Sunday, November 4, 2012

Unexpected Motherhood in Looper


Warning: Spoiler Alert
It seems an obvious sort of review to talk about the unexpectedly large presence of motherhood in Looper, but while I expected to have plenty to say on the movie’s women (or lack thereof) I was not expecting to see motherhood played out in such a diverse way. It’s just not something I expect in a Summer/Fall Hollywood science fiction blockbuster: shame on me for my lack of faith in Hollywood’s creativity.

The first part of Looper is a tangled, intriguing, sometimes gory, exploration of time travel: what happens to your future when we mess with your pass? How do you remember the past if your future doesn’t exist anymore (or vice versa for that matter)? A great question would be, if you chop off a person’s legs in the past, while their future self is in the past, wouldn’t that change their future, even if they’re in the past? Oddly enough, all those questions are answered in the first hour of the film.
But the film really took off for me during the second half, when a different film than the one the trailer promised me, emerged. Cityscapes were traded in for cornfields and discussions on the finer points of temporal displacement are exchanged for character development.

In the second half of the film, Looper did a really great job of showing a few different kinds of mothers starting with Summer Qing (Qing Xu), who plays Bruce Willis’ wife, wants a child, but never gets to have any (explicitly stated in the film). Sara, (Emily Blunt) may or may not have given birth to a seriously creepy, possibly homicidal destructor of the future, and Suzie (Piper Perablo) is a prostitute and exotic dancer who independently raises and supports her young child (and is proud to be able to do so).

Sara’s (Emily Blunt) storyline centers on her incredibly creepy kid, Cid (Pierce Gagnon) who is possibly one of the best child actors I’ve ever seen. Sara’s storyline is unique in that she is a late mother to her son, but despite her fear, and the fact that Cid doesn’t believe she’s really her mother, feels that she must and can save him from a possibly violent future. It’s sort of reminiscent of a Harry Potter plotline—a mother’s love is all that’s needed to make a child grow up “good” and “safe.” The audience is left with the hope that Sara’s belief in her own mothering skills will be enough to stabilize the troubled child and keep him from harming others.

It’s a really sweet sentiment, this “power of love” idea, and to its credit, the film doesn’t specify whether it does heal all ills, but I find this idea sort of problematic. So many parents believe that every mistake their child has made and every bad thing that they’ve done is their fault as a parent. Obviously, this is not always the case. I’m no sociologist and the argument for nature vs. nuture is still swirling around out there, but reinforcing the ideals of a perfect motherhood and it’s redemptive powers seems to be placing too much responsibility on the shoulders of women (without regard for temperament and personality). This is not to devalue motherhood and the great job of raising their children that so many women do, but rather to point out a possibly naïve and damaging ideology that we seem to be indirectly promoting, that if a person were to do something really, really awful (for instance, murder someone) that it would be based on some failure of the parents.

Pierce Gagnon and Emily Blunt in Looper

Looper does get credit though for the fact that it does portray a less-than traditional type of mother: Single mom, out on her own on a farm, raising a child she barely knows since her sister raised him first. She was just a woman, doing what she could to be a good mother (though she had some pretty high expectations for herself, and I can say I’d feel a bit of pressure to be the best mother ever if I knew my son would become an evil mob boss and the man I loved had killed himself so I could have a chance to raise him right and stop that from happening). Spoiler Alert by the way.

I bring this up because of an interesting article I read a while ago about children who display characteristics of psychopaths. I feel awful just typing that, but hey, the New York Times said it first. In the article they talk about children who seem to have a neurological condition in the brain centers that control empathy and shame, two essential traits that help to regulate our behavior and response to others. The part I find fascinating is the fact that some children have neurological disorders and that parenting, no matter how wonderful and loving, might not change that. The article quotes a psychologist who, in regard to the possibility of diagnosing the disorder in children, stated: “'This isn’t like autism, where the child and parents will find support,’ Edens observes. ‘Even if accurate, it’s a ruinous diagnosis. No one is sympathetic to the mother of a psychopath.’”

Poor Sara with her troubled, possibly evil, child. Nobody feels support for the mother of a psychopath except the psychopath who didn’t have a mother, Joe in this case. Joe mentions his own mother several times in the movie, asking his girlfriend (lover? prostitute?) to rub his hair as his mother did when he was a child (I’ll ignore that possibly Oedipal situation) and telling Cid that his own mother sold him to the gangs. Joe obviously sees himself in Cid, particularly the scenes where he projects into Cid’s future, riding the train alone, hurt and scared, resenting his mother and others for abandoning him and then eventually taking it out on everybody else by becoming homicidal (Jon does kill for a living, it’s not like he’s particularly well-adjusted himself).

The scene seemed a bit fallacious, in terms of it’s logical progression, as I said, loss of a mother should not indicate future murderer. However, I did appreciate the sub-idea that Cid, despite his known future, is not predetermined, perhaps he can change and learn to control himself, and therefore obviously deserves to live.

The movie’s dark beginnings really ended in a very hopeful, life-affirming place, even though it begins and ends with the loss of life. 

***Cross posted from Bitch Flicks

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