Monday, October 1, 2012

Blogorium Review: Looper

 I'm not even sure I should be allowed to review Rian Johnson's Looper without having seen it a second time. I mean, the moment the credits rolled I regretted going to see the 10pm showing and not the one before so that I could slink down low, bide my time, and then watch the movie again immediately.  Like Primer, another time travel film that the writer / director took the time to "get it right," by the time you see the last image in Looper, it's hard not to want to start the movie over and watch it to find things you didn't know to look for. I don't normally have the strong desire to see something a second time so quickly, so hopefully this gives you some idea of how strongly I'm recommending Looper.

 Why get that out of the way in the first paragraph? Well, if you are on the fence about Looper, just know you should go see it now. I'd love to write a spoiler free review, or to try to give you a Cabin in the Woods-esque "the less you know, the better" review, but if I do that then describing Looper is nothing more than a plot synopsis of the first quarter of the film, and you can find that anywhere. So stop reading this review right now, go see Looper, and the Cap'n will be waiting when you get back.

  In the mean time, if you really need a plot synopsis: Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a "looper," an assassin hired to kill people sent from the future (2074-ish) to the past (2044-ish) by criminal organizations. As he explains in the opening narration, "time travel hasn't been invented yet, but one day it will be. It is immediately outlawed and only used by the most powerful criminal organizations." The crime syndicates use time travel to dispose of people - they send them back in time, a looper kills them and disposes of the body. No evidence of a murder because the person didn't technically exist, no crime in the future, it's all clean for the crooks.

 Joe isn't exactly a good guy - he uses drugs and liaisons with stripper / prostitute (Piper Perabo), drives his fancy car around the city, nearly running down the destitute masses that make up this near future. His fellow loopers are all "closing their loops," the moment when they kill themselves from the future, receive a significant payoff and are free to enjoy the next thirty years of their lives, but a mistake on the part of Joe's friend Seth (Paul Dano) raises the ire of their boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels). Abe is from the future and stays in the past to make sure that loops are closed and that everything goes smoothly, so when Seth fails to kill his older self, a serious problem arises.

 It's just not quite as serious as when Joe's future self (Bruce Willis) comes back with a plan of his own...

 Reading any further goes into spoiler territory. I've recapped everything you learn from the trailers, minus the significance of Emily Blunt's character Sara. I'll deal with that below the break, so if you haven't seen Looper yet, I highly recommend you do so. Cap'n Howdy is very patient.


 So you're back? Good. Did you like it? I'm guessing that if you bothered to come back to continue reading this that you did, because if you had "a lot of problems" with it then I'm not sure I'll be able to change your mind. But I guess we'll see, right?

 The reason I'm putting everything that happens after Young Joe makes it to Sara's farm is because the second half of Looper (or, basically, the "Cid / Rainmaker" part of the film) is where the movie goes from just being a really well made time travel film and transitions into "wow" territory. Rian Johnson introduces all sorts of concepts about the inevitability of changing the past (whether it's actually possible or not) and the ramifications of making those changes by mostly avoiding paradoxes. I say "almost" because I'm still on the fence about the way that Young Joe closes his loop and ultimately prevents the Rainmaker from ever being, but we'll get to that later. First, I want to throw out one (probably erroneous) reading of the last scene in the film.

 Like Shane Carruth did with Primer*, Johnson constructs Looper in such a way that no detail, however minor, is insignificant. From the seemingly incidental "TK" mutation that 10% of the population has in the future to the range of a looper's blunderbuss compared to a pistol, there's nothing mentioned in the film that doesn't resonate somewhere later in the picture. Johnson's screenplay is one of a series of loops, all of which close in on themselves somewhere to one degree or the other.

 So then what are we to make of the scene where Young Joe is visiting Suzie (Perabo) after Seth dies? In the scene, Joe mentions that one of the few things he remembers about his mother is the way she ran her fingers through his hair, one that Suzie tries to replicate. It's exactly the same way that Sara runs her fingers through Joe's hair after he shoots himself with the blunderbuss, preventing Old Joe from killing Sara and, in effect, creating the Rainmaker (the 12 Monkeys "inevitability of fate" narrative trick, appropriate considering Bruce Willis' role in both films).

 I can't quite rationalize in my mind that Sara is the mother that Joe doesn't remember or, to go beyond that, there's a possibility that Cid grows up to be Joe, although there are some details in the film that might loosely support it. For one thing, she does seem to behave differently towards Joe after he sacrifices himself, although one could argue she knew who he was all along. Let's look at a couple of concepts in the film that led me to this theory:

 If Young Joe kills himself to prevent Old Joe from ever being, is he closing that loop, or is he closing another loop?

