Monday, December 31, 2012

Who's Your Mommy? Looper

When I was a graduate in the philosophy program at a Catholic college, one of our favorite Thursday night discussion group questions was, "If you had a chance to kill the anti-Christ baby, would you do it?" the anti-Christ baby being a child who's destiny is to set in motion a chain of cataclysmic events particularly harmful to the world and Christians (depending on which denomination you adhere to colors this concept one way or another). Generally, speaking, all of us nearly always said, "No, that would be a sign of lacking faith in God, I wouldn't do it," whereas someone would always argue, "But God gave you that chance to stop what you know will hurt people and you have a moral duty to save the greatest number of people," etc. If this kind of debate interests you, Rian Johnson's Looper, out on video this week, will make you debate yourself, because that's what happens in the film.
First of all, the film is done quite well and, if you enjoy a cerebral challenge, you might enjoy this one; it's violently anti-capitalist, as much as Django Unchained and more so than Lawless. It's well done and has been nominated at least once by a critical group for screenwriting honors. Secondly, it does something unusual: it takes place in Kansas, 2044. Why? Spielberg's Lincoln opens in Kansas and the upcoming Oz: the Great and Powerful starts in Kansas (it seems like I am forgetting one?), so, with a state that has little film making history, why would there be a definite trend being set to incorporate this state into main stream films? Kansas is slow to change, politically and morally conservative, it offers a steady vision of picturesque, small-town America (if you recall William Holden's and Kim Novak's Picnic of 1955, it was filmed in Halstead, Kansas) and when most people hear "Kansas," they instantly think of Dorothy and Toto. Seeing Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) against a Kansas wheat field, premeditating on killing someone about to appear, accentuates how "dirty" this job is against the clean and natural Kansas roads and open sky. What might be going on here, in using Kansas in all these films, is the same as if you had one dress (Kansas) and were putting several different women into it (different arguments and economic models for the country) to see who would look better in it and which dress would best accentuate certain features; in other words, what is best for Kansas is best for the country, and we certainly can't overlook the "reader-response" of an audience hearing "Kansas," thinking of Dorothy's trip to Oz, and putting the viewer in that same travel-mode: we are going to take you over the rainbow in our film, too, so sit back and hear our tale, and see if you think this is a good idea,...
"The Rainmaker" is a small child during Joe's (Levitt) life as a looper; when Joe's time is up (Old Joe played by Bruce Willis) Old Joe realizes he has to put an end to "looping" to save the life he created for himself in the future and the only way to do that, and save the world from the reign of the mob-boss the Rainmaker, is to kill the kid now. Joe, on the other hand, has to kill Old Joe and keep him from carrying out his plan so Joe can live out the rest of his life with the money he will get from killing Old Joe. So, the film centers around the age-old question: do you kill the anti-Christ child? (No, he's not referred to as the "anti-Christ child" but all the main characters involved know this kid is trouble).
Old Joe and young Joe meeting in a diner in Kansas, discussing what they are going to do with themselves. Old Joe located three possible children who could be the Rainmaker and he goes to kill two of them, with Joe going to find and protect the third. Joe is a drug addict, saving his money and learning French to move to France after his loop has been closed. The film shows us, in the life of Old Joe, the decisions Joe makes and how messed-up he gets; what is confusing about the course of actions is, Old Joe marries a Chinese woman in China but Old Joe is definitely pro-capitalist. To me, China is a symbol of communism, but to the film makers, it appears they want to distinguish between the "capitalist tainted" communism of China (I guess?) and a purer form of socialism in France where Joe intends to go.
It might seem dramatic to some, however, time travel is always a collapsing of identity with the past, present and future, because it helps concentrate the decisions we will make today, insuring we end up where we want to be in the future. In the case of Looper, Old Joe is a capitalist because he wants to hold onto what he has and has earned; young Joe becomes a participant to socialism because he willingly gives up everything because he has grown disgusted with his consumer life-style of drugs, sex and money. So who is Cid? To answer that, we need to understand who--or, rather, what--gave birth to Cid: Sara.
There is an interesting device used: remember the priest hole in Skyfall? The same kind of "tunnel" exists in Looper (but it's not called that), their grandpa dug it.
