I have recently seen two very good movies in my two favourite science fiction tropes apocalypse and time-travel. Both were vastly different in ambition and scope. Looper is an action adventure time-travel film while Melancholia is a quiet drama about the end of the world.
In Looper time-travel is used by future criminal syndicates to send their victims back to our near future where they are killed by hired assassins called Loopers. We are told at the start of the movie that victims have to be sent back in time because it is impossible to secretly dispose of their bodies in the future. Once I accepted that, I had no other problems with the film’s mythology.
A condition of becoming a Looper is that the criminal syndicate will track down your future self and send it back for you to kill, and close the loop. But when a Looper is confronted with his future self, he fails to kill him and his future self escapes. The syndicate is not happy.
Looper, was for me, a new and refreshing take on time-loops. It is a film that needs to be thought about and requires a bit of concentration. It stars Bruce Willis and that skinny guy from the low-brow Third Rock From the Sun, who surprised us by becoming a reasonable man of action in Inception. The film is long on suspense, so I doubt the current writers of Doctor Who would appreciate it.
I would place it in the middle of the Bruce Willis science fiction film lexicon. It is not as good as 12 Monkeys - but what is? - or The Fifth Element, but better than Surrogates and much better than Armageddon – but what isn’t?
Melancholia is also way better than Armageddon. Melancholia takes place on a large British estate. A wedding is taking place, but the bride doesn’t seem that interested in the whole thing. She is very melancholic. We learn that a planet is approaching the Earth. We are asked to believe it came from behind the sun so no one saw it until recently. But not to worry, scientists know that it will miss the Earth. But the bride is not so sure.
The film stars Kirsten Dunst and a Kiefer Sutherland and is directed by Lars Von Trier, and filmed in shaky-cam. Kiefer must have given all his 24 man stuff to the guy in Looper before he made this film because he is no man of action.
Melancholia is a completely different take on end of the world films that I have seen. Instead of thrusting the end of the world in the viewer’s face, it leaves it sitting in their peripheral vision for most of the film. There are no guns, no riots, no looting, no violence, no religion, no hysterics, just people getting on with their lives as the planet approaches. As a writer, it really made me think about how people would react in so many different and unpredictable ways if the world was coming to the end.
I really recommend both films. Melancholia is no longer on at the cinemas.
And speaking of depictions of the end of the world, the best apocalyptic dramatization ever made returns on FX on Tuesday this week: The Walking Dead, series 3.