Did "Looper" Accurately Predict the West's Collapse?

Crime, Poverty, and the Rise of China

Emily Blunt's character Sara defends her farm in Looper

The modern world is often compared to works of dystopian fiction, ranging from Orwell's "1984" to Terry Gilliam's "Brazil". Many of these comparisons are valid in socio-cultural or political terms, but they tend to be just fantastical enough to feel unreal. The 2012 film "Looper", on the other hand, feels like it could happen tomorrow.

While the time-travel plot in "Looper" is almost as far-fetched as the notion that Joseph Gordon-Levitt would look like Bruce Willis in 30 years, its cautionary imagery of an impoverished America and a rising China are perhaps too close for comfort.

Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt enjoys Shanghai in Looper

The premise of the film - time-traveling hitmen - is comfortably within the realm of sci-fi, but the setting is not. The action shifts between the years 2044 and 2074, with the tone of 2044 feeling distinctly contemporary.

In "Looper's" 2044, America has suffered an economic decline of unspecified origin. In the cities, a small, moneyed class enjoys decadence and luxury while buildings deteriorate and tent cities of homeless families occupy the sidewalk.

Sara cooks breakfast in Looper

Rural areas are relatively more peaceful, but vagrants roam the countryside, preying on the few remaining family farms. In a poignant scene, a farmer named Sara, played by Emily Blunt, cooks breakfast for her son, clearly using ingredients harvested from her small homestead.

By 2074, the collapse of the West is complete, and the economic capital of the world has shifted to China. This is treated as something of a running joke, as the 2074 version of the Joe, played by Bruce Willis, repeatedly advises his younger self to "learn Mandarin."

The theory that the economic capital of the world will shift from America to China has been frequently discussed by economic forecaster Martin Armstrong. According to him, capital always flows from one part of the world to another, and with the West's corruption and ill-advised fiscal policies, it is simply time for China to have its turn.

An image of the impoverished inner city in Looper

Sadly, mass poverty has indeed occurred in the developed world, both in Latin America (e.g., Argentina, Venezuela) and in Europe (Serbia and Croatia during the Balkan War). As the price of food, fuel, and housing continues to rise, "Looper's" allusions to roaming bands of starving people becomes more plausible than writer-director Rian Johnson probably suspected it would.