It’s advised that when you go and see Looper you don’t think about it too much. That’s not to say that Rian Johnson’s third film is rather lightweight, in fact it’s quite the opposite. But as Bruce Willis points out during one scene in a roadside diner, focusing on the time travel aspects of the story isn’t the best way to go. This is rather sound advice; if you do think about time travel it will either drive you crazy or give you a headache.
Jeff Daniels’ Abe makes a similar point when giving advice to the young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). He tells him not to think too much about time travel because it “fries your brain”. Abe is from the future, so he also advises Joe to go to China and learn Mandarin. Looper is filled to the brim with time paradoxes, the kind of things modern sci-fi movies avoid just in case it makes the audience think too much. Rian Johnson though has never been a director that chose to do things the easy way.
It’s the mid-21st century, and Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper; an assassin who kills people when they are sent back in time from the future, when time travel is illegal and only used by the mob. Joe has a relatively easy job (wait for target, BANG!, go for coffee, job done) and gets paid a lot for it. Then a mysterious figure from the future called The Rainmaker starts “closing loops”; sending back a looper’s future self to be killed. The looper gets a huge payoff and told to enjoy the rest of their life.
Hence the arrival of an older version of Joe (Bruce Willis), who has no intention of having his loop closed. He scuppers his younger self’s attempt to kill him, and sets off to find the Rainmaker in order to stop any of the horrifying future events happening. It’s only when Bruce Willis turns up that you realise what a convincing performance Joseph Gordon-Levitt is giving. During a quick montage when we see how the young Joe spends his thirty years of freedom as he turns into old Joe, it becomes all the more believable that the young man will eventually become old and battered.
While old Joe heads off in search of the Rainmaker (who is just a child at this time), he is able to narrow it down to three possible candidates. Young Joe decides to hide out in a farmhouse where one of the said candidates, Cid (Pierce Gagnon) is living with his mother, Sara (Emily Blunt). It shows what a great writer Rian Johnson is when he casts Blunt as something more than a heroine for the main character to swoon over. She has ideas, feelings, and is a well-crafted character that does have a purpose within the story.
This is a quality that Johnson injects into pretty much all of his characters, which would explain why the likes of Bruce Willis are always willing to take a pay cut in order to work with him. As with his two previous films Brick and The Brother’s Bloom, Johnson combines rather crisp dialogue and unique characterisation in order to keep the audience interested. Many other films in the genre would have given up on those things in order to further the plot, but as far as Johnson is concerned they all work together, and complement each other. It may not always make sense, but it is superbly crafted.
It’s strange to think about it, but underneath all the special effects, explosions, and time paradoxes there is a simple truth at the heart of Looper. If you could go back in time and give your younger self some advice, the likelihood is that your younger self wouldn’t want to hear it. And by attempting to do so, you’d probably make things a lot worse. It’s a film about trying to find redemption, and the consequences that can ensue.
While most of the film will be predictable for some, there is one key scene that is rather unexpected. When the older Joe finally comes to terms with what he has to do now he’s travelled back in time, Rian Johnson bravely sticks to his guns and follows through with the story. It’s a big risk, and you have to wonder if someone tapped him on the shoulder at any point to ask if it’s a good idea. Johnson stands by his premise though, and is able to deliver a sci-fi film that isn’t afraid to use its brain and wear its heart on its sleeve. That’s what really makes this a wonderful and enjoyable triumph.
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