Review of the film “Looper” – Director: Rian Johnson
The year is 2074, and 2044? Why thirty years?
There was nothing to warn us that this film was actually a sociological marvel. We walked in with “action” in mind, and pictures of a One-Man-Willis demolition squad. I could almost ‘hear’ the guys with me rubbing their hands in anticipation. However, we soon realized that we were in for another kind of ride! Johnson did not take long to thrust us into the dark side of a collapsed socio-economic and socio-political world. Fear; self-preservation; poverty; dysfunction, and abuse were everywhere – Every “Rousseauan” nightmare – perhaps exactly what Malreau and Thoreau would have predicted. Here the “Noble Savage” had met his nemesis: others! This was a global “Pig Island”!
The ‘ominous’ took another turn in the Looper parties celebrating a 2044 looper having killed the ‘himself’ sent back to him from the future (2074). That was a conceptual warp! Ok, we get it. NO HOPE. NO AFTERLIFE. LIVE FOR THE PRESENT. GET WHAT YOU CAN FROM IT. ACCUMULATE YOUR STASH BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING ELSE TO LIVE FOR.
Immediately we were compelled to ask: “Can there be redemption here, or, “We want Willis to come in with his big gun and blow them all away!” How would Johnson return us to what is redeemable in every human? And if so, was it realistic to expect it? Had not the enlightenment taught us to believe that science and the self would resolve everything, and that there is no answer to the human dilemma outside of the secular human? But, we cannot help doubting those promises now, can we? It is hard in the current economic deconstruction to believe that all is well, and that all will be fine with this world. Some may even believe in “Business as usual”, or that our problems will soon somehow all be swept away as in a Disney-like-one-kiss-on-the-troubled-maiden’s-lips-by-the-charming-Prince. No, Heck no, Scientism; the enlightenment and rationalism have not served this world well where it attempted to portray itself as “god”, and this is why Johnson declares to his audience that all is not well, and we had better give it a good hard look. He confronts the consequences of rationalism’s mechanism as a kind of Armageddon enacted by the Rainmaker – a destructive being in 2074 who sets about obliterating the world. But, here is another double twist: Joe 2074 thinks by returning to 2044 he can prevent this Rainmaker (who would then still be a child), by killing him! The double twist is revealed at the end of the film!
There were some ‘fun’ lines:
Abe to Joe: I Cleaned you up and put a gun in your hands
Joe: “I want to go to France” Abe: “I am from the future, go to China”
This film is generational – enacting the consequences of one generation’s behavior on future generations. It is also personal: enacting the power of personal change. The film is a sociological map of the current older generations (2074) and perhaps of the post-millennial generation (2044)
“Just men figuring out what to do to keep what’s theirs” explains the focus of prior generations. The film shows us the effect of self-interest on sociology. The main evidence in the film is abandoned women (used for their bodies only, as in prostitution – sadly too much sex in this one) and abandoned children (Joe’s mom sold him to vagrants when he was a kid)
Of the film’s three double plays, the first is: the older generation (Joe 2074 as Willis) lives later and is therefore in real terms younger. The use of time travel is therefore brilliant in creating the inverse sense of age. So that the younger (2074 later – Willis) can come back in time to bring a warning to awaken himself (Joe 2044 as Gordon-Levitt). There is a lesson in this, also a warning.
The lesson is that every person needs eschatology. This is what Christianity solely among the religions provides – hope for the afterlife. Paul said, if any man has hope in this life only, he is of all men most miserable (also: Hebrews 11). Knowing Jesus, gives us hope that we not need to know the exact details of the future because he cares for us, and will guide us through – this is not naive, but brilliant – Think about it: sociologically, if you take Jesus Christ away, the only way you learn from the future is to have someone come back from the future, and then you will have to hope that that person is yourself, so that you can learn what not to do. In a self-actualized world who else would we trust in? Saul tried the next best thing (calling an old mentor) when he called Samuel back from the dead, but it did not teach him anything, a few days later he committed suicide on the battlefield (1 Samuel 30). The Christian gospel is awesome in that God has already lived the future: he is the beginning and the end, and sees the end from the beginning (Romans 4:17). Those who trust in him and live in him can therefore live with the “mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2).
We have seen the lesson, now the warning: if we do not have an eschatology, life deconstructs from faith; hope and love, to fear, despair, and hate – from building the future for others, to defending the present for the self.
