11 October 2012

More First Impressions: Looper, Part II: Politics, Philosophy, Time Travel, and Big Guns!

Welcome back to another Looper (2012) post, we'll see if we can get every bit of politics, philosophy, and physics in on this one. Essentially we're looking to cram in all the marginalia of this great Modern Sci Fi feast. In addition to the strong narrative, Looper offers interesting views on all this shib, and really works itself as the first Science Action film of the Recession Generation. Spoilers to come, obvi:

"Go to China."

Looper is a terrifying movie because it's one of the first Sci Fi Future Epics that you can easily picture happening. Maybe not the time travel, but certainly the dystopian American Society. They might as well have had Romney 2012 banners floating in the wind - it's the kind of economic freefall that scares the shit out of everyone all the time. It paints a picture of the United States suffering mass unemployment (to the point of Vagrant Armies roaming the countryside) and little dirty kids playing in the streets with beat up soccer balls. Violence and trash pile up everywhere and crime lords rule cities and run the police out of run down strip joints. Everyone has huge guns and horribly fragile egos.

Note the Lumberjackian Overtones
Yes, the whole film seems to be driven by Vagrants. A few more recessions and a few more political movements that favour more people like Joe and less like Emily Blunt and we're there. The flick is an interesting look at the 1% of the future - young people, fast cars, trendy drugs, nice clothes, all fueled through crime. Fairly lazy crime, at that, you just need a watch for cripes sake. Meet the modern hitman: Stand in a field with a shitty gun. Dude appears. BLAM! When's the party, bro?

As Jeff Daniels says, "Go to China." It's not hard to imagine China as a First World paradise in thirty years. The suburban serenity contrasts with the heavy urban decay stateside. It's an interesting look at the future of our country - all the development and all the technology but none of the power. Apparently the only thing to advance in the next thirty years is cell phones. This is certainly possible.

It's a universe as jaded as we have become having reached 2012 and not experienced anything we thought we were going to have. There's no flying cars, there's no instant dehydrated pizza, and no Martian colonies to vacation to. The cars people drive around are from our day, or hell, even older. There's a patchwork of solar panels and gas pipes to keep these clunkers running. It's a depressing vision, but something that's easily projected from our current trends.

We may also note that Emily Blunt is concerned with her Sugar Cane crops. Yes, in Kansas. What was once a Cuban crop has crept up to the breadbasket as Global Warming screws us over. Also somehow in the next thirty years, some city in Kansas will become one of the five most populated in the United States. In thirty years Kansas will have temperatures like Houston - not that shocking after all, especially as the Deep South becomes inhospitable. It's this kind of subtle implication throughout Looper that really elevates it as a great Sci Fi trip.

Staying in the Loop

So there's all that in the film's subtext, but there's a lot more going on at the philosophical level. This is ultimately a film about free choice or predestiny - why not, this is time travel, after all. Looper does a nice job of ignoring a lot of the nitty gritty messy stuff and instead just presents a ton of interesting shib.

Just like The Expendables...
Joe is not only caught up in his own "loop" - that is, facing the fact that he killed a future version of himself (and the implication that he only has thirty years left on earth [look on the brightside, Joey - you're guaranteed thirty years!]), but also a Loop of Violence. All Joe knows is violence. His mother was killed by Vagrants caught in a self-defeating economic cycle. The only skill he has is violence. Naturally, in the future, the Rainmaker was created through a similar situation. He's a powerful psychic kid hellbent on taking as much pain out on the world as the world did on him.

For the whole movie this is how things are supposed to be. Any change the characters can do has already taken place. Every scar, the aftereffects of torture, even the destiny that some kid WILL become the Rainmaker has already happened. Joe tries to make some free choices, but he's still controlled by the future. The forces of tomorrow force his hand to attempt to kill Old Joe, else he suffer a pretty rough fate. In his arrogance he believes that he can still end this life and go to France, although Old Joe knows he can't escape and ends up working as an assassin until he finds a way to break the cycle - true love in China.

Old Joe then tries to also break his destiny by killing the Rainmaker. Still, even though his life was saved by a loving wife, he can't escape a violent solution. He's Bruce Willis, after all. With where this is going, we should specify that it's specifically a selfish violent solution. Old Joe is only thinking of protecting his own future (or is it his past?). This selfishness and limited cognition traps Joe more than his violence.

