Looper

The trailers for Looper looked quite amazing but unfortunately I missed it when it was in theaters. I was pretty excited to finally see it, though the lack of Looper themed memes on the internet concerned me a bit. You see, whenever there is a huge mind-blowing movie out there it tends to create a resonance chamber on the interwebs. That is probably the quickest and easiest way to judge quality of a film. The scores you see on sites like Roten Tomatoes are mostly meaningless, and critical reviews tend to be subjective and frequently over-inflated. Often the reviewers will talk up a weak movie just because it was “entertaining”.

But when a movie comes out that really resonates with people, they take to the internet in droves and create gifs, captioned pictures and cartoons referring to the characters and the subject matter. The more of those you see, the better movie you can expect when you finally see it. Note that this mostly seems to happen for really, really good pictures – ones that somehow capture the hearts and minds of the audiences and refuse to let go. There are countless films that come out every year that are merely fun and entertaining but do not leave any lasting impression on your psyche. Those do not spawn internet memes.

There wasn’t a single Looper gif or image macro on Reddit when the film came out. Despite excellent cast, and very interesting premise it failed to create even the faintest ripple or slightest vibration in the world wide web super-strings. It passed through the collective consciousness like a neutrino through a cheese block – mostly unnoticed, and also probably faster than the speed of light (but only if you measure it wrong).

Granted, this rule doesn’t apply to all movies. Indie films usually don’t get the same amount of exposure to send the ripples throughout the internet. Some movies simply suffer from bad marketing, or open at a wrong time and go unnoticed, only to be discovered much later when they come out on DVD. So I figured I give Looper the benefit of the doubt.

Looper

Looper

Sure enough, it was entertaining but ultimately forgettable. And it started annoying me right of the bat in scene one, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt pretty much narrates an exposition dump about loopers and time travel. And he keeps on doing this for the first half of the movie. Whenever a new concept is introduced, the narrator jumps right in and helpfully explains everything.

You know how some video games have an annoying, un-skipable tutorial section that teaches you bare bone basics like “use WASD to walk around” and insists you go through all of the motions without an ability to skip any of the steps? That’s how that narration felt. It was absolutely insulting. Time travel is an old, old trope and the whole “lopper” is really not that difficult to intuit just by watching what is going on on the screen. I’m fairly sure that most of people could grasp it after a few minutes, and the whole process of figuring out what exactly is happening in the movie would greatly improve the experience.

The golden rule of storytelling is “show, not tell” and Looper blatantly violates it, promptly ruining any sort of initial sense of mystery or uncertainty. Not only that, but if the details of the arrangement between loopers and their future employees would be left unsaid, perhaps the whole film would make much more sense. At the present, the core premise is just plain dumb.

Oh, don’t get me wrong – at the first glance it “looks” really cool. A guy shows up at some desolate spot in the middle of a corn field, and sets up a tarp on the ground. He checks his watch, pulls out a shotgun and aims it at the tarp. Suddenly, someone appears directly on the tarp: a bound man with a bag over his head and hands tied behind his back. He is immediately shot, wrapped in the tarp and disposed off, and the shooter collects silver bars attached to the man’s back as a form of payment. The imagery is strange but undeniably cool and intriguing. You immediately want to know why this is happening, what are the rules, why are these men being executed and etc… This is the sort of thing that kicks your imagination into high gear.

Unfortunately the answers to these questions are spoon fed you in the first act, and they are not impressive. Apparently 30 years after the events of the movie take place, time travel is invented and immediately made illegal. This of course doesn’t stop rich and powerful crime syndicates from commissioning their own time machines to be built. Soon they have dozens of them working in complete secret. What do they use them for? Tampering with worlds markets? Maneuvering to give themselves more power? Scheming world domination plots? Preventing syndicate leaders from being born by assassinating their parents? Nope. They’re not doing any of that.

Apparently in the future disposing of bodies is rather difficult due to the advancements in forensic science. So the crime lords use their secret time machines to dispose of undesirables. Whenever they want to “off” someone, they stick him in a time machine, never to be seen again. The “loopers” are the guys in the past whose job is to execute the time travelers and dispose of their bodies.

I will let that sink in for a bit. They use time machines to dispose of bodies. That makes about as much sense as buying an overpriced Alienware laptop only to use it as a door stop or a coffee table. It makes absolutely no sense. There are so many ways you could creatively abuse time travel, and they choose to use it in the most boring and inefficient way imaginable.

Can someone, for example, explain to me why don’t they just kill the victim in the future and just send back a dead body to be disposed of? I mean, the whole thing would make sense if the time machine worked the same way as the ones in Terminator series: if it would transfer only living things. But the time machines in Looper can be used to transfer just about anything. This would avoid issues around which this movie is based: namely the rare occurrences when a looper fucks up, an his time traveling target runs away.

Hell, I have a better idea. If you want to kill someone from the future, why not just send a guy into the past and just… I don’t know, “terminate” your target when he is a teenager or something. You know, like in those other movies.

If disposing of bodies is so difficult in the future that they have to employ time machines, why is no one freaking out about Joes wife getting accidentally shot? The gangsters who nab Old Joe seem completely unfazed by the collateral damage. They are like “Meh, just burn the house down and leave the body inside” as they drag Joe out to be transported to the past for his execution. This is a glaring plot hole which breaks the internal logic of the movie.

