Year Released: 2012
Directed by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
(R, 158 min.)
"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." H. L. Menken
Has it come to this? Our cultural rot is on full display. Not so much in this slick and shallow effort, which should by all rights be clawing itself up to mediocrity, but the near universal praise heaped upon it by critics and audiences alike. The Cordon Bleu awarded for Hamburger Helper.
H.G. Wells, the father of science fiction, creator of that masterpiece, The Time Machine, must be turning over in his grave. He, like the legions of thoughtful science fiction writers in who came after him, used the turbo boost of future technology to question larger issues about our present society. In Wells’ time machine classic, he posits a future where the workers have become so brutalized that they are little more than beasts. The well to do, on the other hand, deprived of any challenges in world where even weeds have been bred out of existence, are not much more than simple-minded children.
Aldous Huxley predicts a Brave New World where sex and recreational drugs keep man under robotic state control. Orwell’s 1984 has technology used to stifle man as well, the omnipresent Big Brother always watching over all. Ray Bradbury captures a bizarre world in Fahrenheit 451, where books and independent thought are held to be so dangerous that “firemen” (there was no politically correct "fire fighter" when he penned his work in 1953) actually have their hoses hooked up to gasoline to bring any contraband books to ashes.
These are essentially bleak pictures of our future, or more pointedly, a future these writers warn us against if we follow the trends they exaggerate in their fictional dystopian worlds. They are trying to save us from ourselves.
But Looper has cut out any philosophical underpinnings. It radiates an adolescent disregard for logic and thought. Time travel, officially forbidden, has morphed into nothing more than a body disposal system for the gangster thugs of the future where their technology is so air tight no body can disappear, no murderer ply his trade with impunity. Those marked for death must be sent back to an earlier time where paid assassins take care of business.
The manner of death itself is telling. These killers, termed loopers, wait at an appointed time in some cornfield or such, holding a pocket watch reminiscent of the 19th century – a detail the screenwriters must have thought retro-cool – staring at an empty tarpaulin. Suddenly it is inhabited with a figure, hands tied behind his back, a crude hood on his head. The looper shoots him in cold blood, swiftly wraps him up, and takes his bundle to a nearby incinerator.
This scenario itself is very revealing. First of all, the hood and the hands behind the back are reminiscent of those jihadist murders celebrated in amateur videos. Sure, we have no knife to the throat, but these acts mirror the vicious murder of Daniel Pearl all too much for my taste.
And these killings might remind some of the reason behind Clint Eastwood’s old Spaghetti westerns of the sixties, filmed in Italy to get around the then strict Hollywood injunction against full display of someone being shot on screen. Hollywood would allow a shot of the shooter, another of the person being killed, but never a view of the whole thing at once. Almost like the beer commercials on TV, where they could show a person lifting the glass or putting it down, but never actually drinking the thing. It seems old Hollywood had some wisdom, feeling like the ancient Greeks, that full violence shown to the public, was in itself corrupting.
Well, there are no compunctions now. We get a full view of the each assassination, and the crude instrument used to do the deed, the aptly named blunderbuster. And the film’s creators are not content to corrupt us with one or two of these killings; they slash across the screen like the endless rat a tat tats of machine gun fire –detached, inhuman, and endless.
The loopers are sometimes called upon to kill their future selves. That most do this ultimately suicidal act without compunction, says all that need be said about their mindset.
So comes the ultimate showdown between Looper Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and his older self played by Bruce Willis. Their highly lauded scene together in the diner is decent, but not much more. The older and younger men hint at events in their past that sent them on this self-destructive road, but we are only given wisps of that intriguing story.
Looper Joe apparently was a street urchin recruited into a life of crime by Abe, an unctuous scoundrel. We have Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist all over again, a team of criminals controlled by a modern day Fagin. Except that the screenwriter, who I am convinced spent the entirety of his formative years hooked up to ultra violent video games, doesn't even touch on any character development. It’s as if Oliver Twist devoted all its 536 pages to the petty crimes of the pickpocket ring instead of the tragic story that leads to it.
It’s the same for Willis’ character, the older looper. He mentions hitting rock bottom and the woman who transformed him, but those are merely a sound bite in between the bullets and explosions. Jet Li’s Fearless takes this kind of story and runs with it, showing what might have been if the writers were after anything else than a quick buck from an undemanding public. That the cadre of critics eat this up as well is beyond sad.
But that dire situation is why Different Drummer exists. You and I together are part of the resistance, hoping for and demanding something better than this.
The best scene of the film is the confrontation between the older Joe and his younger looper version at their favorite diner. Of course, the younger Joe is contracted to kill his older self, and both of them know it. Every move young Joe makes, this older version, a very savvy Bruce Willis, anticipates, right down to the very Freudian gun hidden between Joe’s legs.
This, too, is the only scene that does any kind of character development, miniscule that is it. We flashback through Joe’s life in short visual snitches, the type of which we are presumed to see right before we die. A prophetic vision, perhaps.
The tension is so palpable you could cut it with a knife, a utensil neither of them use to attack the steak and eggs they order and leave untasted on their plates. Actually, the dish looked a little bland to me.
Let’s see if we can come up with a diner dish a bit more tempting to our time-separated assassins. Our Breakfast to Die For, called the Sunriser, is doubly delicious, even if one of them or both may not see many more visions of that golden orb rising in the east.
Diner Style Sunriser Breakfast
8 cups frozen diced or shredded has browns (one 32-ounce package)
20 whole frozen mini potato wedges or steak fries
Canola Oil for frying
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
½ bell pepper, diced
1 jalopeno pepper, seeded and diced (optional)
1 1/2 cups diced ham
1 1/2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
8 large eggs
Salsa or pico de gallo for serving
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Fry the hash browns and potato wedges in canola oil in separate skillets according to the package directions until golden brown and crisp. Season with salt and pepper. (You can also bake the potatoes in the oven, if you prefer.) Drain on paper towels and keep warm.
Heat 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Throw in the veggies and ham; toss around for several minutes, until the onions are just softened. Turn off the heat and allow to stay in the pan.
In 4 individual ovenproof skillets (or one very large one), layer the hash browns, veggie-ham mixture and grated cheese. Place in the oven for a minute or two, until the cheese is melted. Remove from the oven with an oven mitt, as the skillet will be hot.
Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a nonstick skillet and fry the eggs to the specifications of your guests.
Place 5 potato wedges over the top of the melted cheese, then top with 2 eggs per skillet. Spoon salsa or pico de gallo over the top and serve immediately.