When early word got out about the then upcoming film Looper, like many others I was intrigued. I’ve always been fascinated with the whole time travel genre, even though so much has been written about it since author H. G. Wells essentially created it with his 1895 novel The Time Machine.
What was most fascinating about the early reports on the film was that the film would feature Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis playing the same person, old and young versions of a hitman whose job in our near future is to kill people sent back in time and dispose of their bodies.
The wrinkle to the story is that these hitmen, known as “Loopers”, eventually wind up killing their thirty year later future selves. This winds up being their “last” job and is paid for in bricks of gold. The Looper then has thirty years to live out their life as they please, owing no one anything, only with the knowledge that after those thirty years are up, they will be sent back in time and killed by themselves.
Personally, I find it an intriguing concept but one that, on the outset, is somewhat flawed…though ironically enough that central flaw plays a big role in the film’s ultimate resolution. Without getting into too many details (or spoilers), what young Joe realizes at the end of the film applies not just to him, but to everyone who has been sent back.
Anyway, the film was released in, frankly, a very dead time for movies, which made me curious. Early word was that the film was very good, yet the release date is usually a movie dead zone, a time when the studios release films they don’t think/expect to be quite worthy of summer or major holiday blockbuster release. Still, the film has done well, though after three weeks it does appear to be on the verge of dropping out of the top ten list.
Which is kind of a shame, for Looper is a very solid piece of entertainment.
Granted, there are elements of other films here, most notably the essential structure of The Terminator (or, if one wants to really get into it, a pair of Harlan Ellison stories, particularly Demon With a Glass Hand and Soldier, both of which appeared on the original Outer Limits tv show).
The big twist here, and what separates Looper from these works, is that in this case the old and young versions of Joe, the protagonist, are both operating with a different perspective. Old Joe (Willis) has seen an unpleasant future and, upon being sent back for his execution at his own hands, manages to escape from his younger self. His goal is to save the future in this past. The Young Joe (Gordon-Levitt), meanwhile, knows his older self is just one possible future, and that if he gets rid of him like he’s supposed to (and get the mobsters that are now coming after him for this botched assassination of his future self) he can effect change from the present on.
Frankly, I love the fact that one can look at both perspectives and realize both Joes are right in wanting to fix things their way. And as the film progresses, one of the central questions becomes just what is the right way to go about fixing the future.
YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!
One of the little wrinkles this film presents is that in this future world of Looper assassins, a group of people have developed telekinetic powers. The powers are nothing terribly big, those able to can lift small objects (usually coins) six or less inches off the palms of their hands.
However, in the future of “Old” Joe, one person, the mysterious “Rainmaker”, has taken over all the mobs and is intent on ridding the world of all Loopers and assuming all power for himself. No one knows who this “Rainmaker” is, but he is effectively terrorizing the entire power structure of the future world. When “Old” Joe returns to the past, thus, he is intent on finding and killing this future “Rainmaker”.
Like the Terminator searching for Sarah Connor, “Old” Joe has three possibilities, children born at the same time and at a particular Hospital his future self determined was where the “Rainmaker” was born. His grim task is to assassinate these three children, one after the other, in the hopes that one of them will turn out to be this “Rainmaker”.
As it would turn out, young Joe gets to the future “Rainmaker” and his mother first. The young child has telekinetic abilities far beyond those of everyone else, and it is through these abilities that his future self is able to rule the criminal world. However, in the present, young Joe who comes to realize that this boy can turn out to be good rather than evil, provided his mother is there to raise him as she has been. Old Joe, on the other hand, is set on killing the boy and, in so doing, risks killing the mother and setting off the very thing he is, ironically enough, trying to avoid: Making the “Rainmaker” evil.
Thus, young Joe comes to realize that he’s effectively witnessing a time loop that’s bound to go on again and again and again, where the “Old” Joe and the “Young” Joe will inevitably butt heads and the “Old” Joe will inevitably kill the young child’s mother and the young child will escape and become an evil figure.
So, the young Joe realizes there is only one solution: Suicide. By killing himself, the “Old” Joe will cease to be and mother and child will live to a (we presume) better world.
The problem? The time loop, as I said before, applies to everyone sent back in time, not just to this situation.
Person “A” kills his older self “B”. He then lives thirty years and becomes “B” only to then go back in time and be killed by “A” who then lives thirty years and becomes “B” only to then go back in time and so on and so on and so on.
In the case of old and young Joe, however, another wrinkle is set up:
Person “A” fails to kill his older self “B”. “B” heads after child but never gets him and the “Rainmaker” grows to become a powerful mob figure. “A” grows up into person “C” (person “B” might, after all, still be around in this new reality, though a very old man by that point) and is sent back in time where he either merges with “B” (two people appearing in the same space at the same time=splat?!) and “A” wonders just what the hell that was all about. Then person “A” grows up to be “B”, is sent back in time, escapes (because he knows the evils of the “Rainmaker”), fails to get the boy, “A” grows up and becomes “C” again and splat! once again.
Or…there is no splat and each subsequent “Old” Joe appears before “Young” Joe until there is literally a field of “Old” Joes sitting before “Young” Joe, all intent on killing this one boy.
As I said before, and it bears repeating: The first time loop applies to ALL the Looper killings, not just to “Old/Young” Joe. They’re all in a time loop, young and old versions, all killing their older self and growing up to be older people who are then sent back in time, are killed, and grow to be older and are killed again and again and again.
Time travel stories can really make your head hurt.
Still, if you aren’t like me and don’t get so damn anal (like me) about these things, I nonetheless recommend you go out and see Looper. While it may not leave you cheering at the end, it is nonetheless a great diversion and an intelligent take on the whole time travel concept.