There are more inconsistencies than that. For one, it is never fully explained why would the mob ever want to “close the loop”. As the narrator explains this happens when a looper is sent back into past to be killed by his younger self. Initially I assumed that this has something to do with the way time travel works in this universe. That perhaps that’s how you become a looper in the first place – you sign up to be sent into the past to be shot somehow creating a time loop or something. But that’s not it. Then I thought that maybe the loopers remain active within the organization – they spend their first 30 years killing targets, and then they get to be the actual operators of the time machines. Since they have too much intimate knowledge about the inner workings of this entire system, they can’t just retire – so when they are too old to be useful to the mob, their loop is closed… But that’s not it either. Joe, the protagonist, for example takes off immediately after closing his own loop and takes a 30 year vacation at the end of which he is nabbed by mob enforcers. Note that he kept his mouth shut for 30 years, stayed below the radar and did not interfere with the dealings of the syndicates… Why was it imperative for them to hunt him down and send him back? Maybe to close the loop and make sure he does go on that vacation… But that’s never explained or even hinted at either. It seems entirely arbitrary and stupid.

Don’t even get me started on the “golden child” thing. There is a magical kid in this film with supercharged telekinetic powers, who becomes soft of a central McGuffin of the entire movie about the half way through. You will note that none of the trailers for the movie features that kid. Do you know why? Because the entire idea is dumb, and the kid is fucking annoying. They wisely keep him out of all the promotional materials because he is probably the worst thing in the entire film.

The movie does have a few redeeming qualities. Both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis do deliver convincing performances and the interactions between Old Joe and Young Joe are more or less the high points of this movie. The script would probably benefit more by having them team up against the bad guys rather than having them play adversarial roles to each other. The idea with scarring your hands to communicate with your future self was also pretty interesting. The scene in which a running looper from the future starts looking fingers, limbs and other extremities as a surgeon operates on his younger self was very freaky and unnerving. That was pretty much the one and only scene in the entire movie that affected me on some emotional level by providing me with instant nightmare fuel.

Overall however, the movie was disappointing. It has glaring plot holes, it contradicts it’s internal logic and has dumb McGuffin golden child with superpowers in the middle. Not even strong performances from Willis and Gordon-Levitt are able to rescue it from it’s mediocrity. It’s probably not the worst movie you could watch, bit it could have been done much better. If I was to describe this movie in two words, I would say it was a “wasted opportunity”.

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6 Responses to Looper

  1. Jason *StDoodle* Wood UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Yeah, that pretty much sums up my thoughts on it too.

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  2. Adrian Google Chrome Linux says:

    I found it a pretty enjoyable movie, but knew it wasn’t advised to think too deeply about it.

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  3. Karthik AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Windows says:

    Actually the movie had several plot devices that it didn’t do a good enough job of disguising or painting over. The blunderbusses(?) come to mind. The reason loopers are given blunderbusses is apparently because it’s hard to miss anything with them. The real reason appears to stem from the final scene of the script having been envisioned well before establishing the setting–if Joe had a regular gun, he could have shot old Joe instead of himself, and you can’t have that.

    I agree on the issue of exposition, including the bits that take place in dialogue. If they had simply let viewers figure out what was happening, and not even hint at time travel, we would be speaking about it in the same tones as Primer, and not pinning this entry in the “Worst uses of time travel ever” list.

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  4. Dan O. UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Good review Luke. Not only is it action-packed and tension-ridden, it concludes its metaphysical discussion concerning time travel with a punctuation point that is so strongly defined and yet so elusive in its final meaning that it will send your head spinning for a loop or two (no pun intended).

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  5. I finally got around to watching it so I came back to read your review. You nailed it. They had a really neat idea, but the execution was botched and the story too dumbed-down. I can understand why there aren’t any Looper memes.

    The scarring thing bothered me early on. Memories manifest themselves physically in the brain with neuron connections, or whatever, just like scars would on the arm. This means a Looper wouldn’t need to use scars to one-way communicate with themselves, they just need to form a solid memory of what they want to communicate. For example, they could write down their message in large, clear text (visual memory) and read it over and over, perhaps saying it aloud, maybe singing it, memorizing it well enough to recall in 30 years. That memory would “scar” itself into the brain just as a knife-message would on the arm. Really, this would apply to all important events, so that the future version would immediately know about it.

    While searching for answers to questions about the movie I came across this interesting theory: Sarah is Joe’s daughter. She was sent back in time to care for the Rainmaker after he killed his real mother. That would explain the otherwise unnecessarily complicated “my sister took care of him” part of the story.

    I think my favorite part of the movie was seeing how well Joseph Gordon-Levitt captured Bruce Willis’s mannerisms. Honestly, Willis isn’t really in the movie enough for this to really be needed, but for viewers who are familiar with his acting I think it helps make the connection.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @ Chris Wellons:

    Wow, interesting theory. I didn’t catch the name of the other kid so I never really thought about that.

    Also, TIL about SciFi StackExchange. Thanks for the link. :P

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