Tom Cruise contractually perhaps takes his shirt off in every single movie and these days when doing so resembles, in both body and spirit, a shucked, as a friend perfectly wrote once, oyster. We all cling to things, some of us underwater. In one small early scene in Steven Spielberg’s 2005 remake of War of the Worlds, Tom Cruise as Ray Ferrier animorphs into an oyster; we watch him as he flexes like a tongue to escape the shell of his soiled work shirt before he lowers his disheveled bedroom blinds to mute the morning sun; he needs to catch some hard zeds after a long night shift on the docks loading and unloading containers from ships, him perched inside the head of a dinosaurian machine as puny people watch from below. These few seconds of filmic time are a part of what is a truly remarkable opening 38 minutes before this movie gradually and predictably sinks in quality until we find ourselves stuck for what seems like hours but is probably days and is really just minutes inside some dim damp basement with the always too tall Tim Robbins as he acts badly, an experience not unlike being stuck inside the East Brunswick Club’s dim damp bandroom watching too tall Tim Robbins play guitar badly – not that I would know. That this movie boasts such an unmitigatedly perfect opening sequence is one of life’s unimportant blessings if you just lean in.
“I lived in thirteen houses before I was a legal adult, all within the same clump of postcodes, and each was a home the same way that an IKEA is a bunch of homes squished together. ”
When I used to work from an office in Melbourne’s long-feted and ill-fated Docklands precinct – in a shonky squat building, years old but never tenanted and so brand new, in the shittest section of an underwhelming precinct, after cycling there every day from a nicer ‘burb along an industrial-meets-nature bike trail – I would sometimes break up my days by walking through the vast concrete plazas that sat in between towering concrete buildings and some part of me sensed something under all that concrete, something buried deep and bad. And although I didn’t know what it was I probably actually did then know and definitely do now; what I tended to ponder was that perhaps aliens thousands of years ago had buried a giant machine and in some inexplicable tempest these aliens would arrive in silent lightning and my time in the Docklands would be cut short by the cracking birth of a monster from beneath. And no matter how much my ego now wishes for me to write something different I deeply know that I am not Tom Cruise. I would be one of those many, many running screaming extras who dart about Tom Cruise in every Tom Cruise film, without ever looking Tom Cruise in the face. Perhaps I’d be lucky enough to appear full and large in frame, and then instantly cremated, zapped to a human dust that coats Tom Cruise as he – probably also contractually – sprints like a complete maniac to go save us all. By ‘us all’ I mean some of us (those of us not now dust; we have become dust because this demonstrates that Tom Cruise also could’ve become dust, to dust he could’ve returned – it really could’ve happened, as audience member you believe that surely, that Tom Cruise can die, and that even the characters he plays can. You understand that life is chaos? And all we can do is triage in each moment? And then the next moment?) and by ‘some of us’ I mean Tom Cruise’s movie family.
I should know what it feels like to be in a movie family because my father is a real estate agent and worst of all he is one of the best. So we moved and moved and moved. I lived in thirteen houses before I was a legal adult, all within the same clump of postcodes, and each was a home the same way that an IKEA is a bunch of homes squished together. And sometimes I still think of those years in the Docklands – that entire cold butt cheek of the city entirely created by real estate agents and people who might as well be – and I think about those desire paths I treaded microscopically-deeper each day into the endless concrete. And I think about the towering apartment blocks in the Docklands and in every docklands and in every city and soon to be every single housing option, those stacks of dioramas with the same IKEA bits and pieces neatly placed in, and always with the saddest dog you’ve ever heard on every single one of the balconies, each dog unable to see any of the others but all howling and yelping their truth. If Tom Cruise has a dog I wonder if it knows. I wonder if when Tom Cruise runs with his dog he runs like he is saving the world. When will IKEA sell not just hot dogs but actual dogs? We’ve already replaced so much with them. While oysters aren’t on the Pet Poison Helpline’s list of toxins, it’s a wise idea to avoid feeding them to your dog. The oysters may have eaten toxic algae called dinoflagellates whose toxins concentrate in the oysters’ tissues and can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning.
Sam Cooney runs the independent book press Brow Books and is publisher of quarterly literary magazine The Lifted Brow. He is publisher-in-residence at RMIT, teaches sessionally at universities, and is a freelance writer and literary critic. In 2017 he took part in the Australia Council’s ‘Future Leaders’ professional development program, earlier this year he was a part of the Australia Council publishing delegation tour of India, and right now he is in the United States on a research trip about not-for-profit trade publishing. From 2013–2015 The Lifted Brow operated from a rent-free office space in Docklands as part of the Docklands Spaces initiative run by Renew Australia.