 1) It's established that when a loop is closed, the Looper receives a large sum of money and has thirty years to do whatever they choose. So when Joe dies, Sara discovers the car full of money, and Young Joe is roughly thirty years older than Cid.

 2) The final images in the film cut back and forth from Sara with Young Joe to Sara putting Cid in bed, and there's a visual bridge made between the two that seems to go beyond the fact that he prevented the Rainmaker from ever being. That Johnson cuts from Sara running her fingers through Joe's hair to Cid lying in bed with a bandage over his face (I really want to look to see if Levitt or Willis has a scar on their cheek) seems to me to be more important than just "time can be changed for the better."

 3) When Young Joe meets Old Joe in the cafe, Old Joe explains that his memories get fuzzy when he's in the past. He can only remember things that happened to Young Joe as they happen, and he struggles to remember his wife from the future's face. This might explain why Young Joe can't remember much about his mother - it's possible that at some point between the end of the film and when he's older that Cid / Joe is sent back in time and that his memory is a construct designed to prevent him from knowing Sara when he meets her.

 But I can't get past the fact that means Joe slept with his own mother, or the fact that Cid has advanced "TK" abilities and Joe doesn't, so how could Cid grow up to be Joe? One could make an even crazier argument that Joe pulls a Futurama "Roswell That Ends Well" and that he's his own father, so Sara gives birth to Young Joe, sends him back in time, and "sells" him to criminals so that Abe finds him and hires him to be a looper, but that's pushing it, even for me.

 Still, there's something about those final images, about the way Sara holds Joe and the intercutting between Joe and Cid that seems like more than just a poignant way of closing the proverbial "loop" on the film. There's something deliberate about echoing the detail about Joe's mother going on at the end of Looper, and I'm really going to need to watch it again to see what else is happening in the various loops introduced during the film.

 Any theories are welcome, because I'm sure that mine is a pretty out there one, and while there's some information to support it I can't convince myself it's enough. Not with one viewing, anyway. But damn is that a well constructed film.

 Oh? The paradox? Well, while Looper is careful to avoid getting bogged down in (as Old Joe calls it) "Time Travel shit," one could argue that if Young Joe prevents Old Joe from ever being, there's no reason he would even be at Sara's farm in the first place, so she and Cid wouldn't know who he was or what he was doing in the first place because they never meet. Looper does introduce the concept that the future can be affected by changing the present while still allowing people in the present to remember things that change (also the "memories of possibilities" speech by Old Joe) but you could argue that Young Joe killing himself undoes the necessity for Young Joe to ever be there in the first place, which is a paradox.

 Anyway, go see the damn movie. See it again. I plan to. I didn't even mention the technical details or the relationship between Abe and Kid Blue (Noah Segan) or the visual style or the fantastic way Johnson demonstrates how Young Joe becomes Old Joe and why Willis comes back in the first place. I could probably write about Looper all day if I wanted to.

 * It's worth noting that while he appears in the credits under "special thanks," Carruth served as the "Time Travel" adviser for Looper.


Dan O. said...

Everybody’s good, the writing is top-notch, and the direction kept me on the edge of my seat, but there was a human element that just didn’t come around full-circle for me. I really liked this movie, but I didn’t love it and that’s a bit disappointing considering all of the hype. Good review.

Shellzaaaaa - it's all in the ahhhh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shellzaaaaa - it's all in the ahhhh said...

I saw this posted on another blog about Looper and watched the movie again and realized yup this person has got it right: ( I was a bit uncomfortable with the thought of Joe sleeping with his mother but turns out he didn't at all)

"I'm going to throw everyone for a "loop" no pun intended. If anyone paid attention, Young Joe slept with a hooker whom had a daughter named: SARAH. "Sarah" was the girl looking after Cid. Considering the hooker knew what Young Joe did, and that Old Joe went after the hookers daughter(Note long hair of the kid the hooker carrys to the room, it's blonde.) as one of the three targets this leads you to one conclusion. The hookers daughter is the Sarah watching the young Rainmaker. She herself looped back to change him from a young age, remember Cid stated that, "Sarah's a liar, she's not my mother. My mother was killed." and Sarah stated she was trying to raise him properly. Boom, now you know how Sarah know's what Looper's are.

I caught it the first round. If I hadn't heard the hooker state her daughter's name was Sarah, I would of never of caught it."

Cap'n Howdy said...

Thanks for the note on that - I'm looking forward to watching Looper again with that in mind.