by Alex Quarrie-Jones
The concept of paradoxical actions is definitely not a rarity within any time-travelling, sci-fi thriller, but in Looper the cardinal sin of not affecting your past self by harming or even killing that self isn’t rejected but wholly embraced. For the main protagonist’s future self appears to return to the past with the sole intention of completing his conquest, irrespective of any hindrance, even if it his past self.
The basic premise of the film is that Joe, the central character played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a looper, an assassin who waits for his target to be zapped back 30 years from the 2070s to the 2040s where they are summarily executed and disposed of swiftly by Joe. Joe is paid by a collection of silver bars strapped to the back of his victim, which he then spends on women, drugs and cars. It seems like the easiest life of a hit man ever portrayed on screen. But there’s a catch: when the looper’s contract is finished he unknowingly kills his future self and gets a larger bounty to use over 30 years until he is zapped back. This is called “closing the loop” and works extremely soundly for a heavily paradoxical film. However, if you let your future self go (called “letting your loop run”), then a horrible fate awaits you as Johnson, the director, portrays rather ingeniously and cruelly simultaneously (if you want to know what it is, then watch the film.)
Anyway, after a rather confusing sequence where Joe dies a few times, in both the present and the future, we arrive at a future Joe who has just witnessed his family being murdered and purposely sends himself back in time to kill the ‘Rainmaker’, the shadowy head of the massive crime syndicate who orchestrates pretty much everything in the future. After a confrontation between Young and Old Joe and a particularly clever scene using memories, Young Joe finds himself on a desolate ranch with a protective mother, Sara (Emily Blunt), and her rather strange son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon), while Old Joe searches for the child version of the ‘Rainmaker’, which he has narrowed down to three infants. After a collection of scenes including a rather needless romantic part and a sequence where Bruce Willis just mows down random baddies with a machine gun, we find Young Joe pitted against Old Joe in protection of Cid. This is where everything gets quite confusing so you have to see the film yourself if you want to know the ending.
Overall, Looper injects that great quality of ambiguity and the unpredictability of the characters back into time-travelling movies which grips the viewer and Johnson certainly flexes his creative ideas, portraying a future where most cars are homemade hybrids and there are a lot of homeless people. Yet a sense of a Western movie themes creep in with large revolver-swinging gunslingers and brimmed hats making a predominant appearance. But the crucial element is not only the ideas but the overwhelming brilliance of the acting, especially from Gordon-Levitt, who even adopted prosthetics on his face to look much more like Willis as well as resembling his general body language and attitude. Willis himself adds to this by exerting a commanding presence yet at the same time displaying insecurity over the fact that he is altering his past.
My favourite scene was in the café where the relationship between both Joes clicks particularly effectively by Old calling Young “Boy” and Young calling Old “Old Man”. This scene perfectly demonstrates how a ‘proper’ meeting with your older or younger self would develop; Younger is jealous because the other knows what is going to happen and Older is jealous because the other gets to experience it. But the most fantastic aspect of Looper is that, with an ever-fluctuating present, can anyone define the future?
Movie score: 8 ½ /10
Director: Rian Johnson
Main actors/Actresses: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Pierce Gagnon, Paul Dano