I’ve put this off long enough, it’s time I actually sit down and write about this great film. I’ve wanted to write about this film as soon as I saw it on the day it came out, but in many ways I didn’t feel like I could do it justice. Also, I knew how hard it was to write about films involving time-travel. Time-travel is of course a big part of the film that cannot really be ignored, but it’s more of a device than something that actually defines the film. Looper is not all about its time-travel and does not heavily rely on it which is why director Rian Johnson has made such a great science-fiction film. Johnson has bigger and better things and questions in mind and the man absolutely hits a massive home-run. For the most part, time-travel is introduced and then pushed to the side, which is something I will mimic with this review.
If you’re reading this, then you probably know the premise of the movie by now. In the near future, time travel will be invented and loopers will be born. A looper is someone who kills people that the mafia sent back in time since it’s so much harder to dispose of bodies in the future. The purpose of the looper is to make things less messy. Now, loopers must kill all of the targets that are sent their way, even if that target is themselves.
In fact, it’s agreed right from the beginning that one day you will have to kill your future self. You will then get a huge pay-day, living the remainder of your life any way you see fit, until of course you are captured and sent back in time. It really is an endless loop and as Jeff Daniels’ character says, “If you think about it too much, this time-travel stuff will fry your brain.” Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a young looper who will one day become Bruce Willis. Willis plays the older Joe, a man filled with a sense of regret and disgust for his younger self.
Johnson slyly introduces some big and interesting ideas right off the bat. I’m so glad that the trailers do not give away the majority of the surprises of this film. You go into the movie thinking you know what to expect but then fast and furiously, you’re hit with so many fresh elements and ideas that you just never saw coming. I love the way Johnson casually introduces telekinesis into the film in what you believe is just a throw-away line with one of his secondary characters. Later you find out, how huge that introduction and explanation of telekinesis really was.
Johnson has so much fun introducing these new elements and ideas and leaves a permanent staple on the entire genre. Before we see Bruce Willis emerge from the future to create problems for his younger self, the same thing happens with Paul Dano’s character. Dano plays a close friend of Gordon-Levitt, and I love the way they show the consequences of what can and will happen if you allow your future self to get away. We see an older Dano on the run, and suddenly we see weird things happening to his body. Scars show up on his arm, he begins to lose fingers and legs. You begin to realize that his younger self is being tortured and whatever happens to him directly affects his older self. It is such a brilliant yet horrific scene.
So Old Joe appears one day and Young Joe, shockingly seeing his future self, hesitates and unintentionally allows himself to get away. Now both versions of Joe are being targeted by the mafia all the while the younger Joe searches for his older self and attempts to kill him. This is where the unexpected turn comes from that’s not hinted at or shown in the trailers and pretty much makes this a completely different film than the one that was advertised. Young Joe finds out that his older self is on a mission to kill a man named the Rainmaker. The Rainmaker we are told is a man who has taken over all of the organized crime in Older Joe’s timeline. So, if Old Joe is hunting this powerful Rainmaker in his younger self’s timeline then that means the Rainmaker must be much younger as well. Well, he is but the shock comes from how young this Rainmaker actually is as we find out that he is only about five years old.
It poses the question and dilemma of: if you could go back in time and kill Hitler or some other massive murderer, while he was an infant, would you? Surely, Hitler wasn’t always such an evil person, or maybe he was. You begin to wonder about all of these things and if Old Joe would actually go through with killing such a young boy, even if that young boy would be responsible for so much death and pain when he grew up. Old Joe has the names of three young boys who could actually be the Rainmaker and begins his search. Young Joe sees the address of one of the boys so he plans on beating his older self there and ambushing him when he does show up. Young Joe arrives at a farm where we first see the always beautiful Emily Blunt, here playing a single-mother and showing off an American accent.
I don’t necessarily want to do a play-by-play of everything that happens next but rather I want to focus on the questions that are posed by the film. As we see Old Joe stalk his first suspected target, a very young boy walking home from school, you wonder if this film will actually go there. Well, the film holds nothing back as Old Joe callously kills this young boy who we find out is not the Rainmaker. Old Joe of course does not know this at the time, still after the act, we see Joe break down into tears as he believes what he has done is right yet of course it is still a very despicable act.
What’s right and what’s wrong? It’s a question that the younger Joe is faced with at the conclusion of the film. It is beautiful watching Gordon-Levitt piece it together as he realizes how he could directly lead to these despicable actions and the birth of the Rainmaker. He also realizes how he could put an end to all of that future pain and suffering with just one, simple act. Would killing Hitler when he was young answer everything, or would it be better to take a gamble in a what may be a tougher choice but ultimately might actually be the better one. What if you instead decide to raise Hitler differently? You put the man in a loving environment, would he still turn out the same way? It’s a huge gamble but you have to think it’s much better to have faith in humanity than to just put a bullet in between the infant’s eyes. I’m sure it’s something that many people would disagree on and even I wouldn’t really know what I would do unless I was in that situation.
It may feel like I’m drifting away from the film, but the conversation and hypothetical questions are actually very directly related to the film. It really does feel like Young Joe makes the right choice, and as I said it’s really beautiful to watch him piece it together and also see the what-if scenario. It’s rare to watch such a flawed and human protagonist that is not so much a hero or even a good guy. He certainly has good qualities and I wouldn’t say he was unlikeable, but still it’s not a characterization that we are used to seeing. The film and the character is not as simple as black and white nor is it just about time-travel. There is so much more to it, and there is so much more that I left out on purpose. Yes, I did give a lot away but even if you haven’t seen it yet, there is still so much more to be surprised by and to enjoy. Looper would be my favorite movie of the year, if it wasn’t for two little films called The Dark Knight Rises and The Grey. The fact that it’s not my number one or two doesn’t take away the mark it left on my brain nor does it make it any less great; it’s an instant Science-Fiction classic that can stand along those two films on any day.