Looper movie review
What happens when your past self becomes aware of you and starts making changes? In Looper it means you might get Marty McFly'd and disappear from the time line entirely. Back to the Future comparisons don't give this film enough credit, though, and the way Looper deals with this time travel question is both fascinating and scary.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a looper, a hired gun that kills whoever the future mob needs dead. Victims are tossed into highly illegal time travel pods, zapped to the looper's location 30 years in the past, and then the looper kills them and disposes of the body. It's the perfect crime with an unfortunate twist: eventually, every looper must kill their future self and "close the loop."
That's where Old Joe (Bruce Willis) comes in. When Joe fails to close the loop and Old Joe escapes, the potentially messy paradox sends everyone into high alert, including Joe's boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels), and an army of goons. What ensues is a battle between a man regaining control of his future and his older self desperate to change his past. To spoil anything else about the plot particulars feels irresponsible, so let's just say that after what's established in the film's trailer, there's still a ton of crazy stuff that goes down.
What's fascinating about Looper's take on time travel is how it gives weight to one wrinkle that's typically only ever lightly touched on. Changing your past comes with consequences. When a past self is mutilated because you started mucking around in their timeline, you may suddenly find yourself covered in scars. Each change introduces new memories, overwriting the old ones and conflating the past you hold so dear.
There are deeply interesting questions at play here, challenging the audience to ask themselves how far they'd go to change their past. In that sense, Looper is like the very best science fiction stories, providing a probably-impossible scenario and exploring the moral ramifications in a fascinating way.
It certainly helps that director and writer Rian Johnson brings what is becoming a trademark sense of style to the film. The neo-noir sensibilities of his previous film, Brick, are sprinkled lightly into a grimly realistic future. Set in 2044, Looper's world is technologically more advanced but a step back socially. Cars are jury-rigged with solar panels and phones are simple pieces of glass, but people are gunned down in the street with little sense that any law exists to stop them.
Ironically that makes Looper's future in 2074 a bit harder to buy into. What happens in those 30 years to make loopers a necessity? And if killing someone in the future is impossible, why are we shown several examples of it happening? Looper has some incredibly clever things to say, but it drifts into some contradictory and overly convenient territory that keeps it just shy of perfection.
That said, it's rare that we get blockbuster sci-fi this intelligent, this richly developed, and this well-acted (especially JGL channeling Bruce Willis). The last film to come to mind is Inception, and that's some pretty good company to have. When the loop is closed on the story and the credits roll, we are left with a deeply satisfying conclusion and a new set of questions about the nature of time travel.