This time travel crap just fries your brain like an egg.
That line from one of the characters in Looper, can be taken as director and scriptwriter Rian Johnson’s (Brick, The Brothers Bloom ) direct shout-out to the audience. Movies about time travel are inevitably convoluted and paradoxical. They are inevitably plagued by questions of destiny and free will; is everything completely pre-determined or can our choices alter the outcome? Sci-fi films have been making audiences puzzle over these things for literally decades and Johnson gives a shout-out to that too with one character commenting that another’s outfit is “inspired by movies inspired by other movies.” The genius of Looper is not that its material is entirely original but that it takes a fresh approach to it.
In 2070, time travel will be invented and it will be instantly outlawed for self-evident reasons. Of course when something is outlawed only outlaws will use it. Organized crime has discovered that time travel is a particularly convenient way to dispose of corpses. They send the targets back live to Loopers to shoot them and handle the remains. The only catch is in another 30 years the Loopers themselves will have to be rubbed out in the name of tying up loose ends and the Loopers have the job of killing their future selves thus “closing the loop.” As main protagonist Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt whose prosthetics and make-up render him almost unrecognizable) narrates, “It’s not a job that attracts the most forward thinking people.”
Joe doesn’t lack for foresight, exactly, but he was groomed to his profession from an early age along with a lot of other young kids. Kansas in the 2040’s is depicted as being something like the 30’s dust bowl only with hover vehicles. People with telekinesis may have been discovered but that didn’t have as big an effect as the Vagrant Risings and other features of widespread poverty. Things are rough all over, and the sets have a general sense of shabbiness and decline. Loopers may have one helluva retirement plan but for a while they enjoy a level of affluence and comfort far beyond the scope of most. With things the way they are, small wonder there are guys like Joe who kill for a living and literally betray their friends for silver.
It’s not all social commentary or metaphysical speculation; Looper is a genuine action film with a classic action star Bruce Willis playing the older version of Joe. Johnson comes up with some truly exciting sequences and there’s a special thrill in watching Younger Joe and Older Joe’s battles whether they be physical or just a great verbal one in a diner. There’s also a truly brutal sequence involving how the Syndicate resolves one unclosed loop.
The plot takes many twists and turns and without revealing too much Emily Blunt’s role is anything but the obligatory love interest but something much more faceted and interesting. The ending leaves you guessing as well; you’ll come out of the theatre going through everything and trying to resolve the conundrum. Looper can be confusing, but it’s a great start to the Fall film season of moving away from mindless blockbusters to more cerebral fare.