Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt? How could I possibly not want to go see Looper? I've liked Bruce Willis since 1985 when he was annoying Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting, and was entranced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Inception. Going to see this movie was a no-brainer, in spite of the R rating (and my irritation with the many vulgar previews of other movies I would have to sit through prior to the actual movie itself).
Joe is a Looper. "Adopted" by the crime syndicate when he was a young, abandoned, feral child, and trained to remorselessly assassinate targets from the future (where illegal time travel is possible), Joe has no compunction about killing. His victims are faceless, nameless; the death is quickly done and the bodies disposed of. Far from being an unscrupulous murderer, Joe is a kind of garbage disposal man, with dreams of leaving behind his tawdry past and mundane day job, of traveling to far-away places and living a high life on his bountiful salary. What little compunction he has about killing anonymous victims is drowned in drugs; Joe is also a junkie when not on the job.
Things change when a fellow "Looper" is charged with killing his own self from the future, where a sudden tyrant has instituted a pogrom against the homeless and vagrant, and has decreed that all Loopers must die, sent back in time to be eliminated.
There are no super-heroes here. In this sci-fi story, the setting is a future devoid of morality. It is not that mankind is debased to the point of being animals, but more that there is no moral compass by which people can, if they wish, steer their way. Joe is not a nice man; Joe is just a man who makes his money as he has to. If he has doubts about how he earns his money, he drowns them in drug use -- there is no practical or ethical reason to question how he makes his living in "real life."
When Joe (Gordon-Levitt) confronts his older self from the future, and fails to kill him, their purposes cross paths with each other, oppose each other, and the two men -- who are the same man -- are more than a bit fascinated with each other. What Joe wants to eliminate is not what Older Joe (Willis) from the future has in mind, and what Older Joe wants to eliminate is not anything that Joe will allow.
I thought the story was one of the best time-travel pieces I've ever seen. In spite of the tremendously flawed characters, I was drawn into their dilemmas and was sympathetic, and not sympathetic, to them all. I loathed their lives, condemned their choices, had pity on them for the circumstances that molded them into what they were.
The pacing of the story was relentless; the desensitizing of violence that was Joe's life, the horror of contractually killing one's future self, the realization of the enormity of taking a life to fulfill a mission ...
To say more about the story would be to spoil the ending. But as to my opinion about Looper, I would not have missed this film for the world. Long after I left the theater, I thought about what the story said about the individual characters, and what the story said about how we live our lives, and what we value.
It is a natural fact that time is one of the constructs that was belched out of the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe. Before the Big Bang, there was no time, or at least not in the sense that we know it now, and indeed even now, we are not entirely sure what time is.
We do know that as one of the elements of the universe, it behaves differently at different ... well, at different times. Or perhaps more correctly, it acts differently in different places -- like water. Water always boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, unless of course you are trying to boil it in Denver where it would boil at somewhere around 200 degrees, more or less depending exactly where you are in Denver.
Time is a bit like that. You and your next door neighbor are getting old at just about the same rate, depending in part on relative alcohol consumption, Body Mass Index scores and the number of Jillian Michaels workout DVD's each of you have watched. However, for the sake of this discussion, if you go to Denver and put your neighbor in a eight liter, 16 cylinder, 1200 horse power Bugatti Veyron Super Sport and set him to circling a race track at more than 250 miles per hour, and then you come back in three hundred years, well then you would find a sun bleached skeleton in the driver's seat of the rusted out hulk of a 1.7 million sports car. See? The question is not so much about what happened to your neighbor, but rather how you managed to show up three hundred years later looking so good. In point of fact, Denver is a kind of American Mystery Spot where the normal laws of physics seem a bit out of whack.
From that very premise, or one very similar, the idea behind Looper was born. In the future, time travel is made possible, but it is highly illegal. It is, however, readily available to the criminal community, who use it as a way to dispose of people they don't want -- send them back in time, have them killed by hired assassins, and then they don't exist in the future any more so there are no messy investigations into missing persons. It's a real cottage industry. Sometimes, however, the person they want to get rid of is the person from the past that has been doing all their dirty work, the so called "looper." In this case, the looper is called upon to do one last job -- kill his future self. He is then free to live out the rest of his natural life until such time as he is old enough to be sent back and killed by his own self.
To not kill your own future self can create a massive amount of confusion and disruption in the more or less orderly progression in time. And yet that's exactly what happens when our starring looper, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is called upon to kill Old Joe (Bruce Willis).
Time travel stories are notoriously difficult to tell well. More often than not, they are gimmicky tales, using time travel more as a prop than anything else. Take the long running BBC show Doctor Who. I love this show, and it is hugely entertaining. However, time travel is really only a means of getting from one place to another. Starships serve the same function in the space operas like Star Trek. There just are not many films that deal seriously with the complications that may be involved in time travel. Source Code, the 2011 film, was one that took an entertaining and novel approach to time travel.
Looper is good on a number of levels. It is a great story. It is fast-paced, suspenseful, clever and unpredictable. It is well acted. Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis were convincing as the paradoxical Joe and Old Joe. It is a good-looking film, with a convincing darkness to its view of the future.
The language and violence in this movie are rather stark, and while neither became gratuitous, it definitely deserved the R rating, and it is not suitable for anyone under 16.
If you are looking for a well done, thought-provoking movie, this one is worth the trip to the theater.