BMC Movie of the Week: Looker

Looker

“This fun, silly thriller written and directed by Michael Crichton manages to combine the dramatic murders of beautiful models, a secret conspiracy to use TV commercials for mind-control, and an unusual seeing-eye device which makes the wearer invisible. Plastic surgeon Larry Roberts (Albert Finney) becomes the prime suspect after two models on whom he operated are killed. Larry becomes suspicious because both of the women came into his office asking for very precise and seemingly unnecessary physical alterations. Agreeing to operate, because the women’s jobs depended on the surgery, Larry must now clear his own name and save his life and career. With the aid of a friend and model Cindy (Susan Dey), Larry discovers and foils the plot led by corporation-head John Reston (James Coburn). Larry must then fight for his life against Reston’s thugs who are equipped with the devices, called “Lookers.” This is good, if silly fun and Albert Finney does his best with a somewhat implausible script.” – Rovi’s AllMovie Guide.

March 3, 2012: Saturday of the First Week in Lent (Year B)

You would think a movie written and directed by the same guy who penned Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, and Westworld would be better known than it is, but, sadly, the only thing most sci-fi geeks (the guys anyway) seem to remember about Looker nowadays is that it’s the movie in which Susan Dey (the girl who played Laurie from The Partridge Family) briefly appears nude (in a PG rated film, what the…). Pathetic, I know, but then again, what do you expect from a crowd who still pines away for Slave Girl Leia even though its been almost thirty years since Carrie Fisher could fit into that bikini. The funny thing is, that propensity for men to focus on a woman’s physical attributes is actually one of the things explicitly addressed in Looker. In one scene in particular, Albert Finney’s character is hooked up to a computer monitored headset which tracks what parts of the television screen his eyes are focused on. Needless, to say, when shown a commercial for a soft drink featuring a scantily clad young lady lounging on a sailboat, the good doctor’s gaze is found to wander over everything except for the can of soda itself. This being an obvious problem for the advertisers, the testers instruct the computer to reposition the can to a more, shall we say, strategic location slightly below the actress’ chin.

Now that setup probably doesn’t sound all that science-fictiony given that such scenarios most likely play out hourly on the MacBooks of every advertising agency in the world these days, but remember that Looker was made in 1981, a time when about the best home computer the average Joe could get ahold of was an 8-bit Commodore. So, given that Looker was released decades before moviegoers would see the likes of Gollum, Caesar the ape, & (ugh) Jar Jar Binks, it’s kind of interesting to watch a movie where the central conceit is that computer animated actors will one day come to replace human beings. Of course, this being a screenplay by accused technophobe Michael Crichton, there’s a sinister side to the technology (yes, even more sinister than creating characters like Jar Jar). As it turns out, the reason given as to why digital thespians will become so commonplace is that humans simply aren’t perfect enough.

You see, along with inventing the L.O.O.K.E.R. (Light Ocular-Oriented Kinetic Emotive Responses) hypnotizing gun and a method of brainwashing television viewers utilizing light pulses, James Coburn and the eeevil scientists at the Digital Matrix laboratory also calculated the exact physical measurements a person needs in order to be appealing to the broadest audience. That’s why Finney’s plastic surgeon character has a string of models coming into his office seeking reconstructive surgery for reasons such as their cheekbones are 0.4 millimeters too high or their areola is 5 millimeters too wide. But it doesn’t stop there. Even after all of the models receive the required surgical corrections, Digital Matrix determines that the illusion of perfection is broken once the women start moving around. In order to maintain the desired results, it’s decided that the bodies of the actresses need to be optically scanned into the computers and animated, as digital duplicates, unlike their human counterparts, can be programmed to maintain optimal positioning. Hence the scene in which Susan Dey, much to the delight of Partridge Family slash fiction aficionados everywhere (c’mon, it’s the Internet, you know they’re out there somewhere), doffs her clothing and steps into the world’s biggest scanner. Unfortunately, once all the models are properly pixelated, Digital Matrix decides it no longer needs the live women and begins killing them off to prevent competitors from acquiring their services.

It’s all kind of silly (do you really need a geometrically perfect woman just to sell floor wax?), full of plot holes (hey, we’re the police, but we think we’ll just follow the plastic surgeon around and watch him handle everything), and not well put together (the original theatrical cut of the film notoriously has the reason for the murders entirely edited out), but in the end Looker is still a pretty decent time killer. And in an offhand way, it does make the point that ultimately no man or woman can hope to achieve perfection. Just read Romans chapter 3 if you need to confirm exactly how lousy we all are at even when we try. Which makes this last Saturday’s gospel reading a bit disconcerting, because in it Jesus bluntly tells his disciples, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Does this reading mean Jesus is demanding the impossible of us?

Well, not really. See, this is another one of those cases where it would be handy to have someone majoring in Biblical language studies hanging around the house while you’re reading Scripture. It turns out that in the original Greek, the word we have translated as ‘perfect’ is ‘telios’ which does not mean being sinless or without any flaws, but rather means being completed or brought to full purpose. Taken in this sense, something is ‘perfect’ only when it is fulfilling its highest calling. For example, in Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers, the killer cat creature uses a piece of corn-on-the-cob to stab a policeman in the back. Now, while it might be possible to use corn-on-the-cob in this fashion (you know, in some alternate universe where corn is made of the same substance as Wolverine’s claws), that is not what corn is purposed for. Corn-on-the-cob is only ‘complete’ when it serves the purpose for which it was made… to be eaten. Preferably drenched in hot cholesterol packed butter. Mmmmm.

Sorry, I digress. This whole no nighttime snacks during Lent is getting to me.

Anyway, what this means is that when Jesus is instructing us to be perfect, he’s not suggesting we scrupulously get hung up over our most minute flaws, but rather that we make the attempt to fulfill our highest purpose. And to find out exactly what that purpose is, all we need to do is go back a few sentences and read a bit more of Saturday’s gospel. “You have heard that it was said, you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers and sisters only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” In short, we are only ‘complete’ as human beings when we strive to love others in the same way God does.

Which, considering some of the jerks out there, is probably harder than reaching physical perfection or shoving a piece of corn through somebody’s back. But we have to try, right?

(Watch the trailer for Looker here)

David

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  • http://www.clan-donaldson.com/ Cari@Clan-Donaldson

    Where to begin?  I never even realized that I’d seen this movie until you described the scene with the pop can and the character’s gaze.  Then it all came flooding back to me, which is saying something, since I was no more than 5 or so (ahem) when this movie came out.  

    After reading this, I’m now considering hiring a Biblical scholar to come live in my house, just so I can have things like the intended meaning of “telios” explained to me, because reading it just now cracked that passage open for me like- like a delicious can of pop.

    Fantastic!

  • http://www.clan-donaldson.com/ Cari@Clan-Donaldson

    Where to begin?  I never even realized that I’d seen this movie until you described the scene with the pop can and the character’s gaze.  Then it all came flooding back to me, which is saying something, since I was no more than 5 or so (ahem) when this movie came out.  

    After reading this, I’m now considering hiring a Biblical scholar to come live in my house, just so I can have things like the intended meaning of “telios” explained to me, because reading it just now cracked that passage open for me like- like a delicious can of pop.

    Fantastic!

  • David

    Usually when I do these “movie of the week” posts I go with the Sunday readings, but when I ran across the “telios” thing I just had to use Saturday’s instead. It makes me want to go take a class in ancient languages.

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