Looper written and directed by Rian Johnson (DMG Entertainment, Endgame Entertainment, and FilmDistrict, R, 118 minutes)
Starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, and Jeff Daniels.
Everyone’s Favorite Mind Bending Paradox
Time travel. A mind bending paradox worthy of many late-night conversations. Setting aside plausibility, there seems to be two competing views on the subject.
One, made famous by the Ashton Kutcher film, The Butterfly Effect, posits that altering small aspects of the past—as little as harming a butterfly—result in drastic changes to the present.
The other suggests time travel carries no inherent danger to the present, think Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. If you travel back in time and alter the past, that altered past has always been altered and therefore, the present in which we live has always been influenced by the time-travel-altered past.
With Looper, Rian Johnson addresses the time-travel paradox head on.
Time Travel Crime Syndicate
In 2074, time travel has been invented. Immediately condemned and declared illegal, criminal organizations employ time travel machines to send back individuals to 2044 for assassination by “loopers”—people paid by these organizations to kill and dispose of these unnamed future bodies.
For these loopers, the pay is high but the consequences are severe. For each assassin, a day comes when they must “close their loop”. Since these loopers understand impending development of time, they are a danger to the future criminal organizations. The criminals hunt down loopers in 2074 for them to be exterminated by themselves in 2044.
To dispose of yourself is to close your loop. The looper receives a large pay day and is released to enjoy the next 30 years of his life before the end of his fate.
The Impossible Decision to Close the Loop
Clearly, human nature makes it difficult to perform such a task. But the consequences of closing your loop are severe. We learn early in Looper about these consequences when a pallid looper named Seth (Paul Dano) lets his future self escape. While the mafia can’t kill the younger Seth (such an actions possesses disastrous results to the cause/effect chain), they torture him, carving notes in his skin and cutting off fingers until Seth’s future self returns to the mob with what little body parts he has left to be exterminated.
As the film sets up its premise, we meet the protagonist Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He’s a loyal foot soldier to his boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels), a man sent from the future to manage the looper project.
When the time comes from Joe to close his loop, all hell breaks loose. His future self (Bruce Willis) came prepared to fight with the aim to remove the 2074 mob boss during his childhood.
What ensues is a valiant story exploring the meaning of life, death, and the question of free will vs. determinism.
What Time Travel Tells Us About People
Truthfully, the specifics of time travel in Looper are glossed over. While questions of choice compared to determinism hover over the narrative, the specific mechanisms matter little. During an early meeting between young and old Joe, young Joe asks about old Joe’s memories. Old Joe suggests that his ability to remember changes as young Joe creates new memories.
It’s a helpful narrative function, but it won’t explain the specifics of time travel and whether such actions provide a butterfly effect or create a vicious loop.
And I applaud Looper for not trying to answer every question. In the end, the film is a fantastic story about people. We care about young Joe; we care about old Joe. No matter the setting (and don’t get me wrong, the setting constructed by Rian Johnson is splendid to the last detail), the people make or break a story. With Looper, they make it.
Verdict: 4 out of 5