I and I
“The looper” is an utmost unfortunate name for any publicly announceable title. If there was even a glimpse of hope in the name, DJs and MCs would have appropriated it a century ago. They didn’t — because, to quote House M.D., it’s never lupus. Yet, the movie with this title has been released, and there is even Bruce Willis starring, still misguided by the earlier success of the Die Hard penthology. I ought to say that “The looper” film is quiet brilliant, in its own silent way. For one, it brings to life a question that seems to be raising its ugly Siamese heads more and more often recently: what if I could meet myself?
The ultimate task of human existence, as dubbed by various equally murky sources, is to know thyself. Similarly to “cogito ergo sum” paradox, as pointed by Gilles Deleuze, such a chore presupposes an entity somewhat external to the beloved self, which acts as an active explorer of the mind terrain. To know him- or her-self one would need to asses the self in some degree; and doing it from within seems to be a task that is tedious, hardly manageable and lacks external measurement control.
Well, not with an advance of technology and the ubiquitous schizophrenia it brings onboard. One of the first strictly technical forays into this territory was a film called Moon. A person works at the Moon base, waiting for his long and lonely shift to be over so he could get back to Earth to his wife and children. Turns out he is a clone of a person who actually lives with his wife and children, enjoying the quite moments of holy matrimony. Technically speaking we have a case of covert bigotry but that is clearly not the biggest problem on hands. Unequal payment rates and reduced life expectancy of synthetic sentinels seems to be much more appealing to the filmgoing masses.
On a side note, in a little bit more macabre scenario of The Cloud Atlas the clones are actually refactored in ingeniously green fashion that every treehugger on the planet should have loved: the prosthetic bodies of the late creatures get re-purposed as food for those active prosthetic copies employed by the First Blood humans. A sign of Uroboros (self-biting snake) gets very direct interpretation here, despite the fact that The French Academy Of Science has stopped accepting Perpetuum Mobile patents in 1775. Yet, the notion of knowing thyself through self-consuming, was worth mentioning, even if the dilemma of meeting thyself in the cloned-enabled world crossed the minds of neither authors.
Not a movie but a book (never mind that the godfather of sci-fi thrillers for past 20 years, the almighty Joel Silver has bought the screening rights of the pages for a few mills), Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan, speculates that a person, left with multiple copies of himself for a few hours will give away all and any secrets he may have tried concealing prior to meeting the twins. It’s a technique the book’s protagonist uses to torture his victims in the absence of proper instruments, always without a failure. Altered Carbon was a promising debut, and a few more books down the road author puts a younger and energetic copy of a main character as his own mortal foe. Which, strangely enough, doesn’t quite split the sympathies of the readers but that is the author’s omission, who doesn’t seem to engage in the formal experiment enough to feed audience with a bipartisan hero.
There are various technical contraptions at work, helping to instantiate the second self: time machine, cloning, brain dumping coupled with body puppeteering. But they are all merely the means to an end: to know thyself in non-metaphysical way. To know thyself through imaginable and tangible devices rather than treating an utmost goal of human existence as a metaphor. To know thyself as you know thy neighbor, so to speak. I have to admit that along all of my reading and watching I never stumbled upon the most obvious know thyself scenario when two soul twins would have had sex. Not sure if it’d be an incest in this case or just an exquisite form of masturbation, but seems like there is some kind of taboo on this particular development.
May be the earliest foray to “I and I” territory of technology was the ingenious film called Aliens. Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) finds her own unsuccessful and thus mutilated clones on exhibit in a lab, marinated in formaldehyde. She furiously torches them all with the flamethrower. There was no encounter per se, or, better be said, all encounters with thyself were postmortem. But looks like Aliens, aside of a fruitful title, may be an unintended prequel to the question that has been bothering the most lucid minds of the humanity for quite awhile now.
The Prestige, one might argue, was also a know thyself film. It was a near miss, I’d say. Identical twins were, of course, used as a device in literature for many centuries, Shakespeare not excluded. But it was for the purpose of either social mockery or to resolve some hideous sherlockholmsed conundrum, aka a mystical murder in Indian family drama. It was not a pure breed technicality that came to save the world and expose the truth in the most objective or at least unobtrusive way.
The Looper is a film about facing a version of thyself, a doppelgänger from the future, and then rejecting it altogether with the current self. Which could have been pretty noble if it was not so self-destructive. Funny enough the film does end according to Richard Morgan’s prophesy — the main hero can’t stand his older version so much that he kills himself just to get rid of obsessive-compulsive thyself. But before getting to the suicidal part of the movie there are plenty of dark lopsided jokes, which, contrary to the plot, I will not give away.
P.S. Google, this aspiring self-conscious idiot, will gladly help with the aporeia: if you type “I and I” with no quotes it will serve you with the answer. So, don’t be shy and just google it.