Should Filmmakers Explain Their Movies?

As the movie world reverberates with discussion of LOOPER, Rian Johnson's accessibility leads many to ask him about the film's intricacies. But is it a good idea for the director to give definitive answers about his film?

There's nothing more exciting than a movie that hits the right nerve and sends people out of the theater talking. They may be talking about theme or plot or character, but they're talking. Too many modern movies are forgotten by the time Monday comes around, being nothing more than diversions that briefly got you out of the house. 

I've loved seeing people really sinking their teeth into Looper. Here on BAD I've seen some incredible insights - someone pointing out that Old Joe's wife gets shot in the belly in a movie that has so much to do with motherhood and people searching for parental figures - and on the rest of the internet I've enjoyed watching people wrestle with the logic and meaning of time travel. There are some folks who get a touch too involved in the mechanics of it - this is not a documentary, people, and you have to suspend your disbelief enough to buy into the basic concept - but Looper is a movie that has engaged audiences, and which is being engaged with right back. That's the best thing a movie can do (besides earn a billion dollars and win all the Oscars, I guess).

There's been a big theory that Abe, Jeff Daniel's mob boss from the future, is actually Old Kid Blue, Noah Segan's cowboy-mouthed gat man. The movie does not explicitly say one way or the other. There is an answer to this, and it was in a previous cut of the movie, and writer/director Rian Johnson 100% knows the answer to this. But should he tell anybody?

Johnson is an incredibly accessible filmmaker. He has a tumblr and a Twitter and he likes to go back and forth with people. He did a Reddit IAMA. He gives lots of interviews, where he is always incredibly well spoken and modest (see mine with him right here!). He's done Q&As after screenings. He's available to answer this question, and other ones that people may have about the logistics of the movie.

Should he?

I say no. And I say that knowing some of these answers are already out there, and that he's probably already recorded a DVD commentary and approved deleted scenes for home video that will answer these, and other, questions. But philosophically I still say no. 

On Twitter tonight Rian explained his thinking on this, saying "It's hard to dodge around some q's without seeming like an asshole... Also I guess I'm falling prey to 'what about this plot-hole' defense syndrome." There are definitely people out there who look at Looper and see plot holes, and I know that most of those supposed plot holes actually have detailed explanations that Rian worked out in advance... but realized wouldn't fit into the movie. The answers exist, they just aren't presented. It isn't like Lost, where nobody ever had any idea what anything meant - somewhere Johnson has a notebook or a computer file filled with the inside information that allowed him to sketch out the world of the future in strokes that felt natural and not overly detailed. I imagine on some level it kills him to see people complaining about holes that don't really exist.

And even still knowing that, I think he shouldn't talk about this stuff. I look back to Ridley Scott, off-handedly saying that yes, Deckard is a replicant in Blade Runner, an answer that's sort of deflating. Because the discussion wasn't about whether or not Deckard was a replicant, it was about how much we liked talking about whether or not Deckard is a replicant. We're like Talmudic scholars, where most of the fun is the debate. We'll never know what God was really thinking, but man we like going back and forth about it.

Except in this case we can know what God was thinking. Knowing that God knows the answer, by the way, makes it doubly fun when we don't know the answer. Again, not to harp on Lost, but it's kind of a bummer to go back and rewatch and see that it's all just people throwing things at the wall. Being aware that there is a truth, even if we'll never actually find it out, makes debating about the truth sweeter. Makes it matter more.

There are definitely fan theories that are stupid and not worth the time of day - the theory that Travis Bickle is dead or in a coma at the end of Taxi Driver, for instance, misses the entire point of the movie - but as Room 237, the movie about obsessive The Shining conspiracy theories, shows us, sometimes the crazy theories are as entertaining as the original work. And as that movie proves, when a film asks an audience to approach with all synapses firing they will come back with some really intriguing, if far out, stuff.

There's one final thing: I strongly believe in the death of the author. The work is the work, and it should speak for itself. Sometimes the author should certainly keep his or her mouth shut - look at the director's cut of Donnie Darko, a version of the movie that destroys the original film's beautiful, mesmerizing ambiguity. With everything spelled out by director Richard Kelly the film is diminished. Having spent so much time working that movie back and forth in my head I was stunned by the director's cut, and felt like the director kind of didn't understand his own movie - or at least the movie that he had given to the audience. 

A book or a movie can live forever because removing authorial intent allows us to examine that work against all sorts of modern concerns and beliefs. Is King Kong really about white panic in the face of black sexuality? If you can make the argument using the text then that's all that matters. Is Abe really Kid Blue from the future? As long as you don't mangle or ignore the text, it's really up to you to argue.

Nobody should have ever asked Ridley Scott about Deckard.