REVIEW America's futuristic DNA with a Chinese
twist Looper directed
by Rian Johnson
Reviewed by Dinesh
V S Naipaul wrote that "the past
has to be seen to be dead or the past will kill".
Globalization with the rapid compression of time
and space has created new routes to our past and
Modern individuals today have many
more paths to immortality, and someday in the
future may travel faster than the speed of
light. This is where
Looper, a science-fiction mob thriller to
be released on September 28, throws up perplexing
questions about our "cultural evolution".
Inspired by Phillip K Dick's novels,
director Rian Johnson got the idea of making a
time-travel film with a mob from the future. While
populations in the Middle East still cling to
their "glorious past", as evident in the events of
the past few weeks, and Asia is trying to leapfrog
from the here and now to modernity, Americans as a
people are futuristic. It's not so much a place as
a state of mind.
To the extent that
Americans dwell on the past or the present, it is
as a course correction - to recalibrate, retool
and move on. Life is always on the go, forever
driving forward. There are no permanent failures,
only temporary setbacks; "life is a highway", as
the song goes, with many loops and loopholes to
take advantage of.
Is it any wonder that
modern superheroes are invariably American?
As my colleague and well-known Indologist
Jeffrey Kripal in his book Mutants and
Mystics has written, "In many ways,
20th-century America was the land of superheroes
and science fiction. From Superman and Batman to
the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, these
pop-culture juggernauts, with their 'powers and
abilities far beyond those of mortal men',
thrilled readers and audiences - and
simultaneously embodied a host of our dreams and
fears about modern life and the onrushing future."
Top-grossing time-travel movie franchises
such as Back to the Future, Terminator, Austin
Powers and Star Trek provide a glimpse of
America's futuristic DNA.
Set in 2042,
Looper imagines hit men assigned to take
out their victims - "hands tied and heads sacked"
- who are sent back from the future, 30 years
later in 2072. Time travel has been invented, but
it is outlawed.
"In the future, it is used
by the biggest criminal organizations. When they
want a target gone, they use someone like me, a
specialized assassin, called a looper," explains
the narrator in a deadpan tone. A looper must
close the loop, dispose of the bodies neatly, and
collect his silver.
There is a fatal twist
in the plot that drives the narrative forward. A
looper named Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) must
confront his older self (Bruce Willis) and dispose
of the body, forcing the audience to confront
their own mortality. Would you pull the trigger on
your older self in an obscure cornfield to collect
"So you're me in 30 years?"
asks younger Joe. "I can't stare into your
eyes. You look strange," replies older Joe.
"You know what's going to happen? You've done
this already?" "I don't want to talk about
With this basic plot and
structure, the movie wonders aloud - often
violently and brashly - about the questions of
life, American motherhood and survival. While
ensnared in the loop, younger Joe, trying to hunt
down his older self, falls for a single mom (Emily
Blunt) with a precocious child, aka "the
rainmaker" (Pierce Gagnon). The older Joe manages
to break the loop, escape to China, fall in love
with a Chinese woman (Qing Xu) and resign to a
Unfortunately, a target
must not be allowed to escape. Otherwise, your
future self will begin to decompose. Traveling
back in time has untoward consequences. When older
Joe is rudely revisited by the mob in China, still
trying to hunt him down, he decides to turn the
underworld upside down to regain his freedom.
In the film, China represents a utopian
destination, where a looper can find love and
solace, while America is dystopian and barren. The
timeline of the film (2042-72) plays on deep
anxieties related to tectonic shifts taking place
in American society, demographically and
culturally. According to the US census, by
mid-century the United States will be a different
society demographically, while China will be a
However, by suspending the
time-space continuum, the climax of the film
suggests, it is possible to control the future by
"deadening the past", as Naipaul would have it.
Thus by transforming the original trauma one can
realign the past with the present and future - at
least in your mind's eye - until actual time
travel is fully operative.