Time travel movies have always held a certain charm for me. I mean, the possibilities can be endless; all the time ripples, paradoxes, and twists that one could come up with it can be so interesting, as long as a plot can follow through with a solid groundwork. Time travel movies can also be rather tricky, as once you contradict the same rules that you have established, your own plot can collapse in on itself. Director/writer Rian Johnson’s “Looper” is a film that is rightfully named. The film’s premise is simple, and yet it introduces different possibilities that can make one scratch his head, but once you acquaint yourself with the mythos of time travel, it makes perfect sense. Thanks to an amazing friend of mine who brilliantly puts together the thought behind its premise.
Set in a near future of 2044, where the U.S. had experienced an economic collapse and about 10 % of the population had mutated into having telekinesis. In 2074, time travel had been invented and at the same time outlawed for good reason. However, organized crime had used time jumping as a means to eliminate their ‘undesirables’ by sending them to a point in the past where they are to be killed by assassins called “Loopers”. Technology had endowed people with a tracking system that makes it impossible to get rid of a body and so, the past makes for an excellent ‘dumping‘ ground.
Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a young man who is a “Looper” and he can be considered as one of the more favored ones by the mob boss from the future, Abe (Jeff Daniels). He is also a man with a plan as he knows such a job cannot last forever, he almost always puts aside half of his bounty in silver. However, things become even a lot more complicated when the man he is supposed to kill is his future self (played by Bruce Willis) and he escapes. A “Looper” is not supposed to let his man get away, as young Joe is now in a hunt for his older self, with his ex-associates also in the hunt, young Joe soon realizes that his future self has his own agenda, and it concerns a woman named Sara (Emily Blunt) and a young boy named Sid (Pierce Gagnon). This agenda may indeed affect the future of the world…
The film’s premise is pretty simple at first look. I mean, one would expect a certain crisis of conscience and of fear when one becomes faced with the task of eliminating a possible future version of himself. The screenplay does use all these devices, but it does not dwell on it. Rian Johnson’s ideas go further than what was hinted at with the trailers. The film captures themes that go beyond its surface, as it tries to provoke a thought. Present day Joe is a very different from his older self, and this puts them at odds with each other. Time is indeed the defining element here; not just time jumping but also how time itself can change a man, and how different choices can often lead to one’s possible future, and how those choices can affect an outcome. The development of its premise is pretty simple, but what the screenplay does leave to the viewer to ponder is how the main timeline births different possibilities and time paradoxes that can boggle the mind. I cannot go into this without going into spoilers but if you are interested, I am actually thinking of adding some bits in the comment section.
What is also quite intriguing is the fact that this futuristic world that Johnson had created comes close to our own current state of affairs or events. The expression of economic collapse is made through the film’s set pieces and designs. There is something so familiar to this world of 2044. The look and the feel of the cityscapes have that feeling of being advanced, and yet not so advance that it becomes totally alien. Johnson was smart in hinting at the loss of gasoline as a primary energy source, as vehicles are seen with modifications that harness either electrical and solar power. Poverty is indeed an issue in this futuristic world, but some things remain constant, as the need for company (brought forth by the Suzie character played by Piper Perabo) and the potential abuse to a ‘designer drug’. It was amusing to see that certain luxuries come in the form of new technology (Seth’s jet bike) and sometimes in the form of a gas powered Miata (which gave the hint that gasoline is one expensive item in this future). I am not sure, but there is something to be said for its adoption of “western period’ technology with the way the loopers have their guns. The guns were huge but looked like they were classic six-shooters, and the “blunder buster” weapons looked like a cross between a shotgun and a shotgun stick that made them interesting. But hey, automatic weapons are also a weapon of choice in this day and age.
Now, “Looper” is an action film at its core, and the direction does not disappoint. There is a good number of gunfights in the film. They were done in a way that almost plays with a sense of grittiness that becomes more violent as the film progresses. There are some bloody scenes but not too much that it dictated its mood. The script does not wallow in its violence though, as Johnson balances out the tempo of the film with some credible touches of dry and subtle humor. Johnson’s execution was well-timed, albeit a little uneven at some scenes, but the film remained quite entertaining to watch.
The characters themselves drive the film’s pace, as well as the action. Gordon-Levitt makes for a credible lead, and I have to say he did a good job with the manner he adapts into Willis’ own recognizable mannerisms. There was some minor use of make up, as to make him resemble Willis a little more closely. Willis was at his element, and he properly redeems himself after his recent sci-fi ‘miss’ “Surrogates”. The two were believable as two versions of the same character, and their “changes of heart” made sense when you see the film as being about "choices" and how alternate timelines can affect those choices. “Kid Blue” (played by Noah Segan) is a genre character at best, but I could see his purpose as Abe’s imbalanced errand boy. Jeff Daniels was terrific as the mob boss. He was respectful and yet scary at times, that it was easy to buy into his character. Emily Blunt’s character proved to be a focal point in the film’s script, and while a little underdeveloped, the transition between scenes was smooth enough to introduce the film’s underlying twist.
“Looper” is a good film that brings some questions into the fold, and those who see the film as one main time stream may say that its time jump “mumbo-jumbo” does not make sense. I know, it is easy to dismiss “Looper” as just another action movie, but the rules that it had established and established upon is really fascinating. It is all about paradoxes, alternate timelines, collapsed timelines and ‘loops’ that come together under existing time travel theories, that made its narrative much more ‘layered‘ than at first glance. This is where it is successful, and despite some weaknesses; some devices weren’t fully developed as intended, “Looper“ is a success and can make you loop around its narrative. More than once.
Star Rating: Looper is one of the few time travel fables that didn’t have me scratching my head in utter confusion. Writer/director Rian Johnson doesn’t bog his story down with the same complex technicalities that make most time travel movies more perplexing than entertaining; somehow, he takes a radical idea and reduces it into layman’s terms, thus allowing non-sci-fi audiences like me the chance to understand what’s going on and why. … more