Looker

The criticism of objectifying women that just happens to require a lot of leering at women
Released: 
1981
Director: 
Michael Crichton
Starring: 
Albert Finney, James Coburn, Susan Dey, Tim Rossovich
The Setup: 
In the near future, women in commercials are obsessed with being perfect and someone is killing them. For no reason.
Discussion: 

I have heard of this movie here and there, but it was apparently released by fan vote in Amazon’s “DVD Decision 2006” [in which people vote for the movies they’d like to see on DVD… I believe Gymkata made it this year, too] and I saw a review and was like: speculative sci-fi about women obsessed with plastic surgery? That’s for ME!

We open with a beautiful female star of commercials coming into a plastic surgeon’s office and saying that she’s not “‘perfect,” with complaints like “I have a 0.04 millimeter bend in my nose.” Oh, did I mention that this thing is written and directed by Michael Crichton, bestselling author [Jurassic Park, etc.] and former director and guy who thinks that global warming is just a bunch of liberal hogwash? Yup, sure is, which will explain a lot as we start walking through the narrative. So the plastic surgeon in question has this bearded co-doctor who carries an unlit cigar in his mouth and says that the woman is a real “looker.” Cue the hit theme song!

Actually I don’t think it was a hit, but you do get a delightful faux-Pat Benatar title song in “Looker,” and that kind of thing always put a smile on my face. Anyway, after the credits we join this woman who opens her door and then there’s a flash, and next time we see her it seems like time has passed. She keeps getting flashed [I mean, she sees flashes] and eventually tumbles off her apartment balcony.

We then re-meet our hero, Dr. Larry Roberts, played by Albert Finney. I didn’t see his name at in the credits and spent the first 30 minutes wondering of it was Cameron Mitchell. He gets a visit from Susan Dey [of The Partridge Family and later on some legal show], one of his patients, who pretty much throws herself at him. But the doctor doesn’t date his patients. Then this detective shows up to ask him questions, and observes that “women fall in love with their doctors, especially when they give them a new face.” We’ll come back to this.

But first a visit from Tina, another one of the doctor’s patients. She is all freaked out because “someone’s killing all the perfect girls,” and believes that she’s next. She then goes home where she promptly strips down to her underwear, and is stalked by the Mustache Man. This is the thug that appears throughout the movie, and does in fact appear in the credits as “Moustache Man.” We’ll get back to him, too. Anyway, the Mustache Man flashes Tina repeatedly, and she eventually falls off her balcony onto a car below. This occurs just as Dr. Roberts arrives to save her. Now, to this point it has been impossible to ignore that fact that this satire on how women strive to be an ideal of physical perfection [that is, an image of what appeals to men] apparently requires a GREAT DEAL of leering at women in bikinis. But it’s all just to make a larger point, see. So when Tina falls onto the car and we get a loving slo-mo shot of her panty-clad vulva as her legs bend way back above her ears, followed immediately by an overhead shot looking directly down on her as her body contorts in such a way that we’re staring right at her snatch—at her moment of violent death, buy the way—it’s impossible not to question the ulterior motives of the filmmaker himself. Then you combine this with the women throwing themselves at the NOT attractive doctor, and one’s attention starts to drift away from the questions of the story and starts to focus on the personal proclivities of writer / director Michael Crichton himself.

So Dr. Roberts, obviously aware that the police consider him a suspect in the murders, makes the brilliant decision to go alone up to the woman’s apartment, so he is standing right on her balcony, looking down at her dead body, as the police arrive. Moron!

Soon Cindy is again throwing herself at the doctor and—you know, we’re talking about Albert Finney. This puffy middle-aged guy who looks like Cameron Mitchell, who himself looks like late-career puffball William Shatner. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s impossible to believe that these beautiful women are crazed with lust over him. So impossible, in fact, that an entire thread of the mystery in a viewer’s mind is whether the Doctor is exercising some nefarious form of mind control. Which I don’t think was what was intended.

So the charming doctor goes to James Coburn’s super late 70s house [a bit of a treat]. Coburn is Reston, a financier who funds Digital Matrix, this company employed by the advertising business to oversee their commercials. There Robert’s date gets drunk, which requires the doctor, who does not date his patients, remember, to carry her home, lay her in bed, and lay seductively atop her as he murmurs softly in her ear.

He goes to see Cindy the next day as she shoots a commercial. She is on a beach playing volleyball, and the commercial requires that she jump for a ball, then fall to the ground in athletic agony in a tiny white bathing suit cut down to her waist. Which, naturally, requires that WE see her fall and writhe in agony several times. In a row.

But it’s all because of the demands new technology is placing on actresses in commercials. You see, Digital Matrix has developed this computer program that is basically eye-tracking [but years before eye-tracking was widely known], and they use it to determine which way a person in a commercial should move [in the case of the beach commercial, her “body twist”] that will cause a viewer to direct their eyes toward the product. During the sequence in which they demonstrate the eye-tracking technology to Dr. Roberts, don’t miss how his eyes are roaming all over the actresses’ tits.

