Monday, October 8, 2012

'Looper': A Review

This actually isn't going to be a review. More a rationalizing wank to justify my suspension of disbelief for what was, in my opinion,  well crafted and entertaining horror movie.

Now, I think we need to get this out of the way right now. Time travel stories fall squarely within the horror genre. Not science fiction, not fantasy, or rather, maybe those, but if so, then placed on the horror shelf.

I mean, think about it. It's Time Travel! What could possibly go wrong?

You may think you can think of counter examples that don't fit the mold. Take Groundhog Day. That's a comedy, right? Wrong! Horror movie.

Bill Murray gets trapped in causal loop and almost immediately commits suicide to get out of the nightmare. Horror comedy movie. Or comical horror movie. There's no blood, no gore, no shocking surprises, no psychological tension, but it's still a horrible trap to be stuck in Time. Get the idea? It's an existential thing. Life is a beautiful horror movie. Time travel is just another metaphor for that fucking fly in the ointment, that pea under mattress, that ruins an otherwise beautiful experience. But, as the Buddha said, or should have said, even Hell can be comfortable with the right mindset.

Exhibit B. The previews for 'Looper'? Chosen and shown using the patented diabolical you-also-might-be-interested-in marketing algorithm, every single preview was a horror movie.

Speaking of that, I would request that you complain to the management (and I have) about
  1) the fucking sound volume in the theater, has everyone gone deaf? and
  2) the fucking near-subsonic bass sensurround buzz that shakes the muscles in my back and
       just annoys the hell out of me.

Oh, and, as a result of the Aurora Colorado shootings, and with what the sainted George Carlin called the continuing pussification of America, they now have a fucking safety lecture film before the movie. Seriously? "Look for the exits!" we are told, "The exits may be to your left... or to your right... or behind you!" At this point, the film malfunctioned or got cut short with "... in case of an emergency-"

Fortunately for me, a wag in the audience displayed perfect comedy timing by shouting, a half beat after the cut off "What!? WHAT DO WE DO?!!!"

I swear to the Almighty, I must come across as Uncle Fester in these movie houses, as I seemed to be the only one that laughed, and such is the case at other supposedly inappropriate moments. Of course, I'm laughing at a different level. For example, when Bruce Willis' character kills every single mob gatman in the syndicate headquarters, I laughed my ass off. I was the only one that was laughing, and people were changing seats to move away from me. I was amused because it was obviously a homage/ripoff of the police station massacre scene from the Terminator.

Alright, so, 'Looper'. I thought it a well-crafted and consistently entertaining action movie, with only a minimum of stupidity, which, coming from me, is high praise.

Director and writer Rian Johnson, I suspect, is not a Republican.  The dystopian future of 2044, set in, I'm guessing, Kansas City, is what happens if the Age of Reagan continues. Sustained economic collapse, elimination of all safety nets, continued unwise accelerated depletion of resources, laissez-faire capitalism, devil-take-the-hindmost, every-man-for-himself social philosophies, which engenders and encourages a criminal attitude towards life, in which case you have the increasingly fewer and fewer elite being protected by feral humans, who themselves have obviously displaced the soft and pampered Romney-style elites to become the new criminal elite. But somehow, against all fortune and logic, China, which is and shall ever be a basket case, is a paradise in 2074.

Time travel in the future is outlawed. And as we all know, if time travel is illegal, only criminals will have time travel.  I took this to be a jab at the stupid conservative logic against gun control. I also was pleased with the extremely low bar set for this new technology. Rather than risk the present by changing the past, our conservative crime bosses of the future use time travel for garbage disposal. They sent unwanted elements into the past to be assassinated and disposed of. Interestingly, there must be some higher form of governing, as the crime bosses are worried about body indentification, which suggests they fear a higher authority. (And of course, I just can't see governments NOT using time travel, or perhaps the dirty business is farmed out to the syndicates, in which, oh, man, government in the future is truly fucking right-wing totalitarian scary).

Speaking of scary, one of the best, possibly even classic, sequences in the movie involves the slow mutilation of a future-self looper as a mob tactic of persuasion. Seth, a looper, allows his future self to escape. In order to get the older self to surrender, Seth is surgically mutilated. As a result, his older self  is alarmed to find himself losing parts of his anatomy until he gives himself up. This wonderfully creepy sequence of scenes is utilized later when Bruce Willis finds scars appearing on his person - only to find out it is self-mutilation to set up a meeting with his younger self.

As I said, time travel movies are horror movies, and this was one of the more creative and inventive horror mechanisms I've seen used.

I'm able to ignore the limitations of narrative in depicting time travel - it's just a movie after all. Some people are puzzled by it, but I'd say it's their loss to think too much about it.

I think my only (and very small) objection (although it is used well in the plot) is the need for the telekinetics. These people have a mutation that allows them to move small objects with their minds. The common example is that they can levitate a quarter. This is considered a useless talent. But, you know, the amount of energy needed to counteract the mass of a quarter against gravity is around 4,905 ergs, which is more than sufficient force to constrict a minor artery - say, for example, one that feeds blood to that motor region of the brain that controls breathing. Why the TK freaks are not used for assassination is not explored.

It was used as a plot device to explain how a more powerful TK freak - a "holy terror" known as the Rainmaker - is able to take over the world's crime syndicates single-handedly, but the plot could have moved forward without this device. As I said, a minor quibble.

The fact that this movie even makes me go through this speculative wank is proof positive that it will no doubt become a cult classic  - up there with The Terminator, and - naturally - 12 Monkeys.

(And if you have never seen the movie 12 Monkeys was based upon - La jetée - stop everything now, and watch it).


  1. Good review John. The plot makes perfect sense even if it may seem a bit confusing at first, and the suspense draws you in but something just did not mix so well in the end. I didn’t really care all that much for the characters and that’s sort of why the pay-off didn’t do much for me.

    1. Thanks, Dan. I would suggest that reason the characters were not particularly engaging is that Johnson wished to portray them as damaged half-alive people from a damaged fucked-up time - not quite living up to their full potential in the same way feudal serfs don't live up to theirs. Even Daniels, in the role of the 'anchor', a crime boss who has to try to keep the past in line, is having his strings pulled from the future, and is no doubt terrified as to what could happen to him if he fucks up. (Keep in mind, with time travel, you can punish people fore practically ever).