Looper is the latest film from director Rian Johnson (Brick), starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a prosthetic nose as Joe, along with Bruce Willis also as Joe, only slightly older. I actually really like this film even when it’s being really stupid. I also like the fact that Bruce Willis has monopolised the time travel genre; if any man can get the job done it’s Bruce Willis.
So, the plot: in the near future (you know one of those futures where there’s flying cars and the like, because that’s more interesting than a slightly better Ipod) there are hit-men called loopers that specialise in killing targets from the future (that’s the future of the near future, or the far future). These targets are sent back in time by the mob, who have acquired some illegal photo booth looking time-machines. Once a looper is no longer needed, their loop is closed with a big lump sum pay off (what is this, a sci-fi film or a loans advert?) The down side though is that they must kill their future self. The loopers are paid in silver and gold bars that are strapped to the corpse of the target, because in the near future the easiest way to pay someone discreetly is with silver and gold (It wouldn’t be as dramatic with a cheque).
We follow Joe, a looper who was brought into shady organised crime by Abe (Jeff Daniels), the man sent back in time by the mob to run the business in the past. After ending his own loop, and receiving a nice lump sum settlement (would it be suicide to kill yourself?), Joe thinks he has saved enough to leave his mob life behind and settle down. But Joe quickly burns through his cash on drinking and a weird futuristic drug, and finds himself working for the mob again (by this time he has also ascended the need for prosthetics as he is now Bruce Willis). Though this all changes when he meets a beautiful and kind woman that helps him turn his life around. The mob finds Joe, kill his wife, and sends him back in time to be killed… why? They just killed his wife, so they don’t care that much about being caught; surely it would make sense to just kill him as well. Or, kill him and send the body back in time. Why do they need to send the target back in time alive? When they turn up in the past the looper shots them and puts the body in a furnace. Do they not have fire in the future?
The interesting thing about Looper is that we see the entire time loop happen, so it’s an entire cycle we see; a series of slightly altering loops where Joe changes his own destiny each time. In the first loop that we see, the first Joe is sent back in time and killed. The younger Joe takes off his hood and realises that he has killed his future self and on realising this, it is possible for him to change the future, as he knows that this will happen to him. The next loop that we see is Joe escaping, as his loop was different to the original one.
So old Joe escapes and goes about hunting down the mob leader from the future (in the past he’s only a kid) so that his wife never dies. This however, is not what young Joe wants, as he sets about trying to kill old Joe, so he himself isn’t killed. There are three possible children that could be this mysterious mob boss, so old Joe goes about killing all three just to be sure. Young Joe, only knowing the location of one of the kids, goes straight to the farm where the kid is living, and waits for old Joe.
Once young Joe has arrived at the farm, all of the momentum that has been driving the narrative forward comes to a grinding stop, as young Joe spends the rest of the film babysitting and moping about the farm. It’s really bizarre to watch, after all that’s happened young Joe just stops and waits for something to happen; it’s like he’s accidently jumped forward a chapter in the film, and is just waiting for the narrative to catch up. I’m watching someone waiting and find myself in turn waiting for them to do something. But instead he’s just watching the farm, waiting for someone else to turn up and do something. The resounding feeling both on and off screen is that something needs to happen!
At this point, we are introduced to Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon). Young Joe falls in love with Sara, and Cid turns out to be the mob boss in the future, as he has some magic power thing. Joe decides that with some good parenting Cid might not grow up to be a bad guy and decides to stop his older self from killing him. The old Joe finally turns up, has a gun fight with young Joe, and tries to kill Cid. In order to stop this endless loop from happening, young Joe decides to kill himself, thus ending the loop.
There are several major plot threads that are never resolved. Sara finds Young Joe on her farm suffering from major drug withdrawal, and after a rough night Joe is somewhat recovered, Sara then says that in a week’s time he will be at fifty percent. That is the last we ever hear about the drugs, and the only time we see Joe having any sort of drug related withdrawal. After this he is completely fine. Why is Sara so specific? Why does she say fifty percent? Not ‘you’ll feel better in a week’, or ‘it’ll take you a while, but in a week or so, you’ll have somewhat recovered.” No, instead she gives an exact figure to something that she doesn’t know much about.
Also, when young Joe explains he is a looper, Sara already knows about them. He then asks how she knows about looping, but she never explains. How does she know about them, and why does she never say why? I can understand that this is supposed to give the impression that Sara has lived a somewhat dark life, and I am willing to concede that her knowledge of drugs would be a part of that. However, looping has been established as such an insider’s business that unless you are a part of it, you wouldn’t know about it, and it would be fairly ridiculous if she was a part of it.
This film suffers slightly from a confused and unfocused narrative, but it is a very admirable attempt to tell a complex time-travel story, and I think that it should be commended for this. One of my major criticisms of the film would be that it has a slight tendency to patronise the audience. I’m talking about the copious amount of times that a character will say “don’t think too hard about the time travel in this film, we know it doesn’t make sense”. Ok, well I’m glad that you’re aware enough that you can see a problem with the story but is this really the solution? I don’t think it helps the film by being so self-deprecating. I would have preferred it had the film been a full on head scratching, time-travel film, rather than just another action film, so what we get is something in the middle.