The second double play is the two-sensed meaning of 30 years – first, it refers to generations, second, it refers to a messianic period (Jesus was 30 years old when he began his ministry). The younger generational person (2044 – actually the older) was messianic because he understood the future, and sacrificed (substitutionary atonement) his life to save it. Christian doctrine stands alone in its explanation of substitutionary atonement. Christ is the only one among all religions who was able by his purity to awaken from ‘death’ anyone who believes on him (1 Corinthians 1). By comparison, a Buddhism has nothing to hope for after their present life, except, if they are right, more of themselves. Buddhist redemption comes only through an eternal cycle of re-incarnations back to the earth in other forms, and with no guarantees of what that entails. Christian doctrine teaches that changed human behavior is directly linked to the understanding of the future that Jesus gives us, and makes available for everyone who will believe in Him – no other qualification is needed, only belief in him (Romans 4). If the rationalists ask: is it reasonable to trust in a significant other, should we not point them to Pascal’s hypothesis, which wisely urges people to examine the doubts in their own beliefs, before defining their own beliefs by their doubts of the beliefs of others.
It is utterly reasonable to say then that only through understanding the future, are we able to sacrifice for others. Sacrifice then is a sociological act that presumes the love for another, and is not a mechanistically imposed act. In the Christian sense this idea is broadened and fully realized in an ecclesia. And, in the film, the messianic idea was juxtaposed with the mechanistic abusive alternatives of “sacrifice”. Johnson highlighted the beauty in the concept of redeeming sacrifice, as well as revealing what the shocking alternatives are. For sacrifice to be redeeming it is a decision only people can make for themselves, the Christian concept of sacrifice of whom Jesus is the first example (John 3, 20).
The other alternatives to sacrifice are horrifying: they begin with when we are told when to sacrifice, and they can end, for instance, with genocide, and ethnic cleansing “for the good of society”. Is this not what institutionalized and legalistic structures have done all over the world? Is this not the sad face of formalistic expressions of Christianity and other religions all over the world where truth was imposed both in the West and in the mission fields. I read a report this month by the great missionary Roland Allen who described a situation where Big Hunter, the Sioux chief had fled the United States for Canada to put himself under the protection of the Canadian government. Presbyterian missionaries taught him and his people. He decided to become a Christian. Much was then made of the fact that he should have only one wife. In the words of Allen, “After a long struggle he at last determined to obey, but not knowing how to obey because he did not know how to arrange for his wives, he hanged them. Then he came to the missionaries and told them that he had done what they demanded. Thereupon they drove him away as a murderer… Those missionaries had maintained the Christian law as they supposed. They had maintained our marriage law: but had they maintained the law of Christ?” (1962:65-66) When considering the errors of formalism and fundamentalism we should not hypocritically point our fingers at Islam either, but acknowledge that all forms of legalism are sociologically destructive no matter how much truth we think we have and feel is needful. The gospel of Jesus Christ stands in contrast to legalism. The gospel of Jesus Christ is both truth and grace (John 1). Christianity was revealed to the global sociology of the late Neolithic age (Iron Age) as the warrant wisdom of the world (Stackhouse). Constantine institutionalized it and thus shepherded the world into another sociological tailspin. Christianity’s grace and truth, deconstructs any attempt to control it by institutionalization, formalism, and ecclesiasticism. Secularism will not overcome it.
Jesus had more to say against legalism than he did against sin. Why is this so? I believe it is to hold as opposite all that is imposed and controlled vis-à-vis all that is true grace, and mercy, and love! The essence of his message was that humankind, if it wanted to look, could see the vast difference that exists between the human’s ability to generate love and justice, and God’s willingness to give it to those who would believe in him. Sociology will have a way to bear this out, for where there are opposing worldviews, and redeemable subjects, they must be freely enabled to articulate their various worldviews. This is indeed how humankind is able to rationalize the differences. For those who say that this is just “too-much grace” for humans to handle, I would remind not to underestimate the power of a mother’s love for her children, or that of a father’s! C. S. Lewis said as much! Christianity posits that grace and mercy and love can only be received from God, and actualized through the sociology of an ecclesia, which the film attempts (presumably inadvertently) to portray through centering the drama within the relationships of a “modern” dysfunctional family (Joe 1944, Cid, and Sara).
The signature idea of “counterfeit messiah” was hyperbolized by the mechanistic and abusive “closing the loop” – when Joe received the command to terminate the “future” 2074 of himself returned back in time to 2044 by the Rainmaker.
In this film, as in real life, all must see that for the human specie to continue to exist, grace and mercy will have to be realized economically; politically and sociologically. Thus if Johnson intended to portray any redemption at all, Grace and mercy had to be at the heart of his film, seen, for instance, in second chances extended: the mother loved a child that at times hated her; she guarded his dark demonic secret from others to protect him; Joe 2074 coming back to warn the younger himself who had betrayed his friend. Also, clearly, we see the sociological message of the intelligence of next generational dynamics (Kinnaman posits that the Millennials are the most educated generation that have ever lived) – Joe 2044 was not dependent on Joe 2074 being right. In real terms, the younger generations have become much more interactive with life; more honest; more tolerant; more in touch with the pain of dysfunction; more permissive, and yet amazingly not less moral (Rainer). The film posits that they possess what they need, to figure out the need for clean up; for true relationship; for second chances; for grace and mercy.
