Looper is a movie with a lot of heart and not much brain.
What do I mean by that? Well, time travel is confusing. To do a movie about it right requires a great deal of thought, planning, and meticulous attention to detail. Or, in the case of Looper, a single scene in which Bruce Willis tells his younger self: “I don’t want to talk about time travel. Because if we start talking about time travel we’d be here all day talking about it.” He isn’t really talking to his younger self: he’s talking to the audience. “All this time travel crap,” a character says at an earlier point of the film “it’ll fry your brain like an egg.”
If that sounds like a piss-poor excuse for the movie’s many time travel related plot holes, well, it is. The central premise of the movie is, in fact, a time paradox that is logically impossible if you think about it for a few seconds. I will explain why, but there are going to be a few spoilers.
The idea of Looper is that Joe (Bruce Willis) goes back in time to kill a future, super-powered, telekinetic gangster called the Rainmaker as a child–sort of like the Terminator. Bruce Willis’ younger self (Joseph Gordon Levitt) sees him about to shoot this child down in front of his mother and realizes that the boy his older self wishes to destroy will escape, but end up a super-powered, traumatized orphan with a thirst for revenge and no moral guidance. It’s a great plot twist at first glance–see, by going back to stop the rainmaker, Joe actualyl created him. It’s a time loop.
Except it’s not, because if old Joe traveling through time was the one who created the Rainmaker (right in front of young Joe’s eyes) than surely young Joe, upon growing old, would remember this. And if he doesn’t remember it, then the only explanation is that the Rainmaker was originally not created by Joe at all–but then the whole drama of the movie is lost.
The central premise of Looper is nonsensical as well. We are meant to believe that time travel was invented by gangsters in the future and the only thing they could think to do with it was send victims back in time to get assassinated–basically, time travel is nothing to these gangsters but a convenient form of corpse removal. That’s it? Not going to pull a Back-to-the-Future 2 and send someone back to place a lot of key bets, thus ensuring your criminal organization will be loaded with cash forever? Not going to go back with futuristic technology and take over the past, setting yourself up as an evil crime lord dictator, or at worst, a very rich arms dealer? None of that? Really? Ok, corpse disposal it is, then.
If you want to murder people by sending them back in time, having a shoddy assassin waiting for the victim with a shotgun seems like a piss-poor way to do it when you could just send them back off a cliff, or into a pit, or the ocean. Why do Loopers even need to exist? Forcing troubled young men with crappy shotguns to shoot their older selves out in a cornfield where no one is watching seems like a recipe for fuck-ups if ever there was one.
It’s all (mostly) ok, though, because Looper isn’t really a movie about time travel. It’s not even really an action movie.
This trailer is a lie
It’s a drama/love story focusing on a deeply tortured young man suffering from serious mommy issues who learns to become a better person. Though Looper fails across the board at portraying the logical aspects of time travel, it does get the emotional aspects 100% right. It raises a number of ethical questions–is it ok to murder an innocent child if you are afraid that child might grow up to be a telekinetic Hitler? It creates a fascinating dynamic between its three leads (Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon Levitt, and Emily Blunt) all of whom are the sort of complex, emotionally raw characters I wish this sort of sci-fi thriller had more of. And on top of it all, Looper is a movie with a message about the redemptive power of love that, while obvious, doesn’t ever attempt to force its way down your throat and is delivered with a large degree of grace.
Looper does an excellent job easing you into its story and world, with an early montage giving us a good look at the life of young Joe–a lifeo f violence and debauchery, a life with no thought for the future and a lack of real emotional connection in the present. Though Joe is certainly not a good character, he is one we can understand, and, as he changes throughout the film, relate to. For turning a thriller into a character study (with enough action to keep everyone happy, though not enough to justify its misleading trailer), I commend Looper. If it had to choose between coherent logic and an emotionally investing story, I suppose it made the right choice, though of course it’s a shame we couldn’t have both.