- Year: 2012
- Director: Rian Johnson
- Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt
See if this sounds familiar. Bruce Willis goes back in time to prevent a disaster from happening, and at the end he dies in front of another Bruce Willis. That brings us to today’s film, 13 Monkeys, or Looper, as it’s known by, well everyone.
While there are comparisons to be made to 12 Monkeys, Looper is actually incredibly innovative and original. Writer and director Rian Johnson clearly took a lot of time creating the world that our story takes place in, and you get the feeling that there are endless interesting stories that take place there.
In 2044, time travel has still not been invented, although this hovering motorcycle has, so it’s good to know science has its priorities in order.
By 2074 however, time travel has already been invented and banned, leading to only criminals using it to dispose of enemies. Loopers are people in the present, hired to kill these enemies and do away with their bodies. The only hitch is that you will one day have to kill your future self, at which point you have “closed your loop” and get to enjoy the next thirty years, until the mafia comes and leads you to your inevitable death.
It’s fascinating to see a movie where time travel is commonplace like this, even part of someone’s daily job. The Terminator and 12 Monkeys explored this a bit, but this amps it up even more. Most time travel movies deal with the discovery of time travel, and while this one sort of does (I’ll talk about that too), there are no actual issues with the technology.
Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of these loopers, and is a complete hedonist to boot. He does some weird eye-drugs, maintains a close relationship with a stripper at his favorite club, and has no real focus or goals in life except to make money. Of course, he soon comes into contact with his future self, played by Bruce Willis. Now, Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks nothing like Bruce Willis, but they’re both good enough actors that it shouldn’t be an issue… except that the production team disagreed and gave Gordon-Levitt facial prosthetics that allegedly made him look more like Willis.
Hmm, he looks like someone, but I just can’t place it. It’s definitely not Willis, but it’s ringing a bell…
There it is. That would make a more interesting ending to The People vs. OJ Simpson, though. It unfortunately limits Gordon-Levitt’s facial expressions, and it’s ultimately unnecessary.
Instead of accepting his fate, Old Joe has come back to destroy The Rainmaker, a gangster who rules 2074 with an iron fist and is closing all the loops. In 2044 though, this gangster is just a boy who will be greatly affected when he sees his own mother die. Much like The Terminator, Old Joe will stop at nothing to kill the boy. If the Rainmaker never rises to power, Old Joe’s wife will never be killed. As even Old Joe points out, don’t think too hard about the time travel logic.
When Old Joe escapes, Abe (Jeff Daniels), a mafia emissary from the future, and his henchmen (Noah Segan and Garret Dillahunt) are immediately after the older and younger Joe. The Joes meet in a diner where Old tells Young everything that happened to him in the last thirty years. Looper has a great balance of tense, exciting scenes and quiet, dramatic ones, and this is the best of the quiet ones. It reminds us once again how truly great of an actor Bruce Willis is.
Young Joe hides out on a farm where the potential Rainmaker, a boy named Cid (Pierce Gagnon), and his mother Sarah (Emily Blunt) live. Joe has an adversarial relationship with Sarah at first, but they grow to respect each other, and he softens a bit from his ways as he spends time with the boy.
There’s an interesting split that forms between the two Joes as the movie progresses. As Young Joe bonds with the family and grows to care about others beyond himself, Old Joe kills one of the potential Rainmakers and literally everyone standing in his way. He says he’s doing it for his wife, but it’s really for himself. If he cared about his wife as much as he says, he would go back and tell Young Joe to never meet her, as Young Joe points out in the diner scene. At the mob headquarters, Old Joe slaughters Abe and all of his henchmen, with the exception of Kid Blue (Segan) who is out of the office.
Young Joe and Sarah pause the movie for a sex intermission…
…after which Joe discovers Sarah is telekinetic. Joe has explained that a telekinetic mutation appeared a while ago, but it never really led to anything beyond parlor tricks with hovering coins. However, Sarah can spin her cigarette lighter in a loop.
