Looper – Only Kind of About Time Travel
I saw Looper today. It’s as good as I’ve heard.
There are a ton of spoilers below, so if you haven’t seen it, go see it and then come back.
First off – Looper is a time-travel film, and it violates some of the rules it sets up. Normally, I’m a stickler for internal consistency in films and books and games, but I didn’t mind it at all here.
That’s because Looper is only technically about time-travel. It is really about choices, and how the choices we make affect the lives of those around us, our friends and children, and of course ourselves.
First, the paradox created by the film. It is the critical moment of the film, and seriously if you haven’t seen it, go away.
Our protagonist, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (hereafter JGL) realizes what he has to do to stop his future-self from killing a child. JGL turns his Looper blunderbuss on himself, which makes his future-self vanish from the timeline right before his future self (Bruce Willis) can start murdering (some more).
Now, of course if JGL kills himself, Willis vanishes from the timeline. But if Willis wasn’t there to threaten the child, JGL would have no reason to kill himself. So he wouldn’t, because he wouldn’t know that Willis was coming back in time to kill the kid. Which means that Willis could be there to threaten the kid. So JGL would kill himself, which means that Willis wouldn’t be there, so JGL wouldn’t kill himself, on and on and on.
In fact, earlier in the film we see what happens when JGL dies after Willis comes back in time and JGL reacts to Willis’ actions. It brings the timeline back to the point where JGL is waiting to kill Willis.
So the movie has a pretty glaring plot-hole there. But, like I said before, Looper isn’t really about time travel.
JGL is an assassin, and he has the easiest assassin job I’ve ever seen. He gets a time. He goes out to a corn field, sets out a tarp, and waits until the allotted time. A person will appear – this person is from the future, and the mob has sent them back in time to be killed. (As JGL says in the film, “It’s hard to hide a body in the future. Or so I’m told.”) Then he drops the body down an incinerator, takes the silver that had been sent back with the body as payment, and lives a life filled with hookers, booze, drugs, and partying.
When Willis comes back in time, JGL’s life gets messed up. Willis has come back in time to kill someone called the Rainmaker before the guy takes over a bunch of powerful corporations and starts mass murdering people. The Rainmaker is also doing something called “closing the Loops,” which means he’s sending back gold instead of silver on the people. It means that the Loopers are fired – they get a big payoff and live wealthy and essentially care-free lives for the next 30 years. Once those 30 years are up, the mob comes for the former Looper and sends them back in time to be killed by their past selves.
Wacky time travel!
At heart, we are shown how a man will act when he gets to see how he turns out in the future. Willis isn’t a person that JGL likes – especially once he learns that Willis is intent on killing the Rainmaker as a child. It is, of course, hard to like child-murderers. Willis thinks that if he kills the Rainmaker, Willis’ past self will grow up to live Willis’ exact life anyway. It’s flawed reasoning – if Willis is in the past, fucking things up, JGL won’t go to China and meet the lady that Willis had married.
This is sort of explained – we’re told that time travel messes with the mind, and it’s true. So JGL sees himself (Willis) as a half-demented old man who is willing to kill children for a woman that JGL will never meet but whom Willis remembers as the woman who saved his life (he loves her because she helped him through his drug-addiction, made him a better man, etc etc).
It is exquisite.
There’s a nice dichotomy there. If Willis hadn’t escape being killed by his past self, JGL would have lived the life Willis did. Willis is trying to both make that life longer and save his wife. But now JGL is determined to kill Willis, and in the course of doing so he finds the child whom Willis wants to kill. So where Willis is willing to do anything to make his past self (JGL) meet the woman who will help him through his drug addiction and make him a better man, he actually makes JGL meet a different woman who helps JGL through his drug addiction and makes him a better man. And JGL learns from his, uh, I guess they would be future-mistakes (well, Willis’ mistakes), and he makes the decision Willis can’t. Because Willis is so focused on what he had (well, on what he had in the future he came back in time from), JGL learns to think ahead and see what the future could be.
One part I didn’t like was the ending. The child, the Rainmaker, is a super-telekinetic. When he gets mad at the end, and he’s about to kill Willis, his mother (Sara, I think her name is?) calms his down by telling him it’s okay and she loves him. Part of the tension in the film is about pre-destiny. Willis remembers the Rainmaker as a crazy mass-murderer who can’t be stopped. But he’s just a kid now – is it inevitable that he’ll grow up and become a monster? Willis thinks so, and JGL comes to believe that if the Rainmaker grows up with a good mother, he will learn control and be a tremendous force for good in the world (the world is depicted as really shitty so that would be great).
I liked that JGL was banking on the kid without any evidence. He just comes to have this total belief that killing the kid is wrong. Without any proof, he puts all his faith in this lady and her son. He’s trying to give the kid a better childhood than he himself had. It’s inspiring, and the audience needed to see it. It can be hard to root for an assassin when what he wants for most of the movie is to get his old life back, and his old life is whores and drugs and murder. I mean, we get a strong hint that JGL wants out of his assassin life. But he doesn’t get out until Willis shows up, and even then JGL’s first solution is murder.
Anyway, when Sara talked the kid down, I thought it leaned too far towards validating JGL’s belief. I thought having him act on total faith was much more powerful – his shitty life is filled with shitty people, selfish murderers and assholes. Now that he finds this thing he can believe in, I wanted him to just believe in it, rather than make his final decision based on some solid evidence.
Still. Very good stuff.
As usual, I’ve run on too long. I have some other thoughts about the film, but I’ll save those for next week.
P.S. How many movies does Bruce Willis do in a year? I’d swear I see him in at least one every year, sometimes two. It’s crazy.
Posted on October 12, 2012, in Movie Review and tagged Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper movie, Pierce Gagnon, Rian Johnson, telekinesis, the Rainmaker, Time Travel. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.