At one point in the Rian Johnson film Looper, Bruce Willis, sitting at a diner with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, tells him that he could go into great detail about time travel, including making a diagram with drinking straws, but he should just accept it instead. This is Johnson’s way of instructing the audience, for Willis’ character is Gordon-Levitt’s character 30 years later. I’ll leave it to Stephen Hawking to decide whether it is remotely possible for a person to meet their younger selves. Instead, we would do well to heed Willis/Johnson’s advice, for Looper is a smart, above-average thriller.
Set in Kansas in 2044, we are told from the beginning by Gordon-Levitt that time travel does not exist yet, at least not in 2044. It will be discovered in 2074, and immediately outlawed, so organized crime will operate it. They find an easy way to dispose of unwanted people. Instead of cement shoes, they zap their intended victims back to the past where they are murdered and incinerated by “loopers,” Gordon-Levitt being one. Lately, though, there’s been an interesting development in the looper game. The loopers themselves are sent back in time, to be killed by their younger selves. This is called “closing the loop.” They get a big payday, knowing they only have 30 years to live.
We see what happens when one looper (Paul Dano) can not bring himself to kill his older self–it’s not pleasant. Gordon-Levitt finds himself in the same situation, when Willis shows up and disarms his younger self. Of course, he can’t kill Gordon-Levitt, because he would vanish, and since Willis has now altered his past he starts to form new memories.
The film then shifts to something similar to the Terminator films. Willis is after the person responsible for all of this, the “Rainmaker.” He only knows the birth date and place of the child, which means he is one of three little boys. Gordon-Levitt ends up finding one of them, on a farm run by Emily Blunt. Johnson has created an interesting plot dilemma–we are rooting for Willis, but we also don’t want to see Blunt’s son killed. The way Johnson writes himself out of the trap is well done.
Looper is well-paced, shot, and acted. It’s a bit disconcerting to see Gordon-Levitt’s face altered so he looks more like Willis; his vaguely Asian appearance is gone, substituted with Willis’ hard eyes. At least they tried–most movies where two actors play versions of the same character they don’t bother.
Of course, as with any time travel movie, questions abound and we can’t help but try to reconcile the paradox. Jeff Daniels plays the leader of the loopers–he has been sent back into the past on a “one-way ticket,” so apparently once you go back in the past there is no way to go back to the present. Also, if you are the younger person and want to send a message to your older self, carving letters in your arm is a nifty if painful way to do it.
Looper is not a great film, but as action-adventures go, it’s well constructed and always engaging, and it also has a heart.
My grade for Looper: B.