The implied message of the film is that the next generations are better positioned to figure things out because they have the benefit of their own experience and that of those who have gone ahead of them (in this case those who have come back from the future). The younger will see those who are lost, and will choose to rebuild parental relationship. So the next generation can redeem what was lost if they learn the lesson, and hear the warning: that family love is crucial to human existence; that to achieve it we need to turn away from ourselves – away from a sociology of, “Just men figuring out what to do to keep what’s theirs”! In this way the film emphasizes the value of a multi-generational sociology.
To summarize the multigenerational process in this film we might say that Joe 2044, through his encounter with his 2074 self, learns three things. First, the future has real consequences (he learns fear); second, the future can be redemptive (he learns faith), third, the future depends on his present choice (he learns responsibility). Interestingly, it takes all three to be real – the scriptures (from Genesis to Revelation) confirm these three facets of true reality – how radical is that! Christianity alone can ‘arm’ those who choose to believe in Christ with confidence in others; hope in the future; humility; belief in God, and gives them a desire to tell the good news of Jesus Christ to the pre-Christians!
What was lost by prior generations?
Selfless living etc
What is the consequence?
Demonic result of abandonment
The power of evil grows proportionally to the degree of abandonment, and to the degree to which the children have to fend for themselves and protect themselves. They do not have control of their fears, and externalize it in increasingly horrible ways (drugs, sexual promiscuity, gangs, coping mechanisms, suicide, depression etc.)
But what will redeem this?
Only love – only restored relationships – only a restored ecclesia (a theology of congregation) – only responsible action.
30 Years is the time bridge between two generations, and generally embodies three generations. This is both warning and hope. Warning in how quickly we can lose our way. Hope in how quickly we can redeem it, and get it back.
But what redeems it?
Only our sacrifices for others! Nothing else! E.g.: Joe by erasing himself erased the acts he saw his future ‘self’ make. This is real for today in a metaphorical sense. Every choice we make for others sets in motion a greater future. Every bad act we withhold keeps a consequence from happening. There’s no getting away from this (except for God’s grace who alone can call things into existence that do not exist, and life from death – Romans 4). Joe 2044 had betrayed his friend for his stash, but did not betray the child.
This film is about legacy? What is the legacy that we will leave our children?
And if the legacy was bad, is there redemption?
And if so, what is that?
Can there be change?
Can there be reversal?
If so, what causes the change?
Love wins over the powerful fires of hate; of fear; of self-protection
I saw a mom who would die for her son
I saw a man who would kill for his wife
I saw a boy who hated because of his mother’s death
So I changed it!
He killed himself (don’t be fooled: this film was not about suicide, but about redemption – suicide is an entirely selfish act, which this was not)
He redeemed it
He was the ‘messiah’ to that child. He chose to give himself for the sake of the future. Every christian who sees Jesus and through him understands what is really going on in this life will do the same: they will give their lives away for one child; for one family; for one city, even for their worse enemy!
By the interplay of Joe the younger and Joe the older, we get the great sense of personal struggle in each ‘person’ – the potential for immense failure; the possibility of great acts of sacrifice, but the way to it comes through immense difficulty; choices; ethical dilemmas; seasons of failure; and situational adjustments, and unexpected circumstances, and lessons learnt about ourselves.
The next generation (Joe 2044) redeemed it by sacrificing himself for the mistakes of the prior generation thus showing that he had less fear to confront the issues and consequences. He had developed empathy and had the capacity to make the right choices. In the end it was the old generation (Joe 2074) that had become fearful of the future instead of trusting that the next generation were ready to lead and would learn how to do life… But there is no greater lesson any person can learn than the lesson that each day depends on our choices. One could say that “choice” is the ability of humans to commit to belief, so that our belief does not lie concealed, or too long unexpressed. The subject of choice is too vast to deal with here. Suffice it to say that every generation faces the same challenges, and will end up doing the same things if they do not make a ‘choice’ change. Generational sociology is the heart of the film, and in this we see how three generations (boy, young man, old man) interact to grow grace and mercy for the protection of the children. Here we see Joe 2074, sitting across a diner table with Joe 2044 pleading for him to understand that there is a future, that it is not good, but that he can change it by his choices. This is the best the rationalists can come up with in terms of scientifizing their concept of god who “sees and knows” – i.e. the self-dependent on a time machine! It is much less tortuous, and infinitely more intelligent to just call the one “who knows”, God!
