Saturday, September 29, 2012

Movies: Looper

A taut science fiction thriller with terrific performances and confident direction by Rian Johnson, I highly recommend Looper.

The story takes place Kansas in the year 2044. Thirty years from that date, time travel has become a reality, but is immediately outlawed due to the devastation it could cause. It becomes an underground procedure that organized crime uses to dispose of people they want to disappear without a trace: pop them back to 2044, and have recruited assassins murder them upon their arrival. These assassins are called Loopers.

When the mob wants zero evidence, they eventually send back the Loopers themselves for termination, "closing the loop".

The film concerns Joe (expertly played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has phenomenal taste in film projects), a Looper himself, and what happens when his last target is Old Joe (Bruce Willis, in an equally well acted performance). Across the board the acting is strong, including Jeff Daniels and Emily Blunt in key roles.

Spoiler territory after the following screen shot, so you should stop reading here if you haven't yet seen it. Images are all from the trailer, which you should also avoid. I've pretty much stopped watching trailers for films altogether, and I've been happy with the results so far. It's nice to be surprised by a movie you're watching.

Go see it, be pleasantly surprised.

- Spoiler Territory -

One nice surprise about Looper is that not only is it a well-constructed time travel science fiction story, but as it progresses it actually incorporates many other science fiction conceits: dystopian class warfare, future drug culture, and, grandly, mutant telekinesis. This last conceit usually pulls me out of a story (the idea is too magical or cheesy-superheroic for my tastes), but here it's weaved in a seamless and initially understated manner.

One aspect I especially liked in retrospect is that all of the characters in the story are potential deadly threats to the other characters. Yes, even this guy. Off hand I can't think of another story where this is the case.

In a nod to a now-classic time travel movie, Old Joe at one story turn essentially becomes The Terminator, looking to assassinate specific children to prevent what they become in the future. The difference is that Old Joe is a human being with a heart and a conscience, so it plays out much differently.

Looper has a terrific ending, with a wonderful closing line. When I manage to find the exact quote, I'll amend this post -- the foggy paraphrased version of it floating around in my head doesn't do it justice, and in the context of the film it's powerful stuff.

One of my favourite films of the year.

EDIT 11/14/2012

I posted the following on a movie website's forum back at the end of September, and wanted to include it here, slightly tweaked:

I think that any time-travel stories that have the time-travelling characters altering their timeline are inherently illogical, so you either accept the impossibility of the conceit to begin with, or you don't.

Timecrimes, The Terminator, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban are films where the timeline isn't altered. Instead, the audience sees how the travel fits into those events that already occurred, but in a way that they weren't initially privy to. Both the travellers and the audience see the previous events from this new perspective.

Terminator 2 alters the timeline, and creates that paradoxical loop of altering it in such a way that prevents it from having been altered in the first place. If the T-800 prevents Skynet from existing, he prevents his own existence, and thus can never come back to prevent Skynet, which in turn allows his existence, which allows him to then come back and prevent's a real 'loop', a little pocket that is like a never-ending binary switch between two outcomes.

Looper's internal rules seem to be that when a timeline is altered you're in a new universe entirely, except that scenario should make it so that base-timeline Old Joe is unaffected by whatever happens to Joe in this new timeline when changes occur. Joe killing himself in the new timeline should have no effect on Old Joe.

But, that's not what happens. Instead we get a strange combination of that and the Terminator 2 paradox: Old Joe could never have come back if he never existed, but if he never comes back he doesn't create the circumstances for Joe to kill himself, so Old Joe exists, and then comes back...creating another never-ending binary switch loop.

Either the time travel actually works like a shift of the travelling character into another universe (which strictly speaking isn't really time travel any more, and is the conceit of Source Code), or it doesn't.

What does it say then that, as is the case with Terminator 2, I cared not at all about this "lapse" in logic, and think that Looper is one of the best films I've seen all year?

Only that I buy into the conceit, illogical as it is, especially with how well the film is made.

The T-800 gives Looper a burning, molten thumbs up.