Film #76: Looper (2012)

looper-movie-willis-gordon-levitt-sony-picturesdirector: Rian Johnson
language: English and some French
length: 119 minutes
watched on: 7 January 2013

This was the first of four movies I watched on the plane back to Japan, trying to while away time. It’s a scifi thriller set between about 30-70 years in the future involving time travel, in which people are sent back in time in order to kill them (because it’s untraceable or something). The central idea is that when your assassin’s contract is terminated with the company, you kill your own future self. And the assassins are called loopers because they close the loop, or something. It also involves people with a mild telekinetic X-men style mutation, who like to show off. But there’s a bad mutant guy in the future who’s controlling everyone, or something (later you learn that not all is as it seems, of course).

The main character is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt with a ridiculous prosthetic on his face, because his future self is played by Bruce Willis, and Gordon-Levitt had to alter his face to look more like Willis’s (particularly the jaw and nose). A moment’s hesitation allows Willis to get away and potentially wreck the whole system.

Anyway, it was an OK scifi film. It’s set somewhere in the American Midwest or South in a rather uninspiring location, but that serves to show the decadence of the future. Things like wage gaps between rich and poor are shown quite realistically if hyperbolically: the loopers are practically the only rich people in the city and drive around in very souped-up hovercars, while everyone else sort of trundles round with trolleys.

One of the major flaws of the movie, however, is in breaking the principle of show, not tell. The first few minutes are Gordon-Levitt infodumping everything we need to know about the future world, instead of the more interesting route of throwing us into the action and seeing if we can just work it out on our own. A scene in the middle of the movie where Gordon-Levitt and Willis come face to face in a local diner comes across quite like this as well, except this time it’s an excuse for Willis to infodump everything he knows about the future future world to Gordon-Levitt. I found this boring, I have to admit.

Time travel is kind of handwaved in the movie. In fact, in a meta moment reminiscent of Austin Powers, Willis even challenges Gordon-Levitt not to think about it too closely because it might spoil your enjoyment of the movie. But we get several forms of time manipulation apparently co-existing, and sorry, but that spoilt my enjoyment of the movie. I like worlds where there’s at least some internal consistency. Here we get a deterministic outlook, where one knows exactly when one’s time is going to come in the future future, but we also get more than one “grandfather paradox” that is resolved by the participants (Guess who, I dare you. Spoiler alert by the way.) disappearing entirely, we get the idea that actions in the present can change right before your eyes whatever happens in the future (the present character cuts scars in his arm in order to convey a message to the future character, who sees the scars appearing on his arm, and early on in the film, another present character is being tortured and the future guy just starts randomly losing limbs), and we furthermore get a multiple world interpretation where one timeline “goes wrong” and we reset back to the point of divergence. Those things don’t go together, as far as I’m concerned.

So far, kinda sloppy. Later on, there’s a child character introduced who is simultaneously quite cute and really incredibly creepy. I don’t want to give away too much but it’s probably possible to piece together the plot now (it’s honestly not that hard). Towards the end, it does actually manage to pull out something surprisingly coherent, and we find out that we never really knew the truth of what happens in the future; we only have the world of Willis’s unreliable narrator. So actually even though it was still predictable right up to the end, I came away with a reasonable impression of the movie. It’s no classic, but it was enjoyable.


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