The third double play was on family: it was that in the end it took two sacrifices to rescue the next generation – one a woman and the other a man, both were able to do it by preferring the child – the woman by protecting him from present consequence, the man by protecting him from future consequence.
Summary: Christianity teaches that humans cannot live alone; they were created by God to be in family; in community. This is a powerful lesson for the pre-christian: that if family breaks down there will be consequences, and yet that God’s grace is never far from us even in our worse states. Even if we are demonized, his love comes through Jesus Christ into family; through community; through the ecclesia to redeem; to restore; to change the outcomes from death to life.
Every community has a story made up of the stories of those in it. I thank God for all of you that my story (Loys) has somehow mingled itself with yours. And now we will see these stories build new chapters as our children grow. The sociologists teach that Christianity is the only religion that demands an ecclesia (in answer to the question: “What house will you build me?” Acts 7). Why, because we were invited into a divine story with Jesus and each other.
How is this difference in Christian ecclesia seen in sociology (gleaned from Stackhouse 1988)?
Stackhouse writes that Christianity’s ecclesia is different to other religions and cultures that define their polity as:
- Family (clan, caste tribe, or other Ethnes – e.g. tribal witchdoctors)
- Politics (nationalism, territorium, imperium, or “state religion” – e.g. China’s 3 “C’s”, Rome)
- Class (master or servant, male or female, rulers or rules, bourgeois or proletariat – e.g. secular religion has it’s own creed such as secular humanism, such as the bourgeois religion of the French revolutionists with Rousseau’s “Contrat Social” as their bible, add to this other privatized expressions of nucleic religions)
- Cultural-linguistic groupings
- Where religious laws and civil laws are indistinguishable (such as in Islam)
- Where religious education and secular learning are indistinguishable (such as in Confucianism)
- Where religious devotion and secular treatment are indistinguishable (such as in the Christian Science movement)
- Where worship and technical achievement are confused (such as in Freemasonry, and among “technocratic workaholics” (Stackhouse))
- Where religion becomes identified with an economic system (such as in socialism and capitalism)
Stackhouse explains that where Christianity’s definition of ecclesia has been confused with any of the other institutional factors set out above, seasons of difficulty have been experienced in the human story. Rummel makes an outstanding point in his book on deaths in the 20th century, that the majority were killed by non-democratic nations (Murder by government).
Can it then be held that the ability to realize a sustainable sociology is only possible through the Christian faith? I think that for the pre-Christian only time and God can answer the question. For the Christian, it is a reminder that his or her theology awaits a proper praxis. Since all significant and insignificant others cannot be expected to alter their courses unless they see selfless sacrifice; mercy; love; tenderness – God’s grace walked out in truth.
If from this article we can glean that a belief in God can make a difference to us perhaps it is He that is pursuing us – then, let’s respond to him now in the ecclesiae forming around us. What would we have to lose? But, we can be certain of this, if it is his ecclesiae we have found, it will be filled with both grace and truth, and not just the one dominating the other!
What was that screaming 3rd generation child about? What was that demented wail of rage releasing a destructive telekinetic energy blast that tore at the fabric of abuse, and smashed everything in its path? Was this some stranger, or the malnourished; neglected; rejected; abused; bullied and un-parented child under our communal gaze? What was that open mouth full of fear and self-defense about? This child’s screams is the message that the next generation is sending us – that there is no solution to this world in selfishness; self-actualization; in abuse; in betrayed trust; in controls; in abandonment; in broken promises; in hatred and criticism; in judgment; in undisciplined living. What that child represents is the post-Millennial generation. What that child needs is arms of love; is the return of parenting!”
What is the alternative? Is it that we should readily excuse ourselves from the condition of the world that we have handed them – one of economic disaster; of parental dysfunction; of failed secular promises, and for some, the abandonment of their story in ecclesia? Should we expect that they would somehow make sense of it? Where is the grace in that? Would we put off reconciliation for the sake of our sensibilities, or of our pride? Would we delay further the moment of mercy? Or, is it that even when there are those who do not deserve our love, there is available through God mercy for us, a fresh acceptance; a grace; a forgiveness; a willingness to forget wrongs committed and to give a second chance to someone?
Those who see and take the mercy that God gives, do gain an entry into what might seem like a time warp of sorts, away from the pain of oftentimes difficult and unproductive human effort, into the multiplicative and effective work of the Spirit here on earth. But can we see it?
© Victory Fields
(The beliefs, conclusions, or opinions expressed within this article are entirely those of the author of this article. It is not our intention to suggest either that the authors/writers quoted, in any way agree with what we have written, or that we are expressing their full view on any of the subjects covered)