Want to discuss SPOILERS? Head over to our Edge of Tomorrow Spoilers Discussion. Have questions the film didn’t answer? Check back soon for a discussion of the film in our Edge of Tomorrow episode of the Screen Rant Underground Podcast.
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