Many time travel movies are inherently flawed in that they tend to leave far too many questions in the audience’s brain at the end about all the wrong things. There are usually queries and discussions among friends after a film ends regarding the technicalities behind the creation or use of time travel itself, and thus the logic behind the story’s chain of events, but rarely about the chain of events itself and the validity of the filmmaker’s statement, whatever it may be, about society, technology, morality, etc. The ultimate focus is on the Science rather than the Moral.
In Looper, writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) attempts to avoid all of that extraneous analysis by giving Old Joe (Bruce Willis) a speech declaring to his younger self (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that he doesn’t even want to begin discussing how time travel works: “Because if we start, we’re going to be here all day, making diagrams with straws […] It’s messy!”
This is, in essence, Johnson’s self-provided get-out-of-jail-free card. Regardless, there are many questions which arise over the course of the film and remain unanswered, and which will likely pick and irk in the back of the analytical side of movie-goers’ brains throughout—Why don’t law enforcement officials of the future use time travel as well? Who kills all the marks of Loopers who have been let out of their contracts? Why does a Looper have to close his own loop? Why always thirty years? Why did they make Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s face look like an old Bruce Willis instead of a younger Bruce Willis? Et cetera. There’s also a tad too much exposition via voice-over, especially in the beginning of the film, and telling rather than showing, which is what leads to many of the questions in the first place.
However, as long as one is willing to let all of this slide and give in to the emotional, character-driven, more philosophical side of the story, which Johnson is clearly more interested in examining, the film itself proves both engaging and intriguing. Certainly a worthwhile trip to take.
There are undeniably horrifying moments throughout, but the violence is never particularly gratuitous. It seeks to reveal the reality of the world of the loopers, their boss (Abe, played by Jeff Daniels), and the world in which they live rather than merely to entertain or shock, and this makes it both necessary and acceptable—though more delicate sensibilities should head the “R” rating, as it is not lightly given. The only critique which could arise in this area concern the intermittent touches of superfluous nudity and slow motion which often distract rather than awe.
The plot is both original and entertaining, and doesn’t cede to the usual clichés of time-travel flicks, or buddy-comedy-dramas; in fact, the lack of the traditional or the expected is easily Looper’s greatest feature. Here, a man is literally in conflict with his future, while trying the fight against a multitude of players telling him what path he should take in life, and an eye always on the clock—something to which most people can relate on one level or another, and a subject dealt with many, MANY times before in a multitude of other artistic ventures. Yet it still manages to feel somewhat fresh.
Even our natural, expected attachment to Joe as a main character is deliberately muddled at a definite point in the movie (you’ll know it when you see it), and our ambiguous feelings toward him do not cease even after everything is said and done and the credits start to roll.
The ending is equally vague and open-ended, much to its credit. It is indefinite because it needs to be, not simply because it wants to mess with your mind for the fun of it. It attempts to raise a number of keen questions in the film-goer’s mind regarding the soundness of determinism vs. free will, and of whether one life is ever worth more than another, or, more appropriately, whether it is worth taking one life to save many more.
The climax, which does not categorically answer any of these questions, felt a bit abrupt, and may divide viewers on whether or not it was the only plausible route to take, or even the best route to take, yet it is somehow satisfying.
Looper is, all in all, an excellent and fascinating mix of the cerebral, mind-bender, and old school action genres. It should also not go without note that the acting is top-notch from everyone involved (Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Noah Segan, and Jeff Daniels, in particular). It will leave some irksome questions, to be sure, but let’s be honest, it wouldn’t be much of a science fiction film if it didn’t. Be willing to focus on the big picture rather than the details which lead to it, and it will be an enjoyable 118 minute diversion if nothing else—many a viewer will quite likely come away thinking of it more highly than that.
Looper is currently playing in most theaters, including those in:
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