In the not-too-distant future, it has become effectively impossible to get away with murder. Alas, time travel has been invented, and in order to get rid of troublesome people, criminal gangs simply zap them back through time, where they are immediately executed by hired killers called Loopers. In order to remove all trace of these crimes, the gangs will eventually send the Loopers themselves back in time to be murdered by their younger versions. This is termed ‘closing the loop’ and means our young killer gets 30 years of the high life before the inevitable happens. Of course, one day something goes wrong and our protagonist – a Looper called Joe – is left trying to hunt down his future self. Older Joe, however, has plans of his own…
I like that this film doesn’t mess about, diving straight in with an explanation of the Loopers and the emergence of mild telekinetic abilities in a suitably bleak, urbanised dystopia. Clocking in at just under 2 hours it’s not a short film, but it zips along brilliantly. It is disorientating at first, a lot of information is offered up very quickly, but the threads all come together eventually and the conclusion is satisfying and wonderfully finessed.
Looper is a very moral film, but also a very heartfelt one. You understand why everyone behaves the way they do, what they are trying to achieve. They suffer because of an absence of love and guidance. We need to matter to someone, we need each other. And our actions have consequences. Selfishness and loss mar the lives they touch. Older Joe is willing to go to terrible lengths to protect the woman he loves, but he ends up creating the very person who took her from him. Younger Joe just wants to close his loop, and return to his normal life. Sara is trying to make amends for abandoning her child, trying to take responsibility for their lives. And it all revolves around little Sid. We’ve seen how it could all turn out, but does it have to be that way?
Every action ripples out, and violence begets violence, but the film’s never preachy or smug. There are no goodies and baddies here, no mention of good or evil. It’s both universal and intimate. The cast is really quite small – cause and effect is pretty clearly established. But at the same time, this could be any group of people anywhere. Big ideas are examined on a pleasingly small scale.
While the film ponders big themes, it could simply be seen as one man choosing to grow up. Joe is a man, a professional killer, who drives and drinks and parties. But for all this adult activity, he is an immature character, craving the comfort and security he never had as a child. While no means stupid, he’s governed by his appetites and unwilling to embrace the possibly of a fully realised adult life. He thinks ahead, stashing his silver for his 30 years of retirement, but only so he can keep on partying. But by the end of the film, Joe is willing to sacrifice himself to spare the world the future horror of the Rainmaker. It’s a beautifully crafted moment; Joe’s choice makes perfect sense, but is still selfless and poignant.
If there is a weakness, I suppose the way in which the time travel was handled will annoy some viewers. It’s not something that is explained or considered too deeply. It is a little bit cheeky, asking an audience to accept everything they’re told, and not ponder any potential pitfalls. But when both Jeff Daniels and Bruce Willis tell you not to worry about it, why argue? Especially when it’s handled so stylishly. I was mesmerised, if a little appalled, by the idea of giving someone unnecessary amputations simply to incapacitate their future self. The image of older Seth trying to climb a fence, only to realise in horror that vital appendages are disappearing must be one of the most inventive and visually striking uses of time travel I’ve ever seen.
Such images, however, are not just for show. It all feeds back into how characters are affected by past choices. Sid gets shot in the face in the finale – only a graze, but nasty if it got infected. In the ‘bad’ future, we see him tiny and alone, angrily clutching a rag to his face. The Rainmaker has prosthetic jaw, a grisly physical consequence of this violence and loss inflicted on him as a child, neatly mirroring the psychological damage he suffers. But with his Mum still alive to take care of him, there is the chance for things to turn out differently.
Both the performances and the writing are excellent. Emily Blunt is great as Sara, full of guilt and barely repressed fear. Joseph Gordon Levitt does well to make us care for a not entirely likable character, quietly reminding us that the man has been shaped by his own losses. I also loved Jeff Daniels’ world weary Abe ‘Do something new!’ he barks at Joe. Biggest praise has to go to Pierce Gagnon as Sid. Genuinely unsettling, it’s remarkable how quickly you believe that this little boy could grow up to be a monster, while still being aware that he is just a child.
All in all a clever, well balanced film with an eye for stylish details and an appetite for big ideas. The saying goes that you should do something today that your future self will thank you for. A cult classic in the making, if you didn’t catch Looper at the cinema, I recommend you give it a go. Future you will be glad you did.