Tuesday, December 18, 2012

2012 in Film: Looper

I left Looper feeling weirdly similar to how I felt when I left the theater after Inception; vaguely better than when I had gone in, but in a way that didn't seem at all to correlate to the film I had just watched, which just seemed to have sort of been there. There have been other similarities noticed between the two, although for me the most important thing is one difference; that Looper never comes across as a fucking Allegory For Cinema. That's what made me go from a sort of pleasant nonchalance about Inception to an active dislike; I get the impression that pleasant nonchalance is where I will stay with regards to Looper. And I say "pleasant nonchalance" because it seems like the right nonsense mixture of words to convey the non-feeling it doesn't really correspond to.

I think the reason this film was so talked about is in a lot of ways attributable to how little there really is to say. Genevieve Valentine hit the nail on the head here, although even that doesn't manage to convey just how much this appears in the film. Other than the psychosexual issues, it is tightly plotted (I suppose), well acted (if that is even a thing), visually impressive (what does that mean), and has a fairly interesting premise (even though it has flaws or whatever what the fuck is even going on do people actually care about any of these things).

I think the most interesting thoughts I had about the film were actually thought in reaction to this review over at Strange Horizons. And that largely because I disagreed with it. Specifically the last couple paragraphs, which mix a variety of arguments from authority – the rules of genre fiction, of personal experience, and of the "real world" and mature, adult understandings thereof – which ultimately to me seem made to justify the final claim that "while the film has a point, it’s not one that needs a science-fictional telling." Which is all well and good, I suppose, and I think on its own terms the argument works well enough, is properly supported and so on; but the idea itself seems fairly suspect to me.

Because I don't think the film has much of a point, really. And I mean that in a good way – Inception sucks because it "has a point," and so each moment of it becomes an overdetermined mess of Significance, and the whole thing ultimately allegorizes itself all the way to being an insulting piece of shit in the exact way that, say, Shutter Island manages to palpably barely avoid throughout. To take Looper as "having a point" makes it at best a really awkwardly bad Coen Brothers movie at best, and I say that as someone who really really hates the Coen Brothers.

But the argument which stresses rules is one which seems to me both obsolete and actually more obstructionist than useful, as it makes any fictional property into a boring feedback system in which rules are posited and then obeyed, and flattens all texts to this possibility. So something like the Extended Universe of Star Wars can be praised on the grounds of how it adheres to the rules that were laid out in prior texts, instead of being engaged on multiple levels regarding their craftsmanship, their content, and their place within the genre, and so on.

Specifically to that review, the focus on the rules leads to an understanding of the movie which forecloses any political possibility that doesn't conform to a very narrow understanding of politics. What are presented as "real world" understandings are more symptoms of exactly the type of cynical "realism" with which political thought is pervaded, and rely on a view of reality which is nothing more than the "rules" of genre writ large, such that they cover the whole world. The claim, for instance, that the links between the government of the film's present and the government of the film's future are not immediately graspable only makes sense if one assumes that a state hews closely to the progressive idea of the state; that there could have been some sort of fascist irruption doesn't even cross the reviewer's mind, precisely because the framework under which they are reviewing the movie doesn't allow for that. It wouldn't be playing by the rules.

There is even a suggestion of this within the film itself, in the form of the TK characters. The rules-based interpretation of the movie sees them and, because it necessarily operates on the meta-level as well as the diegetic, thinks "Get your Children of the Corn out of my time travel adventure!" What it doesn't see is the possibility that what is being described is not just an awkwardly shoehorned trope into a Proper Genre, but an element of the frame which suggests the relatively unseen social structure that informs it is thoroughly different, and getting rapidly stranger. Time travel itself is almost a retro concept within science fiction at this point, especially when it involves a machine, functioning more as one of those things you list when you are mocking your friend who likes science fiction – so what, you read about space ships and time travel and alien abductions all the time? – than something that is encountered in the literature very much. Which is just to say that the movie, from the beginning, seems to be working with a certain idea of genre as such, rather than within any genre; and because of that, it is both boring (as it doesn't ultimately enter dialogue with anything) and not particularly well-described by a genre-specific interpretation.

So uh, ultimately I suppose what I have to say about Looper itself is that it was fine or whatever, I guess.

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