There’s a scene in Looper when handler Abe (Jeff Daniels) looks at down at his employee Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and brings up a discussion about neckties. “Try something new,” Abe says picking at Joe’s fashion sense. It’s a bit subliminal — Rian Johnson, director and writer, might as well have appeared in the background, finger wagging at the screen, because it sounds like a defensive dig at standard Hollywood fare and the execs creating remakes rather than braving new territory with original stories. Looper is Johnson’s sci-fi story to tell and it comes with an edge. It teeters on the verge of being absolutely unbelievable with a premise that totters on how much you can trust Johnson as a storyteller. It’s an ambitious movie with difficult subject matter — difficult in the sense that the audience’s notion of time and forward motion might need to be left at the door upon entering the theater.
Set a few decades into the future — most of the movie is set in the year 2044 — the future looks as bleak as it usually does in science-fiction movies. Old Priuses run on solar energy, and vagrants roam the streets looking for handouts. Further into the future in 2074, crime bosses send marks back to the past to be taken out by assassins waiting with short-range blunderbusses. With silver strapped to their backs, the marks are erased from the future, and the loopers get to collect payment for their dirty job and enjoy themselves until it’s time to close the loop — when the looper is of age and must be erased to protect whoever they work for, they’re sent back in time to be killed by their younger selves. Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) refuses to play along and goes back in time to change the past to save the woman he loves and the world he lives in.
Present Joe hunts down future Joe in order to secure his standing with his current employers who are also out in full force to clean up the mess. Time changes as the influence of the future affects the past which in turn affects the future. It’s hard to wrap your head around, especially with some of the incongruity, and it seems like Johnson is positing his voice again into the movie as future Joe yells, “It doesn’t matter!” In the grand scheme of things, the minute details of when the letters should appear on Joe’s arm as they’re carved in the past isn’t the focus of the movie — Looper, like other sci-fi movies, wants to be a conversation starter. Ideas like, Violence begets violence, and, Where were the parents, are a few I thought of while watching the movie, and as a whole, Looper works if you’re willing to accept it for what it is. It isn’t a perfect movie, and at times it feels like it might just stray too far from plausibility, but there’s enough to keep attentions in place when things could have gone, oh, so wrong. In an age where action movies seem to tack on messages to justify the violence, I’m not sure Looper can work without both in place. Kudos for great acting by the stellar cast which grounds the movie and keeps it from launching into a farcical orbit. Johnson’s pacing also benefits the film, but one wonders how many questions he’ll be asked about non-particulars.