It's a difficult issue, discovering who is the mother of Cid, because Sara (Emily Blunt) cares for Cid but Cid tells Joe that his mother died. Sara tells Joe her sister raised Cid until she died, then Sara cleaned up her wild act to return and take care of Cid herself. Why is this important? Because we know that young women of child-bearing age (Sara and her sister) symbolize the future of the "motherland," but there are "two" possible "motherlands," Sara and her deceased sister, meaning a conflict in Cid's identity. Sara had a wild past; Cid is a mutant with outrageous telekinetic powers to destroy anything or anyone without mercy when he gets upset; in one of these "telekinetic outbursts," Cid killed Sara's sister.
What do you think about all this?
This is very much like Cloud Atlas, in that employees are having to kill themselves to earn a living, the way employees are fed to themselves to keep working in Cloud Atlas. The non-linear, or intentionally complicated history and time frame of events both films present for the audience, clearly exhibits how lousy socialists are at understanding history and the lengths they will go to in order to mis-align information to make a point that real history does not substantiate. This is the inner-contradiction of socialism: they believe workers are stupid enough to enter into a working arrangement like the one described in Looper and that "the masses" (which is you and I and everyone else) is totally mindless and lacking in free will and the ability to make rational decisions. THEN, the theory that teaches this about you and I (socialism) expects us to believe they are the ones who will take care of us, even though they think of us as being animals. Who would you trust?
Part of what makes this difficult to discern in the film's message is that Joe's motivations for killing himself to "close the loop" isn't really knowable, or important, or sensible, or practical; there are a lot of ways to interpret the film, and Joe's end is one of those aspects of the film needing attention, and this is what makes the paragraph above into such a twisted knot, but I think, in my estimation of having thought long and hard about this scenario.Sara, and her dead sister, reveal that problem we have been seeing in film over American history, and those who say America was created and intended to be a capitalist country, vs. those who say America was intended to be a socialist country. Sara and her wild past (and we saw this in both of the two mothers in The House At the End of the Street) probably refers to socialism because of the type of people who usually embrace socialism (hippies and radicals who have wild pasts of their own) and because of what happened to Sara's sister: Cid killed her.
Who is Cid? Obama because Obama killed America.
"Sara" was the wife of Abraham in the Bible, and in Looper, we have an Abraham, "Abe" the father of the loopers. Just as Abraham was the father of a multitude, Sara is the mother of a multitude, so from the one socialist Cid she gives birth to, all the others will come. The telekinetic powers? "The power to move things," is the political experience of changing things and moving things around on a cultural, social and economic level. Putting Sara and Cid in the clean, fresh, innocent, familiar atmosphere of Kansas makes the violence of Cid's political importance stand out, accentuating how unnatural Cid is against the wheat fields and lending to the idea that Johnson weaves a satire, showing the audience how our greed and lack of moral practices has made "Cid" possible.
Cid symbolizes Obama in the "infancy" of his presidency who has wrecked havoc on everything just like Cid's outbursts and Cid will be in charge in the future just like the socialists will (in 2008, America was in a recession, but Obama's policies and "unpatriotic" $16 trillion in debt has intentionally kept the country lame and dying every day instead of being able to make a recovery). The Rainmaker, in the future, closing all the "loops" (which might be a reference to taxation on the upper-class and "closing their loops" because it's really only the wealthy who have tax loops) is closing the loop of capitalism so we can't make a return to it and we are forced with the kind of mafia-run communism that dominated the Soviet Union and which was also implied in Total Recall. These are strange things for a socialist to be saying, isn't it? I mean, if you want to persuade someone of something, if you want someone to "buy into" socialism, why would you present "your man" (Obama) as a psychologically disturbed power-trip who is going to ruin everyone's life in the future but, oh, well, that's how it goes,...?
I don't think this is much of a possibility, however, we have seen Project X be a satire on the Democratic Party and the way they are running the country, so either writer/director Rian Johnson is really stupid--writing a screenplay in which he encourages conservatives and capitalists to just roll over dead and let a future no one wants take place just because--or he's really smart in showing us what we are doing if we don't do something and trying to get us worked up (this came out before the 2012 election) and show us the lives we are throwing away if we don't take actions to stop the socialist revolution in America.
The moral structure of the film is so conflicting that it's difficult finding a cohesive position from which to understand all the elements the film presents. In art, multiple interpretations are always possible, but each needs to be consistent in incorporating as many elements of the film as possible. Again, if you are looking for a good mental challenge and a narrative to "really enter into," Looper would make a great film to see with someone else (there is some topless nudity, violence and drug use, foul language) because you are going to want to discuss this one with someone, and please, when you have seen it, leave your own interpretation in the comments section to help us all the more access we have to the greatest number of possible meanings, the greater our understanding and engagement!
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner