Probably the coolest thing about Rian Johnson’s Looper is that the film is set in a future that isn’t a post apocalyptic wasteland or one filled with flashy technical advancements that would make The Jetsons jealous. There are fancier cars, hover bikes, floating coins (we’ll get to that) and eye drop drugs, but everything 30 years from now is more or less the same – just better. It negates the need for excessive green screen and keeps the film grounded in reality, even when time travel incongruities get confusing.
The film takes place primarily in 2044. Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a Looper – someone hired to kill people sent back in time from 2072. In the future, time travel was created then outlawed. People are now digitally tracked. In order to kill someone, crime syndicates send them back in time to Joe’s era.
Each victim arrives in 2044 on his knees, dressed in plain clothes with a bag over his head. The Looper then blasts the victim with a new-age shotgun. He then collects his silver, strapped to the victims back, and turns in the silver for cash. If you find gold attached to the back of your deceased victim, instead of silver, it means you killed your future self – thus closing your loop and ending your tenure for the syndicate.
It’s an intriguing concept. Most of the time travel rules in Looper are spoken through Joe’s internal dialogue. Johnson does a great job of getting the rules out quickly, without being married to old time travel restrictions. He also finds ways to mock future theories to keep the narrative light-hearted early on. For instance, a portion of the population has developed the ability to use telekinesis. It’s the U.S. version of Akira’s Neo Tokyo. However, Joe lightly says that nobody became “super heroes.” Individuals with telekinetic powers could do little more than make a coin float over their hand.
Jeff Daniels plays Abe, Joe’s boss. At one point, Abe calls out Joe’s clothing, which feels more modern 2012. Joe typically wears a collared shirt and tie, like a businessman. Abe suggests he add something shiny to be more futuristic. It’s funny because that’s the production conversations that must have been prevalent in the old 80s and 90s science fiction movies about the future. Just take Sylvester Stallone’s Judge Dredd.
Looper gets darker once Old Joe, played by Bruce Willis, gets introduced. But, the subtle humor prepares you for the ensuing confusion. You end up caring less about the science fiction of the time travel rules and more about the characters.
Gordon-Levitt is outfitted in prosthetics to appear as a younger version of Willis. When the two have their first sit-down meeting in a diner, Johnson throws out the next portion of the plot. We learn what happened when old Joe came back in time. We also learn about his future motivations.
All time travel stories tend to revolve around preventing something from happening in the future. However, Looper slightly and smartly diverges from time-tested setups to take you an unexpected journey. Willis raises his obligatory body count with semi automatics. Yet, morality and ethics are called into question. Much like The Terminator, his goal is to stop a potential future – except he also wants to save a life. But when you’re not a robotic Terminator, does killing a life, or several, justify saving a potentially better future?
Emily Blunt shows up halfway into the movie. She owns a farm, which Levitt eventually uses for shelter. Her son, probably around five to seven years old, is a young genius. While Willis is blowing things up, Blunt and Gordon-Levitt take you into a different movie – one that begs to be watched over-and-over again.
While there are several points of time-travel contention throughout the movie, Looper carves out its own niche in the time travel genre. Blending Akira with Terminator, Looper is downright brilliant.