Periscope Depth

fish like little silver knives

In The Loop: when talking about dark comedy in the past, my benchmark has always been Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

On the spectrum of absurdity, there’s a line somewhere. For each of us this line is personal. Before that line, our reaction to the absurd is a laugh. Past that line, our reaction is a gasp.

Dark comedy works because it pushes that line, inch by inch.

In The Loop not only matches Dr. Strangelove for both the shade of its darkness and the hilarity of its comedy. It may rival Kubrick as well.

In The Loop begins with the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications, the savage Malcolm Tucker, overhearing a radio interview in which Minister for International Development Simon Foster states that war in the Middle East is “unforeseeable.” No, no, no, says Tucker – in unprintable language – this simply will not do. However, Foster’s comment is seized on by the visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karen Clarke, who wants to keep the U.S. (and the U.K.) out of a Middle Eastern war. She tries to prod Foster into taking a stronger stand. Waffling, he mumbles something to reporters about how sometimes, on the road to peace, one has to “climb the mountain of conflict.”

And we’re off and running.

Add to this mix Liza Weld, a young assistant to Secretary Clarke, whose paper laying out the pros and cons of an invasion (abbreviated to “PWIP-PIP”) becomes a smoking gun on the coffee table. Add to this Toby Wright, Simon Foster’s adviser, whose craven ambition and crush on Liza lead him to several boorish choices. Add to this the Assistant Secretary of State Linton Barwick, whose bland confidence steamrolls over Clarke’s objections. Add to this James Gandolfini and Steve Coogan in hilarious cameos. Add to this a live hand grenade, a douchebag staffer with a squash racket, a Scottish press officer with a penchant for Trainspotting-level brutality, and the world’s most awkward UN conference. And a teetering stone wall.

In The Loop blends half a dozen plotlines, over a dozen major speaking roles and several key MacGuffins into a 110-minute runtime. It bounces between London, Northampshire, Washington and New York City. Characters are openly savage to each other, whether in the bland sarcasm of the States or the frothing profanity of the Kingdom, despite being nominal coworkers. And yet you never lose track of what’s at stake. You never get confused as to who means what to whom. And you never stop laughing.

Dr. Strangelove is the perfect dark comedy because it suggests that the world could be brought to an end because of two poor decisions – Attack Plan R and the Doomsday Device – and the institutional miscues that protect them. And because it was hilarious. Where In The Loop matches it, and just maybe exceeds it, is in suggesting that the world can be brought to war because of a series of poor decisions. With In The Loop, there is no inept Captain Mandrake, nor any stern President Muffley, trying to save the world from chaos. Everyone is equally mercenary. There is no President Bartlett waiting to save us.

In The Loop is not a story of heroes defeated by their own flaws. There are no heroes. In the grim darkness of our not-too-distant past, there is only war.

Bob Adriano: In the meeting with the Foreign Office, the committee was accidentally and briefly alluded to.
Linton Barwick: Which committee?
Bob Adriano: The … the war committee, sir.
Linton Barwick: All right, Karen is not to know about this, huh? She is an excitable, yapping she-dog. Get a hold of those minutes. I have to correct the record.
Bob Adriano: We can do that?
Linton Barwick: Yes, we can. Those minutes are an aide-memoire for us. They should not be a reductive record of what happened to have been said, but they should be more a full record of what was intended to have been said. I think that’s the more accurate version, don’t you?