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A review of a review of Looper

October 17, 2012

In doing some research on a piece about the movie Looper, I came across this review at the Daily Kos. While I appreciated the fact that the reviewer didn’t get hung up on the time travel conundrum, I found that the reviewer’s interpretation differed from mine significantly. NOTE: This article assumes you have seen the film; there may be spoilers. Here are the reviewer’s own words:

While most reviews focus on the time travel logic or quality of the film (which this does to an extent as well) its worth noting that politically its a rather good film as well.

He (I’m going to refer to “CartoonDiablo” in the masculine) considers the movie to be making a political point, and along the way, I think, abuses Edward Banfield’s theory of “amoral familism” and misappropriates it to Hollywood. He argues that Old Joe is not trying to do the noble thing in going after the Rainmaker, but is rather trying to restore his idyllic life with his wife for selfish gain:

This seems like a clear rebuttal to Hollywood’s amoral familism. Instead of apparently “heroic” fathers doing whatever it takes to save their families, Joe is murdering children in order to preserve the vanity his wife provided him. Even more so, Bruce Willis, the iconic action hero, becomes the villain in this regard.

I didn’t view the film that way; couldn’t it be that Bruce Willis was actually remorseful about needing to kill the children, even though he did it? And, if a “heroic” person were put in the position of saving thousands of future lives by sacrificing one, would he do it? Those are tough questions, but I found myself thinking, during the movie, that since Old Joe was already guilty of murder, he might as well murder the person who will, in the future, end up making the rest of the world a living hell. That almost seems more heroic than not.

As for amoral familism, the Kos reviewer asserts that the notion has been favored by Hollywood. The evidence? A link to a review of The Patriot, which argues that the emphasis on family over country in the movie makes it more nepotistic than patriotic. Which I think is an exaggeration on its own right, but that’s another discussion. We could at least benefit from some other evidence to support that connection.

Finally, the Kos’ analysis misses a huge theme of the movie: the saving role of women. Yes, the movie has a political message, but the more specific point was, I think, about the best and worst of human nature. The best is seen in the love of a mother, and the worst is seen in its absence. The movie has only a few female roles, but women in the movie are the ones who have the ability to nurture, to save, to heal, and to bring back from the dead. But the Kos analysis argues something else entirely:

As the two Joes meet in a diner, the young Joe gives the obvious solution: future Joe should tell him who his wife will be so he will never marry her and thus never put her life in danger. The outcome will be the same, his wife will be saved but with the caveat that he will never meet or know who she is. Future Joe rejects this and ends up hunting for the Rainmaker anyway, going to the point of murdering children.

Thus we realize that he’s not actually after the safety of his wife, who he can much more easily save the other way, but to preserve his memory of his wife. This narcissism becomes even more apparent when, after murdering a child, he cries about not being able to see his wife, not the heinous crime he has just committed.

I would push back and suggest that it’s not that older Joe cares more about his memory of his wife. It’s that his wife was his savior, and their life together was the good life, whereas life alone is chaotic and unfulfilling. I think the movie is arguing that even for Joe’s wife, the greatest good was for them to be together, which is why it’s better for him to kill the Rainmaker and restore their life together than to create an alternative reality where they are alive but separated.

So the thing that’s striking isn’t so much that young Joe was willing to kill himself in order to save the future — Old Joe was trying to save the future too. Rather, the difference was that young Joe was putting faith in the nurturing power of Sara, Cids mother, to curb the evil that is inherent in every person.

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