Some of us are our own worst enemy. We find that we make bad decisions, don’t learn from our mistakes, and ultimately cause more problems than we solve. But what would happen if we literally came face to face with ourselves and had to make a choice between what how we think we should handle a situation, and how our “other self” tells us we should handle it? It’s hard enough making a single decision sometimes, we don’t need to become our own heckler
LOOPER tells a story of a future where time travel is invented, and then quickly outlawed. However, several time machines are still around, and they are employed by criminals to eliminate their enemies. Their enemies are captured, and sent back in time to a particular moment and place. There they are killed by a waiting hitman, known as a “Looper”.
One Looper, named Joe (Joseph Gordon Levitt) is taking to the job nicely, when he one day has to take care of a particular task. When he arrives at the spot, he has his blunderbuss gun cocked, and is ready to unload on his mark, he realizes that his mark is himself.
Well not himself…but himself thirty years older (played by Bruce Willis). Unable to pull the trigger, Joe allows his mark to take matters into his own hands. He doesn’t want the future that fate has dealt him, and is trying to convince his past self to come along for the ride. “The ride” will take him towards a woman named Sara (Emily Blunt) and a young boy named Cid…but the question that needs to be answered, is how these people can possibly change Joe’s fate.
At the crux of every great time travel story is the theme of consequences. Back in the early 1950’s, author Ray Bradbury warned us that even something as minute as the death of a butterfly could have serious repercussions on future events. What we often seem to lose sight of though, is that a time traveller is not only splintering their own fate, but the fate of every single person they come into contact with. LOOPER makes that distinction all the more difficult, since the core of the story deals with a man trying to keep up with another version of himself. We get so focused on what outcome they are creating for each other, that we forget about what they are doing to those around them…and that’s where the film really gets its lift.
What allows this lift to happen, is Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis. Besides the fact that the two men really feel like the same guy, they both embody a great deal of pathos. The younger Joe is at first very driven and panicked to clean up the mess he has made. However, as he spends more and more time with Sara and Cid, he is able to see the effects our decisions have on future events. Gordon Levitt quietly puts all of this together, and grafts it on to the situation at hand. His performance is a trusting one that the audience will understand what he understands, and that gives the film an unexpected maturity.
Then there’s Willis, who spends much of the film in a state of weary desperation. With almost every move, he is aware of how much he doesn’t belong, but nevertheless finds the courage to keep moving forward in the hopes of achieving his goal. Making his drive that much more moving is his lofty romanticism that in some version of the future his wife will survive. He hasn’t considered the idea that his very attempt to change his wife’s fate has actually already changed it, but when one is driven to protect the ones they love, moments to take stock of the situation are few and far between.
These performances, and the storytelling elements they represent are what make LOOPER a successful time travel story, and a great movie. Hollywood is chocked full of storytellers who rip audiences off with mindless action tales built on flimsy stakes. In writing something so full of humanity, and capturing it with palpable style, Rian Johnson offers us something grounded. Something tells me that several audience members will be taken aback in not getting what they believed they’d signed on for. I for one am of the belief that such surprises are something to be relished…not scorned.
LOOPER explores one of my favorite time travelling theories – the idea that we can’t go back and change things, because in the infinite, whatever we go back and do is something we always went back and did. We might think we’re topping someone bad from doing something awful, or preventing ourselves from making a mistake, but the truth is that we always went back and did what we did…so we aren’t changing destiny so much as we are fulfilling it.
This movie questions that very notion, about whether its possible to actually change the past, and if it is possible, just what sort of price has to be paid. It is also a movie that wants us to think about the future. When we make the selfish decisions that humans so often make, we end up causing ripples, and affecting people in ways we don’t intend or understand. In our minds, we might think we’re helping ourselves, or even helping others…but the truth sometimes is that we’re just setting some unfortunate events in motion. Try as we might, there’s just no going back and fixing things.