It's only at the finale does Young Joe realise that he must be selfless to escape his loop and the loop of pain and tragedy that has befallen the world. In the loop everything plays out for the worst. Emily Blunt dies and her kid grows up pissed and powerful as hell. Only when Joe takes himself out of the world entirely is there a point where the future is unknown - thus showing that even with all the determined paths and predestination there is still free choice, even if that choice is the ultimate sacrifice.

Marty McFly walks into a bar...

So, let's talk about time travel. Even though Bruce tells us not too. Everything seems fair and simple (although how did the Rainmaker get away with all the mass vagrant genocide [not to mention snubbing Bruce's beau] - I suppose it wouldn't take that much to just zap a body back to the past) until the Loopers start coming back and living.

The torture scene may be one of the more disturbing to hit cinemas in years, even though you really don't see anything terrible. It's just the heavy implication of body horror. Which is neat. The way I figure it, though, it simultaneously works as justification for both predestination and a variety of choices. When the mobsters lop off one of Young Seth's fingers that's a permanent action, so Old Seth loses a pointer. There is still, however, room in the future for alternate choices. There leaves room for the possibility of Old Seth walking through the door and ending the pain of Young Seth. There is kind of a rolling timeline at work here that is resistant to change. It supposes that the permanent body damage will happen but everything else will work out. Who knows how Old Seth's memories or the rest of his life changed, but the ultimate fact remained that he was still captured in the future and sent back in time.

The urgency to kill Old Seth is just that - it minimizes damage done to the timeline (or more practically, a highly trained assassin who knows the future seeking revenge on his killers, which would muck up the timeline even more). Like I said, though, the timeline is resilient. Mucking it up is more like the mobsters lose their power.

Timelines are also flexible. I think I figured out the Rainmaker thing - because there were actually in fact THREE timelines, yes, stay with me here (maybe):

Timeline 1) Joe lives to be an old dude in a peaceful future and is captured and sent back in time. He knows this was coming though and doesn't resist, his wife isn't shot to he accepts his fate

Timeline 2) That Old Joe is sent back and Young Joe nails him. Joe then lives his life knowing he kills himself in the past. He resists arrest and his wife is killed. He vows to change his fate.

Timeline 3) That Old Joe escapes, knocks Young Joe on his ass and then goes on a kiddie killing spree. In order to end the Loop, Young Joe kills himself, thus also killing Old Joe.

Anyone else think JGL looks like
Abby Wambach in this Mondo Poster?
Questions remain - like, it seems as if Old Joe was the source of the Rainmaker rather than his killer. By killing Emily Blunt he would have enraged the sprat enough that he would have blown Old Joe apart and became the hard killer he was that inspired Old Joe to come back to the past in the first place. It's possible that the timeline Old Joe is from IS actually the timeline we see in the movie - just one where Young Joe failed to stop his Older Counterpart. It's likely in this scenario that Young Joe would have escaped fine, or even that the Rainmaker wouldn't remember that he was the stranger he made a connection to on the farm thirty years ago (especially since Joe now looks like his mother's murderer).

Since Old Joe's memory gets fuzzy, it's also possible that he doesn't know exactly what's going on or remember that he's done this before. We only know that the film originates for sure at Timeline 1 and ends for sure at Timeline 3. In between there is a lot of pain that could have happened, even an endless loop, if you will. The only thing that ended it was some sudden realization by Young Joe that he needed to be selfless. Maybe some little thing happened - something that Emily said, something he saw in Cid, or something he noticed in the older version of himself. Some little revelation or change or Froggy Phone Booty Call pushed the Young Joe of Timeline 3 over the edge.

This is why you're not supposed to think about time travel in this film, just the themes it allows the story to play with. I'm not sure all of this adds up that nicely. It doesn't, really.

That's the Loop, though. It's this unbroken timeline that happens over and over again. Old Joe kills Cid's mommy, creating the Rainmaker, then the Rainmaker kills Old Joe's wife, making him go back in time for revenge. Lather, rinse, repeat. It's a cycle that repeats with Abe and Blue, too. I have another out-there theory that they are the same character, or maybe at least related. It's the kind of violence, anger, and justified revenge that only begets more of the same. Young Joe is just the dude here, breaking both himself and everyone else out of their loops.

Obama '12.

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