IN THE LOOP: The Bush Era Exploitation of Language

Armando Iannucci’s IN THE LOOP is an immensely comical, incredibly quotable film whose hilarious moments and characters are bound to remain in your head like the images of big, fat rabbits dressed in human clothing on a fucking David Lynch film. Following the footsteps of past satires like Stanley Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE and Rob Reiner’s SPINAL TAP, which both went to become emblematical for their respective generations, Iannucci’s film is identifiable with this period’s technocracy, Rovian politics and half-thought rhetoric, where American and British politicians are at the mercy of their staff’s cellphones and the media’s coverage of their most diminutive words. In the climate of 21st-century politics and war times, it focuses on the chaos of postmodernism, and it is as laughable as it is serious.

Based on the director’s own BBC series, THE THICK OF IT, the film begins with a radio interview from the naïve cabinet minister Simon Foster (Tom Hollander), and a review of it from the series’ Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi – moving one of the best performances from TV to cinema’s best performance this year), who is hearing it on his office as the political vigilante that he is. It establishes without hesitation how Tucker, a London version of Karl Rove, is the brains behind the politics (“No, you do not say that!”), an almost omniscient figure (“I’m here, I’m there, I’m fucking everywhere”) that manipulates language by deleting or changing words in documents and media outlets, and also abuses it with full-time swearing and hilarious insults, which usually include movie references. Anyone familiar with Tucker and Armando Iannucci’s BBC series should know that verbal fights are part of the menu, and so are pitiful media interviews, political debates, secretive planning and any other situation that includes talking.

Thus, indeed, so much of IN THE LOOP is about the people’s language; mainly, the exploitation of it. Characters insult each other continuously; characters express anti-intellectual reasoning and incomprehensible sentences in Bush-like demeanor (“Toby, did you just say you had sex to stop the war?”); and texts from documents that contain objective cases are manipulated in the purpose to meet an official’s desire. The result is laughter and sadness, as the last scene provokes; an emotional recreation of all the press-conferences that we had with the past American administration, where the distinction between a comedy and a tragedy couldn’t be made. And If the film’s anti-war and pro-war plot is symbolic, it might be about the time where the death of long thoughts and argumentation happened, and then the birth of wars with brutal dogmatism in a obstructionist, childish culture.

The main plot of the film, after all, originates out of a single sentence: a one-liner by Simon Foster (“War is unforeseeable”) on his not-so-great radio interview, which springs a thousand different waves from political forces that manipulate him to repeat more one-liners or to simply silent him. Indeed, Foster is a bumper sticker, instead of someone that is allowed to make arguments. He attempts to present cases that are more complicated than a one-liner (even if it is with a Bush-Palin dialogue deficit), just as Liza (Anna Chlumsky) writes a paper that acknowledges both the positives and negatives of war. But they’re denied in an obstructionistic game of 21st-century politics. It is a wonderful satire of a political climate where labels are more important than arguments, whether they are true or not; of a reductive, misologist culture that cuts any long language for the most simplistic wordings or nickname (“PWIP PIP? Oh God, it already has an acronym”), and where an image, a single statement or one fact is enough to elevate or bring down a person, as it happens to the characters throughout.

Of course, for a film that is so much about one-liners, it is only appropriate that it is so quotable, which is why it seems to have earned a cult status already. Apart from the fact that it is smart, it is also a deliciously witty script, full of references that will make cinephiles more than happy and giggle-ish. Although, for the sake of fairness, it is also elevated by the performances as well. Mainly, every line and delivery from Peter Capaldi is pure gold, as the film gains a great attractiveness when he’s present and loses some when he’s not, though it is only natural considering the powerhouse of a character that Tucker is. The rest of the supporting cast still find eventual moments of brilliance – and that Iannucci leaves them a space that is loose, and follows an editing that is swift, should earn admiration in an effort to gain a mood of unpredictable reality in a setting whose presentation always is classical and refined. As simple as the filmmaking may be, part of the praise for a director lays in his creative choices, and Iannucci makes the right ones. The film has enough memorable scenes to justify the cult status that it is receiving, though it should definitely earn more than that.

Filmmakers have been attempting to create the definitive film about the last decade’s politics, usually through Iraq War conflicts or by allegorizing with past historical events, so Armando Iannucci’s IN THE LOOP – a political British comedy – becoming emblematical of the political American culture from the last decade is quite unorthodox. But so it has successfully delivered something akin to Stanley Kubrick’s DR. STRANGELOVE for this generation’s Rovian politics. Ironic that a film which cites popular, classic art for real-life repeatedly (“This isn’t a fucking Jane Austen novel”) ends up doing exactly the same, now nicknaming every political advisor that exists now-a-days as Malcolm Tucker. In time, this might be the classic that others will cite.

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