Reviews

You Can't Escape Your Past -- or Your Future: 'Looper'

Rian Johnson's Looper owes as much to Shakespeare as it does to classic sci-fi: if we know our fate, everything we do to prevent it will only succeed in causing it to come crashing down on us.


Looper

Rated: R
Director: Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels
Length: 119 minutes
Studio: Sony
Year: 2012
Distributor: Sony
MPAA Rating: R
Release date: 2012-12-28

It must be difficult to know your fate. Like Greek heroes of the ancient past, preordained to fulfill some prophecy, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe sees the man he will become and tries to stop it. He has his own dreams and desires, and seeing that they don’t come true sets him off. It’s his life, not his future self’s.

Bruce Willis’ Joe is older, balder and wiser. He’s survived his reckless youth, knows the mistakes he made and Young Joe will, and tries to set his younger self on the right path. When Old Joe is sent back from the future to be assassinated by his younger self, he is prepared. He knows his self, something young Joe does not.

Writer-director Rian Johnson’s Looper is a well-structured time-travel thriller. In addition to the two Joe’s, the plot revolves around a woman and her child, a society of futuristic hitmen, a socialist America and a mysterious killer who’s offing the Loopers years after they’ve retired. It’s well structured in its own internal logic puzzle, playing with the rules of time-travel set by standards like Back to the Future, Willis’ own 12 Monkeys, and most notably the movie that inspired it, Chris Marker’s La Jetee.

However, it’s not the time travel but the characters that help this film standout. Or rather, the character Joe played by both Willis and Levitt.

Presenting the same character over a 30-year time frame is nothing new; but putting both iterations of that character, the man that is and the man that will be, presents interesting possibilities. We often think what we would tell our younger selves. How would we instruct them to avoid the pitfalls that we fell into? At the same time, however, it's those pitfalls that have made us who we are. We are those life experiences.

And how would our younger selves react? When we were younger, we had our own conceptions of who we wanted to be. Nothing would stand in our way. Seeing a broken down version of his self would possibly only make one struggle harder to avoid that path.

Despite their differences, the path sought by both Young and Old Joe revolves around love. It’s the carrot dangling over their head, always just out of reach, at times unknowingly and knowingly determining their actions. This defining trait is clearly demonstrated from Young Joe's relationship with the prostitute Suzie and her child, to his later relationship with Emily Blunt's telekinetic Sara and her son, and Old Joe's eventual discovery of his own true love. These conceptions of love both define and trap the characters in an endless cycle of give and take.

The performance by Willis is appropriately desperate, a man who has teetered on the edge for most of his life and wishes to get back to the solid ground that’s been pulled out from under him. He’s tragically frantic, if not to save his own self but the man that will become here. Levitt’s take on the character is both a turn that’s recognizable as Willis but also a man with his own youthful aspirations. The prosthetics may help Levitt physically look like the older actor, but it’s his performance as the thinking, every man action hero with a soft core that recalls the earlier roles that made Willis’ famous.

It’s a point that is labored over in both the DVD commentary and EPK featurette. While neither belies anything earth shattering about the movie, both serve to underline the intricacies Johnson put into the screenplay, an attention to detail and desire to tell interesting genre stories that has actors apparently lining up to get parts in his features.

This is only his third feature, the other two being the teen-noir Brick with Levitt and the too-clever-for-its-own-good Brother’s Bloom. The confusion manifested by the latter presents an interesting point, as the ending of Looper goes out of its way to make sure the audience is caught up with the story. It’s not an issue addressed in the commentary, but something Johnson was definitely thinking about while creating this piece.

The transformation of the familiar to the unknown is better reinforced in a series of extras discussing the sound design. Composer Nathan Johnson details how found sounds such as treadmills, doorstoppers and industrial fans were mutated to create the atmospheric score. Household plastics, wood and metals were used to create a digital drum kit that mirrored Joe’s fractured America. Additional extras include deleted scenes and an animated trailer.

8
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.

Books

The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.

Music

Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.

Music

Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.

Books

Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.

Music

Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.

Music

Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.

Books

The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.

Music

ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.

Film

Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.