“LOOPER” & THE TRUTH ABOUT VIOLENCE
My wife and I watched the film “Looper” the other night. Most folks have seen the trailer or know the premise: It’s the year 2042, where time travel has been invented. Joe is a “looper,” a hit man who kills mob victims from the future. One day Joe’s future self shows up as his victim. Joe hesitates. Joe’s future self runs. Whoops. Joe is faced with the dilemma of killing his future self in order to save his present self.
That’s the back-of-the-box explanation anyway. I admit it sounds dorky in a sci-fi, “Back to the Future” meets “Terminator” sort of way. But I promise its cool. And beneath the guise of science fiction lies a beautiful story about ending cycles of violence.
The beginning of the film shows a montage of Joe’s daily routine: blowing victims’ brains out with 2042’s version of a sawed-off shotgun and disposing of the bodies. Joe is a self-centered murderer with seemingly little conscience. Killing-for-hire by day, abusing futuristic drugs and banging showgirls by night.
But when Joe’s time-warped future self shows up as his victim, Joe is posed with a series of moral dilemmas. Future Joe aims to find and kill his murderer 30 years in the past, he can live a life of peace in the future. (Think Marty McFly with a tommy gun.) The problem is that Joe’s murderer, in 2042, is a four year-old kid. Young and old Joe alike are faced with the dilemma of killing children as desperate attempt at self-preservation. The movie unfolds as an interesting commentary on preemptive and redemptive violence.
It’s alarming how easily violence is justified in most Hollywood films. Redemptive violence in particular usually carries a certain nobility. We cheer whenever the underdog comes back and starts taking names. Thankfully, “Looper” takes a different approach. It underscores one of my favorite quotations of Christ: “Those who live by the sword die by the sword.” The movie makes fewer judgments about whether violence is right or wrong, as much as it points out the truth about violence: violence is cyclical. Those who actively engage in violence tend to meet a violent demise.
I also appreciate that “Looper” doesn’t stop there. We’ve seen the horrific effects of violence played out in movies like “American History X” and “Harsh Times.” “Looper,” on the other hand, gives us the redemptive alternative to cycles of violence: sacrifice. The film’s anti-hero, young Joe, morphs from a man who sells out a friend for money to a man who sacrifices himself in order to save lives. Whether or not director Rian Johnson was leaning on Christian philosophies for this screenplay, I don’t know. But the film’s ending certainly winks at history’s conquests over violence (Ghandi, MLKJ, etc.)
Joe’s closing lines in the film probably sum it up best: “Then I saw it, I saw a mom who would die for her son, a man who would kill for his wife, a boy, angry & alone, laid out in front of him the bad path. I saw it & the path was a circle, round & round. So I changed it.” I hate to break it to the superheroes of the world, but the way to wipe out violence is not more violence. Like a bad feedback loop, violence just creates more violence. “Looper” somehow keys in on a truth that even the best governments in history have failed to grasp, and offers a hint at the solution.
I love a good film discussion. Feel free to post thoughts about the film’s themes in the comments.