SPOILERS > > >
They’re also performing full body digital scans of actresses, after which they can create commercials with computer animated people. Obviously all of this is commonplace today. There was an interesting concept when we are told that women can sometimes achieve perfect scores while standing still, but once they move, their score drops. Anyway, one notable sequence of the film is when Cindy goes in for a body scan, which comes in the form of a light show projected on her nude body while Vivaldi plays. Straight readers please note that you are basically looking at a nude Susan Dey for about three minutes. Parents please note that although this movie is rated PG-13, it contains numerous shots of exposed breasts. Everyone please note the extensive product placement employed throughout the film.

Then Cindy goes home to try to reconnect to her parents before she’s brutally murdered, but they’re too busy watching TV to pay any attention. Then the doctor gets flashed at home while a prominent clock is visible in the background. This is important, because this is where we learn that after he was flashed he’s in the same place, but time has passed. However, you’ll note that in this scene about an hour passes, while later in the movie people get flashed and are only out a few seconds. I guess that thing has many settings. I then have written in my notes; “Long sequence of electronic equipment,” “high-tech movies never age well,” and “evidence of a time when it seemed normal for regular people to try to solve crimes.” We then watch a commercial in which a woman receives the services of a “cleaning warrior,” and then decides to leave her husband for him, saying “let him get a warrior of his own.” Oh, so you married a guy knowing he’s into warriors?

Okay, now it’s starting to get boring. First we see that there’s this pulsing blue eye glow in the people on screen, that beams a message to their fragile little minds that makes them think “I want that.” Then there’s a long setpiece in which the Mustache Man beats Roberts while flashing him, that is, he flashes him, then can take whatever shot he wants. I guess the punch wakes Roberts up, because he always seems to wake up right as he’s flying toward a wall or whatever. There is in here one shot in which we travel with Roberts backward through a plate glass window. Amazingly, neither the severe beating he receives nor the countless shards of broken glass that cover him cause any cuts, bruises, or bleeding.

But what of Mustache Man? The Mustache Man in this movie is kind of a B Mustache Man, very Ron Burgundy, although I definitely appreciated his type. But no, his name as defined in the credits, Moustache Man, made me think that maybe this would be MY superhero. Mustache Man, who flies in to save those poor dudes alone in bed at night with no one to make out with. Or he could just be my boyfriend, but I wouldn’t want him to have a name, like Ed or John or Sam, I would want him to just be “Mustache Man,” so you could say “Oh Mustache Man, I had such a rough day today.” Such are the several thoughts this movie helped inspire.

Thank God this is almost over because I am getting BORED. So now we have some interminable capture, escape and chase scene, one of many supposedly “suspenseful” scenes that loses its power by just going on forever. I have written in my notes: “Larry breaks into lab—everything goes on SO LONG.” Anyway, so there’s this whole interminable chase through Digital Matrix where Finney and Mustache Man are stalking each other through empty sets which are being populated with digital actors and broadcast to a focus group, so you have this regular commercial with an armed gunman walking through it. I read another review that was really into this, but for me, this blast of farce simultaneous with our thriller climax, while ambitious, didn’t work for me. Anyway, we learn that Digital Matrix has been hired by politicians to make mind-control political ads [SO hard-hitting!] an that’s the ominous ending.
< < < SPOILERS END

You’re left sitting there going: so why were they killing the models? Because we never find out. Presumably they were doing it so they can use their image forever and not have to pay them any money? Although it looks like they aren’t saving any money with their expensive digital system. Apparently there is a longer cut of this with a detailed explanation of everything happening here, but that scene was cut out for some reason.

Still, it all just somehow doesn’t come together. Aside from the dissonance of Albert Finney being treated as though he’s George Clooney, it’s a little hard to believe that actresses in commercials are such a subculture of plasticized perfection. It’s much more logical that movie actresses would become obsessed with their looks and needing to be perfect. Also, Digital Matrix’s entire business plan—to digitize models so you can use them in many commercials—doesn’t ring true, because in real life you don’t WANT the same actress in more than a few commercials. It just rings of trying to bunch as many satirical targets into the same frame [as well as the thrill factor of showcasing dangerous developing technology] without regard as to whether they all form a cohesive picture.

Nevertheless, most speculative science fiction with satirical targets in the present day—especially the target of advertising—are kind of fun. Plus, this one takes place in the early 80s, has songs and fashion of the period, and amusing science fiction technology. Too bad it starts to wander off the rails as it becomes apparent that it’s not really sticking together.

Should you watch it: 

If you're into satirical speculative science-fiction that addresses the desire for physical perfection. And who isn't?