Most movies use time travel as a way to fetishized different time periods or tease the concept of paradoxes for twisty fun. They take a person from the present and throw them into the past to play off the juxtaposition between modern ideas and conveniences and the ways of days gone by. They send a person from the past to the present in order to show how we have left behind the more honorable ways of the past. Rarely is time travel used as a means of showing the transient nature of morality based upon context of time, the short-sightedness of youth, or the cyclical nature of fashion and culture and the meaning behind it.
You, Looper, take that latter tact. You cleverly set your story in the future – 2042 to be exact – as a means of alienating modern viewers at the outset. There can be no sense of one timeframe colliding with another, as there is no real delineating between the near future and the further future to our present minds. It’s all the future to us, and thus the only real difference we can see is that which exists in the characters. The very marrow of your narrative is fixated upon the deeper divides between the same person at two very different places in his life.
Just because you truck in deeper character themes, however, doesn’t mean you lack more visceral thrills. As a story which focuses on a group of specialized assassins who murder people from the future that the mob sends into the past (to avoid futuristic forensics), you still offer a lot of opportunities for action, spectacle, and the clever manipulation and explorations of paradoxes. On these levels, as with all others, you excel beyond all expectation.
Director and writer Rian Johnson has a meticulous eye for compositions both in static shots and when the camera is in motion. His scenes are kinetic without the frenetic jittering of other contemporary action directors. His camera whips from side to side, each position a perfectly framed tableau in which the action can take place.
As I said, though, your story and characters are the real star here – which is saying a lot considering the technical artistry on display. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a ‘looper,’ a killer tasked with killing and disposing the victims that the mob sends back in time from 30 years in the future. He knows, as do all loopers, that sooner or later they will be asked to “close the loop.” This entails killing their future selves, as a means of insulating the mob from the loopers’ knowledge of time travel, which is unspeakable illegal in 2072.
Why do they agree to this? Because to these violent and impetuous young men, their future selves are distinct people from their present selves. The idea may seem far fetched, until you begin to think about the way people act more passive aggressively malicious towards their future selves. We court cancer with cigarettes and tanning. We drink to excess at the risk of harming out liver, and eat to excess at the risk of our heart and body.We are the more subtle embodiment of the very process that allows these men to casually murder themselves for great fortune.
When Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) comes through the rip in time, he only hesitates a moment before pulling the trigger, but that is all the time Future Joe needs to make his move and set off running. Future Joe has a plan to save his life, while (Relatively) Present Joe has to avoid the mob while trying to find and understand the motives of his future self. It is the story of a man battling with his younger self, and a younger man struggling to comprehend the man he will become. The mechanics of how their bodies and minds interact is explored in shallow yet comprehensive detail, underline the cyclical nature of the narrative.
This concept – the cycles at play in life and society – is also cleverly explored in the clothing and affectations of the characters. The use blunderbusses and call guns ‘gats’ as they wear long coats and style themselves like 1940s gangsters. They have no vision of the future, and thus turn their eyes to past for their concept of self.
There are a number of other themes and ideas to be explored in your tale, but those things will have to wait, for fear of spoilers. You are a deep, visually stunning film, and you create a world that is fully realized and well worth revisiting. I’ve looked forward to many films this year, and yet you managed to be the only one I went into with unreasonably high expectations to easily clear them.
Until we meet again,
Brian J. Roan