Bryan Caplan  

Backwards Induction in The Lookout

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The Lookout is not just one of the best modern crime flicks you've never heard of.  It's also the most compelling dramatic depiction of backwards induction I can remember. 

The lead character has trouble sequencing his actions (wake up, shower, eat, get your keys, lock the door, etc.) due to a brain injury.  So his roommate tells him to stop thinking of it as "sequencing," and tell a story instead.  Ho-hum.  But then his roommate adds that he should start with the way he wants his day's story to end, and work backwards from there, step by step. 

I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that in this movie, backwards induction turns out to be a very useful skill indeed!

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COMMENTS (5 to date)
Sam Wilson writes:

Great flick. I saw it a few months ago and I was impressed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt's adoption of the role. Before I saw it, I thought it would be a cheap rip-off of Memento, but I found myself impressed by a degree of originality in the script and some good acting.

Still, Memento was better. Then again, that's like saying Yojimbo was better than A Fistful of Dollars.

... well, sort of.

Stewart writes:

And Seven Samurai was better than The Magnificent Seven. Never apologize for liking a Kurosawa movie!

Stephen S writes:

This technique (as I understand it) is useful in chess. First think of the position you'd like to see, and then work backwards from there. The trouble is getting your opponent to play along...

John writes:

The Lookout may be an example of backwards induction, but it was a snoozer that was both completely predictable and full of one-dimensional characters (or no dimensional, in the case of Isla Fisher's character). Not unwatchable, but severely overrated by independent movie fans.

Brandon Robison writes:

Well, Netflix says I'll like it, so I guess I'll give it a try.

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