Everybody Wants to be “In the Loop”

What is the film satirizing? 

In the Loop (2009) is a satire about the lead-up to the Iraq War, gender politics, and International cultural differences, among other things.

One way to think about the film is that it is satirizing the idea that those in a position of power act based on noble motivations, or that those in elite positions (in this case, high level government positions) have a different, or more responsible approach than others.

It is typical, of course, for people to represent themselves in the best possible light, and as a consequence those in a position of power who have a greater platform have the opportunity to represent themselves as wise, knowledgeable, and ethical. Part of what In the Loop is doing is exposing that everyone–including those in a position of power–are motivated in part by petty grievances, sexual attraction, egoism, psychological esteem issues, and the like.

In the Loop, trailer

In other words, we are all in the muck of nitty, gritty, human behavior, the lowly and powerful alike. In this sense, you don’t need to really understand the ins and outs of the British government or foreign policy or the wars in the Middle East to get the point. What you need to understand is that the characters in the film are ostensibly supposed to be making decisions on behalf of the public interest but practically every one of them (maybe every one of them, actually), is consumed with their own petty self-interest and it’s impacting their public responsibilities. 

Let’s go through several characters:

Simon Foster (Tom Hollander): He’s against the war, but he likes being an important figure people talk about, and he likes being a government minister (he likes being “in the loop,” hence the title). So he keeps contradicting himself. He says “war is unforeseeable,” but he also says, “climb the mountain of conflict.” 

Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi): He likes to see himself as a tough guy, who doesn’t take abuse from others. He also likes to see himself as a good guy, supporting the Prime Minister. But Linton Barwick (David Rasche) gets the better of him. Linton treats Malcolm, the way Malcolm treats everyone else. So, at the end of the movie, Malcolm has to decide whether he wants to be “in the loop” and stay relevant, even if it means doing what Linton tells him to do. Linton mocks him and tells him he’s useless because he can’t find (or fabricate) evidence to support a military invasion. Malcolm decides the only way he can stay “in the loop” is by fabricating evidence and by being manipulated by Linton.

A scene from early in In the Loop

Liza Weld (Anna Chlumsky): Liza is a capable assistant to Karen Clark. Karen Clark is against the war, and she asked Liza to create a report outlining the pros and cons of an invasion. Liza wrote the report and included more cons, as opposed to pros. The problem for Liza is that her report clashes with the “current climate” in Washington D.C., which in the film is in favor of invasion. So basically, Liza is upset with herself for creating a report that contradicts what people in D.C. want (regardless of whether her report is true). She’s afraid that her report will ruin her career and keep her from being “in the loop.”

Lt. Gen George Miller (James Gandolfini): He is anti-war, but he doesn’t want to resign and lose his position and not be “in the loop.”

Toby Wright (Chris Addison): Toby is a social climber, and very motivated, and eager to pursue sexual opportunities. He wants to be “in the loop,” but he also does stupid things, like brag about the “war committee” to his friend at CNN. He does that to stroke his own ego, but it’s a self-destructive decision that gets him and his boss in trouble. 

Consider the scene where Malcolm manipulates Simon. Simon is thinking of resigning, and Malcolm says basically–you can resign if you like, but we’d love you to go to D.C. on a fact finding mission. Malcolm knows how to manipulate Simon. He knows Simon wants to stay “in the loop.” 

So basically this film is commenting on how people in power are motivated by personal petty ambition, rather than ideological agendas or public responsibility.

You might reflect on how this connects to your social, school, and work circles. Do people want to stay “in the loop”? What are they willing to do, to stay “in the loop”? 

There’s other things this film is satirizing too. I’d argue that it’s satirizing workplace politics, British vs. American culture, and of course politics. But fundamentally, at its heart, it’s a movie about how people are mostly just concerned about themselves, not their greater responsibilities. 

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