In 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent 30 years into the past where a hired gun awaits. Someone like Joe, who one day learns the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ by transporting back Joe’s future self.—IMDb
Older Joe: I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.
There are remarkably few reviewers disenchanted with Looper (2012), but those who are seem to share the same issue: the science in the fiction. Oddly enough, just because time travel is a key aspect to this science fiction film, it is disinterested in talking about it. It practically chastises the viewer with comments like Joe’s (above) and this one from the crime boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) “This time travel crap, just fries your brain like a egg…” Even without those occasional overt comments, the story removes itself to other concerns pretty quickly, relying on the softer science and recreating memory (physical or no) as its most central interest of time travel. Looper would be a nice anti-dote for the mind-bender Primer (2004)—which, if you are in love with the science/consequences of time travel that little indie cult film is a must.
I’ve yet to hear any complaint on the performances. You’ll hear none from me. I was really worried about how distracted I would be with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s donning of prosthetics to look more like Bruce Willis. And I was sort of distracted. It is the eyebrows, lip, and shadow mainly. And it was startling, in a lovely way, how Gordon-Levitt not only adopts Willis’ facial profile, but his mannerisms as well. When the two sit across the table and interact, I was riveted, and very much amused. Gordon-Levitt as the younger Joe is, well, young and not all together as clever as the older version of himself, an extremely badass and emotionally mature Willis, but he gets there–a development that is crucial to the film. Emily Blunt is dependably Emily as the character Sara who is a little further along the timeline of maturity than Joe. Pierce Cagnon, the little boy who plays Cid, is terrifying. He made me want to pee myself he was that convincing.
Rian Johnson wrote and directed Looper, and is credited the same with Brick (2005). Expect that sort of unflinching dark—in humor, violence, and outcome. In Looper, where beginnings and ends are in focus, the path between is the mystery. Knowing the end, how does one change the past? Knowing the beginning, how does one change the future’s seemingly inevitable trajectory? What of the impact of a parent on the child, the parental figure on the vulnerable… Survival is a menacing state and Johnson with Looper is determined to pull it from the abstract and create concrete scenarios in which to ground his explorations. The caliber of talent he directs is key for that emotional complication. This is not one for those who cannot handle residing outside the austerity of black and white thinking. The actors are determined to share their torn nature and desperate circumstances with the viewer.
It is of interest to me where Looper finds its sentiment and where it scoffs at the facades of popular nostalgia. Hipster be warned, you are again the butt end of a joke, and how significant that the unwittingly iconic Gordon-Levitt is cast in such a role. Seriously though, it is noticed the styling of the mafia in the “present day” and the mimicry pushing further back along the timeline as the future moves forward garbing their “vigilante terrorist” in wide-brims and dusters. In a way it marks vengeance over greed, but do they really differ? We do not get to see the affluent and sheltered—only the grit and scrapes. And like the refusal to play the time-travel-digressions, it is desperate to avoid other genre expectations as well. Looper is what happens when an true Indie gets a hold of the Sci-fi genre. It even refuses to give the stripper-lover big breasts.
The effects are good, really good. The soundtrack more ambient. The lighting is perfect, and like Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises (2012), bad things happen in daylight as well as night, so really there is no escape there, no grand gesture on where evil and truth should reside. And the violence is bloody and affecting—please no young audiences in your vicinity for this one. Joe is complicated, and desperate, and there are some unpleasant decisions to be made. The humor is a pleasure, and sometimes it is less obvious. For instance, the interaction between Abe and Joe regarding Joe’s choice of language and his future travels become even more amusing when you read the trivia and learn that they could not afford to film in Paris as previously planned.
The urban versus rural landscapes features prominently, not only the rural as a place where things grow out of the earth/nature, but as it is connected with particular female characters. The three women characters have a mother/lover aspect, each to varying degrees with Emily Blunt’s Sara placed between Piper Perabo’s Suzie and Qing Xu’s Summer (and not just in timeline). Yes, I noticed the naming, too. The women are tough, decisive figures, but it is the rural connection with Sara and Summer that add to the statement about lost boys. Everything is just cleaner among the more natural climes—it is a site of restoration. Which makes young Joe’s use of it as a meeting place something to think about when we are to wonder about his nature… That, or it just remarks upon the error of my reading. Or maybe he is the coyote.
Abe: Ask yourself: who would I sacrifice for what’s MINE?
It is tricky to talk about probable consequences of time travel when the film doesn’t want to go into detail (whether it can or not) and the viewer might. However it does create a set of basic assumptions upon which much of the conflict is built. Fortunately, the assumptions are not hard to grasp, and that may be the source of some of the complaints; it may be too simplistic. I like the accessibility, and I enjoy the very simple impossibility of the dilemma which comes to rest in the question of love and sacrifice. The action, acting, filming, sound, effects, pacing, characterization and progression: all good and entertaining. But one of the things that sets Looper apart is that it is interesting, to say nothing of feeling undeniably relevant. Not an older generation observing or complaining, but a young man standing in the middle looking back and forward and wondering aloud and trying to hold onto the most hopeful vision of a seemingly impossible future in the present.
Looper (2012), Directed/Written by Rian Johnson; Music by Nathan Johnson; Cinematography Steve Yedlin: Editing by Bob Ducsay; Produced by Ram Bergman & James D. Stern.Studio: FilmDistrict, Endgame Entertainment & DMG Entertainment. Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Joe), Bruce Willis (Old Joe), Emily Blunt (Sara), Paul Dano (Seth), Noah Segan (Kid Blue), Piper Perabo (Suzie), Jeff Daniels (Abe), Pierce Gagnon (Cid), Qing Xu (Summer Qing/Old Joe’s Wife).
Running time: 119 minutes. Rated R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.
this post and film is part of The 2013 Science Fiction Experience