If you go to the cinema this month looking for a fun-filled, action packed film that leaves you with a good feeling in your heart then Rian Johnson’s Looper isn’t the best choice. Yet, despite that, I would urge almost anyone to go see Looper. Unless you are someone with a deep aversion to Science Fiction or Joseph-Gordon Levitt, this is a film that needs to be seen and not just because of the extremely intriguing premise or the clever facial trickery used to make Levitt look like a young Bruce Willis. The main reason anyone needs to see Looper is the intense character drama.
Joseph-Gordon Levitt stars as Joe, a looper. Loopers are people from the present day of 2044 who are hired from the mafia of the future to kill and dispose of people who are sent back. Apparently it is very difficult to dispose of a body in the future so time travel is one of the only ways of doing it safely. Time Travel was also outlawed almost immediately as it was discovered and used only by top level criminals. Loopers are so called because, if they’re still alive in the future, they are bag and sent back to be disposed of by their past selves. They get a bunch of gold bars as severance. If they don’t kill themselves then it’s called letting the loop run.
While that seems like a lot of information to process, that’s all basic set up and is delivered to the audience simply through a voice over by Levitt within the first ten or fifteen minutes of the film. We see Joe go out and shoot people who appear before him, we see a fellow looper close his loop and we see a close friend of Joe let his loop run. These are three very precise scenes which Levitt talks us through, explaining technical terms. It’s telling that Johnson deals with this information cleanly and efficiently at the beginning of the movie because it seems that he’s aware this is all background noise to the audience. Time travel might be the reason why things are happening but we still came to see Levitt and Willis shoot up a diner.
The diner scene is very important to the film, least of all because it’s a bad ass action sequence where Bruce Willis manages to single-handedly fight off his past self and a horde of bad guys who have been chasing him. It’s in the diner that Willis, as future Joe, explains his motivations and ties the secondary plot into the first. From the very start when loops begin to close at a higher rate than normal a rumour comes through the time stream that a new leader of the Mafia known as The Rainmaker has come out of nowhere and started closing all the loops. Most notably, when they come to close Future Joe’s loop, they accidentally kill his wife. Hoping that he can right this wrong, he beats off his kidnappers and hops into a time machine, which looks like a fancy stove.
That’s the thrust of the plot. A man from the future travels back in time to stop a threat that hasn’t yet risen up in order to save his wife. This is the kind of moral dilemma that is posed people speculate about going back in time to kill Hitler. Who is the villain if someone is killed before they become a major threat? And that analogy is more applicable than anything else really, since Future Joe’s plan hinges on killing The Rainmaker when he’s still a child so that his present self can still grow old and meet the woman who ‘saves him’. As far as plans go that one is pretty heinous and, yet, Johnson does a fantastic job of making you empathise with the character of Future Joe. Through snippets of time, the audience is shown what would happen if Joe hadn’t let the loop run. Joe gets his pay day and heads off to Shanghai. Within nearly a decade Joe wastes away his money on parties and drugs and becomes in more crime. He grows older and continues to kill until he meets a girl in at a bar. He changes his ways and they marry but they have less than a decade together before his loop is closed and his wife is shot. Though it’s only through snippets, this is a very effective way of communicating with the viewer just how far Joe fell in subsequent years and just what meeting someone who actually cared about him really meant. We can empathise with the character and we want him to save his wife. Then we realise it comes at the expense of a child.
Future Joe does seem painfully naive about how to stop his wife ever being killed. When charged with the option of showing his past self the picture and never marrying her, he dismisses it. He wants to have his cake and eat it too. Throughout the film he slaughters dozens of people. Shady, less reputable people but people all the same. And one child. That’s right. He murders a child on a doorstep. Afterwards it seems like he’s going to be sick but then we realise it’s just relief that his wife is still in his memories. In his journey to safe his wife he digs himself deeper and deeper into a hole of murder and bloodshed.
I won’t spoil the ending for anyone reading who hasn’t seen the film yet, but I will say that anyone who has seen the Cradle of Darkness episode of The Twilight Zone will see where the plot is going. I didn’t actually predict how Present Joe would avert that from happening, although my girlfriend did, so the film does have some aces up its sleeve. But even if you’re not into Science Fiction, character dramas or good writing, Looper should still be recognised for its excellence in acting and facial reconstruction. Levitt underwent three hours of makeup and listened to audio tapes of Willis’ voice to help him become the younger version of Bruce Willis. And it really pays off, although Johnson never revels in it. He just allows it to exist while the plot continues to drive towards a depressing end.
It’s sad to think that Levitt probably won’t win anything like an Oscar for his work in Looper because this is probably one of the best performances of his career, especially considering how much work he put in to really sell the idea that he was a younger Willis. In a year that has included Prometheus , I can still easily say that this is the best Science Fiction film of the year and probably the best Science Fiction film to grace cinema screens in a long time. It’s a fantastic mixture of casual sci-fi, character depictions that really draw in the viewer and a moral dilemma that drives the story rather than being used as a club to bludgeon the audience. This film is a definite must see.