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Dissecting R-rated Movies Like Looper

Looper was awesome!”

“It’s rated R for sex and violence. I don’t want to watch that trash!”

These comments were from two different friends of mine, both dedicated believers. So, who’s right? Or more specifically, is “art” even appropriate when it includes “inappropriate” material?

It’s definitely a risky endeavor providing reviews for films like we do on our Movie Reviews & Quick Q’s page on both our parents website and youth ministry website, because no matter which way we side, we draw criticism. Everyone’s scale is different. If I call Pulp Fiction a good movie, some will wholeheartedly agree . . . and some will write me off as a liberal who’s gone to the dark side.

Being real, I think Pulp Fiction is an amazing movie… while dangerously irresponsible. Bad guys are the heroes, drug use is glorified, and killing is just no big deal. So do I call it “Theatre Worthy” on our movie scoring scale, or do I say “Skip it,” because of moral objections?

In this post I’ll give you a glimpse into the method behind my madness, letting you know why I’d give Looper a “Theatre Worthy,” but films like Sin City a “Skip It” (when both films were extremely well done).

Looper is the new Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis film set in 2072 where Joe is a hired gun sent back in time by the mob to do their dirty work. Joe fills us in early in the film with his voice over:

Time travel has not yet been invented but 30 years from now, it will have been. I am one of many specialized assassins in our present called loopers. So when criminal organizations in the future need gone, they zap them back to me and I eliminate the target from the future. Loopers are well paid. We live the good life and the only rule is never let your target escape, even if your target is you.

After 30 years in the business, these ‘loopers’ always get assassinated, because the mob doesn’t like loose ends. These hitmen know this going into the job, but they don’t care, because they’re only thinking about “living the good life” today.

In this very bleak, dark futuristic world, Joe enjoys his upper-class lifestyle. He works hard, then plays hard, doing drugs and even visiting a futuristic strip club/cathouse where he seems to have his eye set on one particular working girl. Joe admits that anyone who is a Looper knows that his time is limited. They don’t have a 5-year plan. They are just living for the temporary.

The element I like about Looper is that the filmmakers reveal this shortsightedness plainly. These high rolling hitmen set out to engage in the temporary thrills that the job brings, but always end up regretting their nearsighted outlook. Looper shows the consequences of behaviors.

But Looper is also a little gratuitous with sex and violence. The movie shows a few quick glimpses of topless women, and then the beginning moments of a sex scene where a topless woman crawls on top of a man (probably 10 seconds of the entire film). The film also holds no bars showing the grotesque reality of people being killed in a myriad of ways.

So how do I judge Looper as a piece of modern art?

If a parent asked me, should I let my 15-year-old son go watch Looper with his friends? The answer would be easy for me. “Nope.”

Here’s why. As a parent, we need to be teaching our kids to make discerning choices with media. We need to teach them to think christianly about their movie choices. Last March I discussed this in my post “After Seeing Hunger Games.” I proposed asking the following questions about films:

  • Is this story glorifying violence or inappropriate sexual situations?
  • Is this story making “bad” look “good” or enticing?
  • Does this story irresponsibly display imitatable attitudes and behaviors that our kids will absorb and eventually emulate?
  • Does this story needlessly sell out to showing “eye candy” like nudity or gratuitous violence?

In all candor, Looper probably does flirt with the inappropriate. Does the film reveal consequence? Yes and no. Looper definitely shows the emptiness and pain that these loopers experience. The film even shows specific consequences. In one scene, Sarah (Emily Blunt) nurses Joe back to health when he’s experiencing withdrawals from his drug use, telling him that this is what happens when you’re a junkie. But at the same time, the film never shows the consequences of Joe’s tendency to hook up with women.

So does the film make “bad” look enticing? Probably not. The film actually taught a good lesson that could have flowed from the pages of Ecclesiastes. But Looper offers a little eye candy along the way… because let’s face it… eye candy draws viewers. (Have you noticed how many television pilots have increasingly included “eye candy” and sexuality lately?)

So would I want my younger kids watching this? Probably not.

Would I watch this with my wife? Probably. Is this a double standard? In other words, should parents have the same lines as kids? Parents should practice the same discernment as kids, and think Biblically about films just the same. They also shouldn’t watch media that will make their kids stumble. But no, just because mom and dad want to watch Saving Private Ryan, it doesn’t mean that their 10 and 12-year-old should. (Mom and Dad can drive, and have sex… is that a double standard?) (Side note: I don’t think Mom and Dad should try those two things at the same time.)

When does a movie cross the line?

I mentioned Sin City above. This movie is a great example, because it is a brilliantly crafted piece of art… that dips into the world of carnal desires. I finally saw the film as recommended by countless film lovers, and yes, it was really amazing. But it was so overflowing with sex and nudity, that it was just distracting. Here I was, by myself, watching other naked women being very provocative and sexual on my TV screen. That’s very dangerous.

Paul warns us clearly to flee sexual immorality (I Cor 6:18). Some men might argue that when they watch that, they aren’t partaking in the immorality. I would argue . . . “Are you a man with full functioning testicles?” Because most men lust when they see naked women being provocative like that. That’s the way God made us, so that we could enjoy that awesome gift with our wife. When we look at other women like that, it’s “lust.” And Jesus was pretty clear that when we lust, we are committing adultery (Matthew 6).

So as believers, we have to be honest with ourselves. Is this media causing us to lust? Sin City definitely will take you there. I don’t know if the few seconds of eye candy in Looper will take you there. If it’s even close . . . ask yourself . . . what does “flee” mean?

Or if we step back just a little bit and look at the big picture here, maybe we need to ask ourselves, what are we really seeking in life? Where is our focus? Are we as short sighted as the hitmen in Looper, or do we have an eternal perspective, setting our minds on things above? On one hand, entertainment is fun and many of us might really enjoy artistic expression. God created music, poetry and sex. Think about that for a second. God didn’t need to make that stuff enjoyable . . . but he did. He wants us to “live life to its full” (John 10:10). But at the same time, if we become snowblinded with the temporary, then what have we become?

I leave you with the words of Paul in Colossians, Chapter 3:1-6:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death,therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.

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Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to Four Battles Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources on TheSource4YM.com and TheSource4Parents.com. Jonathan and his wife Lori live in Northern California.