This is a slight advancement, but Cid can do a heck of a lot more. When Abe’s henchman Jesse (Dillahunt) stops by to investigate the whereabouts of the Joes, Cid lifts up the furniture around him, and eventually Jesse himself, killing him. It is also revealed that Cid killed his aunt the same way, although it may not have been intentional. These are the powers that may one day, fueled by rage, lead Cid to take over the country.
But what leads to time travel being invented? We’re not told… except we totally are.
Understand that the following is just a theory of mine, but it’s totally plausible.
Part of Cid’s rise to power involves his invention of time travel. Sarah has advanced telekinetic powers and can spin things in a loop, controlling where they land. Cid has even greater telekinetic powers and can spin people in a loop, controlling where they land. How long will it take for him to use these powers to control when they land? If the science of Primer is being used (and Rian Johnson did list Primer as an influence), it shouldn’t take all that long.
To me, it seems odd for a movie about time travel to have a minor subplot people being telekinetic all of a sudden. Yeah, Cid uses it in his rise to power, but there’s got to be more. Plus, this would give the title Looper another meaning, with Cid actually looping people around through time.
While we’re expecting Abe to be the true villain of the film, it’s actually Old Joe. Abe is a fine antagonist, and Jeff Daniels is coldly threatening, but Bruce Willis’ Old Joe is a much more complex character. We sympathize with him at first (before, you know, the child murder), and even as he commits horrible crimes, his motivation is still understandable. It does eventually point to a selfishness in himself, but it’s still not crime for the sake of crime.
Young Joe vows to kill his future self, knowing the ramifications of such an act. Kid Blue tries to capture Old Joe, but being a nearly unstoppable force, he kills Blue. When Old Joe is ready to kill Sarah to get to Cid, Young Joe realizes that his older self will create the Rainmaker he comes back to stop. He could kill Old Joe, but he knows that is still the man he would turn into. Instead, he turns the gun around, killing himself and erasing Old Joe from existence.
The ending leaves it ambiguous as to whether Cid will go on to become the Rainmaker, but if his mother’s death was what made that happen, his odds are better. Some, however, have argued that Cid is a sociopath who would become the Rainmaker no matter what. It’s a pretty dark theory, but he has already killed twice. Looper definitely leaves a lot open to interpretation, but I like that. It’s not black-and-white, but what were you expecting in a movie where the protagonist is a drug-addicted hit man? He gets better, but still, he’s no saint. Let’s check out the final score.
Story (26/30 Points)
Looper cares more about its characters more than its action sequences, although it has plenty of both. The world of 2044 that Rian Johnson creates feels complete, and he clearly worked through the details. The ending is a tad predictable (how much you wanna bet Joe’s last name starts with C?), but it’s done well enough that it doesn’t matter.
Cast (25/30 Points)
Everyone gives a solid performance, with Willis being the stand-out. I can’t help but think Gordon-Levitt would have been even better without those silly prosthetics. Paul Dano is only in a couple of scenes as Seth, but being Paul Dano, he steals them.
Experience (21/25 Points)
The score jumps around with all kinds of music, some big and some subtle, but it’s all good. The levitating effects of the telekinesis are better than you might expect, and the contrast of the city and country scenes is done wonderfully. I’ve said enough about the Bruce Willis mask.
Originality (13/15 Points)
It borrows from other films, and it’s particularly reminiscent of The Terminator and 12 Monkeys, but the idea of a looper and the way everything plays out is incredibly fresh. I love that time travel is just part of a 9-to-5. It’s a job only a few would take, but it makes for quite the interesting story.
FINAL SCORE: 85%
Looper is a unique time travel narrative, and it definitely brings a lot to the genre. It has great re-watch value, and it really cares about its characters. There’s something for everyone, and a lot for those who are tired of the same time travel story.
Next week, I’ll be doing my final thoughts on the Time Travel Movie Match-Up.