7 Things in Looper that Still Bug Me

~spoilers ahead~

When Looper (2012) entered the movie theatres in late September there was much hype across the usual internet sources such as Twitter, Facebook and blog sites. Currently it stands at over 90% on the Rotten Tomatoes breakdown of favourable film reviews and many hyperbolic statements have been made suggesting it is not  only the smartest movie ever seen but also a signal of Hollywood’s new ‘intelligent’ era.

Based on the concept of an apocalyptic 2044 where assassins (Loopers) are hired to kill individuals sent back in time from 2074, the film treads slight ground between the realm of possibility needed to engage audiences and the fantastical nature of the time-travel narratives. Critics were quick to point out that the film should not be judged by picking apart holes in the narrative, particularly as a wry moments between the protagonists Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Old Joe (Bruce Willis) states that the complications of time-travel are not worth spending much time on.

My own feelings were that the script was sufficiently well constructed to ask the audience to suspend their disbelief and that the time-travel conundrum was dealt with in a satisfactory manner. (For an alternative opinion see here.) What did set me aside from many of the critics I read, however, was a huge sense of disappointment in the way the script was brought to production. In particular, all the audio-visual elements that make cinema a unique art form seems to be co-opted in order to produce a conservative and regressive film that didn’t do justice to the wealth of cinema culture that Looper had at its disposal.

While there were many things that frustrated me in the film the following is a list of seven things that, a couple of weeks after watching Looper, still bug me.

1. The film makes clear its debt to twentieth century film, particularly techno-noirs such as Blade Runner (1982), Terminator (1984) Gattaca (1997) and RoboCop (1987). For cinephiles this is a welcome salute to films that were at times ground-breaking and more often than not able to catch a mood in the twentieth century that wasn’t expressed elsewhere. Why, then, does Looper also play homage to films like Showgirls (1995) and Striptease (1996) with a female character, Suzie (Piper Perabo), that has her clothes off for 80% of her screen time?

2. Following on from this point, the link to Terminator is particularly clear when Looper’s Sara, like Terminator’s Sarah, is portrayed as a mother who will desperately save her young son at all costs. But why does Looper reset Sara as the in-need-of-a-man-to-save-me figure that appeared in the first Terminator rather than the beefed up Sarah Connor that could hold her own in the later Terminator 2 (1991) (a Sarah that at least knew how to point a gun and pull the trigger)?

3. It seems understandable (albeit slightly puerile) that in a twenty-first century society concerned with a ‘crisis in masculinity’ Looper places a strong focus on examining mother-son relationships. Recent films such as We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011) have done this in a complex, exploratory and non-moralising fashion. Why did Looper need the blunt voice-over at the end of the film to emphasise the point  that humanity will only be saved when women are allowed to return to their correct place as mothers.

4. Why the clunky editing that on so many occasions was timed to the exact meter of the music, with the effect that individual shots seemed to scream ‘look at me’ rather than allowing the audience to follow the more subtle rhythms of what were, for the most part, good performances?

5. Why did Looper make it clear that the only splurge in the budget went on flash cars and futuristic scooters with the aforementioned editing used to make sure we don’t accidentally miss them?

6. In the same way that Inception (2010) spent much of its time articulating a complex premise with three-dimensional characters, Looper introduced a range of engaging ideas and multifaceted personas to deal with its time-travel complications. Why, then, the formulaic action finale whereby, in a similar manner to Inception, a range of anonymous ‘baddies’ are thrown together in an almost intelligible chaos-cinema scene that results in the meaningless destruction of all involved.

7. Some reviewers have picked up on the potential political allegory presented by the victims that come back in time in face-covering hoods. Why does the film seem to make a claim that it is ideologically unsound to turn humans into faceless others that are unworthy of life when it does just that to its faceless baddies that are slaughtered without consequence in the action finale?

Much of my thoughts on the gender roles in Looper coincide with those articulated by the Feminish blog. In that account other issues, such as the silent Asian female stereotype, are also written about and are worth reading.

On an ending note, I think Looper is a film that can be enjoyed for pure entertainment purposes and it works as an interesting (even if not so successfully executed) companion piece to Twelve Monkeys (1995).  Just don’t tell me it is the smartest movie you have ever seen.

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1 Comment

  1. PyD

     /  October 18, 2012

    These are nice – I hadn’t noticed the editing thing, and chaos cinema is a new term to me, and I must admit Ms Perabo shuts down the critique part of my brain.

    But I think in point three you’re looking at Emily Blunt’s character as a woman first and parent second where what’s important for the narrative is that she is a parent, a mother.

    I read the nature versus nurture element of the time travel plot as being mostly derived from elements of child focussed psychotherapy that posit that what a parent can do for a child is hold their anxieties and fears giving them time to learn how to appropriately manage them. Children who don’t have access to a parental figure who can hold their anxieties tend to learn to either withdraw or act out as coping strategies because they spend so much of their childhood being so overwhlemed by adult world stresses with which they are not equipped to cope.

    The film’s hero enacts his Aristotelian moments of recognition and reversal through the nurture idea – Joe recognises that his coping system was manipulated by Jeff Daniels character into his career as a Looper

    [side point] – this makes me thing that the chaos cinema shoot ’em up could be read is an expression of his chaotic timeline brought to literal life, that old Joe would only bring chaos is inevitable because of how his development was manipulated; but this literally jumped into my brain while typing having read your point on the same, as opposed to the larger point here which is how I responded to the film while watching it –

    and he chooses the hope that he can reverse this loop spiralling outwards into the life of the boy.

    Young Joe is confronted with the single-minded, chaotic future self; who, obsessed with a lost and false redemption reverts to chaos, (ie was never truly saved, because a person can not save or redeem another person, a person does that alone through continuously choosing the path of salvation), and knows the loop he must close is the loop of violence and chaos itself.

    I think the entire movie would have worked on this thematic level with a father figure on the farm and Joe being a Josephine. Its not about women returning to their correct place, its about the importance of our very early formative years on helping us develop the skills that allow us to cope with the massive adversities of simply being human expressed in suitably genre appropriate hyperbolic terms.

    As for things that bug me – this film told us about the range capacity of the guns at least as often as Batman told us the auto pilot STILL wasn’t working.


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