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Back In Crime – LOOPER & Sci-Fi In Crime Films
Well, Rian Johnson’s Looper came out most places in the last week, and if you haven’t seen it yet, expect a visit from your future self telling you to stop wasting your time by not seeing it, only to then disappear once you see the film, as it would negate their need to come back, but then again, when would you ever end up seeing Looper, in that case?!
Without getting into dreaded spoiler territory, Looper is about hitmen who kill people sent to them from the future. Future-best-pal of mine (my future-self told me about it) Joseph Gordon-Levitt botches a job when his future-self (Bruce Willis) is future-sent back to him to be future-killed and gets future-away. [Liam – please stop future-bolstering your future-wordcount. Future-Ed.] (Fun Fact: Did you know that to work as an editor, you actually need to change your name to “Ed”? It’s true). Anyway, future-Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Bruce Willis) is trying to escape and change things in the past that I won’t spoil for you, while past-Bruce Willis (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) runs around looking cool-as-shit and shooting stuff. Crystal clear, right?
The flick is steeped in touch guy iconography, terse sentences, gun fire, and a huge amount of pessimism, determinism, and fatalism. Gordon-Levitt is a future-junkie and, as mentioned, a future-hitman, and really, not a very nice man. He’s damaged goods, baby. While Looper is covered in thick ropes of sci-fi jizz, as the saying goes, it is, at its core, film noir. And what a tough bastard it is. The choices this film makes take huge labia, and it understands one of my favourite, yet most often ignored tenets of storytelling – that your protagonist doesn’t need to be likeable, so long as they’re compelling, and Sweet Coolio-Christ, are these guys all compelling.
It functions as a crime flick, a drama, a sci-fi flick, and brings to mind a weird, low-key version of a few different X-Men comics (specifically, Days of Future Past and Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force) and Akira. And it all works – but really, was there any doubt it would? Rian Johnson is the master of blending – just look at his debut, the wonderful high school-set noir, Brick.
Beyond that, though, Looper is the continuation of a proud filmmaking tradition of genre-melding. Sci-fi and crime go pretty snugly together, like toothpaste and Vita-Brits, and it makes sense when you think about it. If ‘horror’ is a young man’s game (that is, the things you’re afraid of, your problems are right in front of you, about to happen), and noir is an old man’s game (the bad things have already happened, and you’re left to sort out the pieces), science fiction is really just speculation, rather than a genre with it’s own specific tenets. In essence, you really only have two ways to go with the narrative, toward optimism or pessimism, and it makes sense if you have a pessimistic sci-fi world that noir is going to sneak in there and touch everything with its jam-covered hands.
You could probably trace this back as far to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis from 1927. The flick is many things – an epic story of class struggle and robots that gave past-Liam awkward boners. In a much more classic sense of film noir, and what a lot of people would associate with it, Metropolis was very much part of the German-Expressionism movement of cinema, the simulacra of which was adopted by American crime films following the war (which, to dumb the situation down a bunch, had a bit to do with German directors fleeing their country and making these shell-shocked crime flicks), and the heavy black and white, the huge contrast and heavy key lighting. While Metropolis doesn’t really feature a whole lot of noir, it is sci-fi, and it can be looked at as the pot, or gateway drug, to later sci-fi noir’s heroin.
The trend really started going steady with Godard’s Alphaville, which I won’t talk about because I don’t have a thesaurus handy and haven’t been able to get an erection since last time I tried talking about Godard films, even though I am assured they are often used as masturbatory aides.
So, moving along, let’s jump straight onto Blade Runner. Now, a lot of you probably haven’t heard of this film, because no one has really written much about it, so let’s allow my mostly drunken ramblings that lack depth or insight or basic punctuation or spelling to be the definitive statement on the film.
Blade Runner is based on a Philip K. Dick story, but more importantly is a movie, because that is how we value stuff. It was directed by Ridley Scott (side note: I always thought of him as an amazing director, but then, when I have to actually list how many films of his I actually think are good, I can come up with, like, three – is that just me?) and starred Harrison Ford, back when both of them still gave a shit. Deckard is cast from the mould of a classic gumshoe (and depending on how you read the film, literally cast from that mould). It’s bleak, pessimistic, and hurts the soul – just like all my favourite things.
For that guy who doesn’t know about the film (just see it), Deckard is a guy who kills Replicants (basically, androids) when they go rogue. It uses the stylistic elements of classic film noir, and also all the story tropes (and, in the original cut, a horrid voice-over reminiscent of classic detective stories). It also questions ideas about faith, humanity, fate, and the essential nature of being – pretty much the same stuff that good noir brings up inbetween bouts of failure. Blade Runner is probably the most successful melding of the two genres (until, I would argue, Looper) – in that it inverted and adopted all the tropes of both genres in a way that felt completely organic, while still finding time to be kind of rapey (really – watch that scene of Deckard and Rachael again).
Other notable attempts have been made, as with Gattaca, about a world of genetic engineering gone AFOUL and such, which is gorgeously filmed, looks like a logical updating of the visual style of classic film noir, right down to costuming, and has some really strong ideas at its core, yet also is kind of a pretentious bore. Seriously, I know a lot of people who watched that film will be remembering how great it was – I did, too. But now, watch it again with fresh eyes, and try to remember that you’d like to be entertained by a film, and not have the cinematic equivalent of being clumsily fingered by an irritating first-year philosophy undergrad.
And also Minority Report, which was insanely popular speculative science fiction starring Tom Cruise, which everyone seemed to love, but I remember finding incredibly irritating. Yet it was the crimey aspects of the film that gave it its forward momentum and made it tolerable.
But beyond that, there’s dozens of examples of the genres melding together, in comics, novels, TV and more films, so much so that it just seems like a natural combination.
Anyway, what was my point – oh yeah, see Looper. It’s sexy.