Saturday, October 6, 2012
We're introduced to Joe on an average day. He kills a guy, collects his pay (silver bars strapped to his hooded victim.) incinerates the body, and then hits the town. We see that Joe has a drug problem, in this case taken in the eyes, with an eye dropper. In Joe's present, the haves and have nots have embraced their differences, making "vagrants" public enemy number one. There have also been incidents of people developing telekinesis, although rather than producing superhero's, it's limited to guys trying to impress woman by floating quarters, which Joe calls "tacky." Joe doesn't care much about class warfare, he has his own crowd, which includes his favorite prostitute, Suzie (Piper Perabo.) He hangs out with other Loopers and when he isn't on the job, it's a constant party.
A bump in his lifestyle happens pretty quickly though, when it seems the big boss in the future, known only as "The Rainmaker." is closing everybody's loops. This is first presented as a happy occasion, Joe informs us that most Loopers aren't "forward thinking." and having 30 years to spend your money no doubt seems like a good thing at the time. Joe is a bit more forward thinking than most, trying to learn French and saving half of all his pay days for his eventual retirement to France.
Except for his friend Seth (Paul Dano) who shows up late one night at Joe's window. He tells Joe that he recognized his future self, from a tune he was whistling and taking advantage of his hesitation, Seth's future self got away. Joe reluctantly hides Seth in his floor vault, as the mob arrives looking for him. Joe is escorted to the present day mob boss, Abe (Jeff Daniels) who was sent from the future long ago to coordinate everything. Abe knows that Joe is helping Seth, but rather than resort to torture, he tells him "I'm just going to talk a little bit." We learn that it was Abe that recruited Joe, his youngest Looper yet. At the time Joe was a vagrant kid on his own, but Abe tells him "I gave you something that was your own." Abe reveals that he knows Joe very well. He gives Joe three choices, he can die, give up his savings or call the cops. He also advises Joe to go to China rather than France. Joe's no hero, he turns Seth in. He quickly finds himself in the same dilemma however. His future self (Bruce Willis) arrives at the appointed place without a hood, making Joe hesitate a moment, all his future self needs to turn the tables.
We witness young Joe's transformation into older Joe. The specialized hitman becomes a full on gangster over the years, becomes very dangerous and then the right woman "saves his life." and settles him down. It's quickly discovered that young Joe, has failed to close his loop, and Abe's men, headed up by the bumbling Kid Blue (Noah Segan) make finding him priority one. He knows they won't kill him as that could affect the time stream somehow, but they are well aware, that taking a limb off the younger version can make the older one easier to find. With some assistance from his older self he evades capture. Younger Joe arranges a meeting with himself and learns that the Rainmaker cost older Joe the woman he loved, and in the past he has an opportunity to make this right by finding the rainmaker when he's a kid and making sure he doesn't grow up. Older Joe. However, even in the future, nobody knows anything about the Rainmaker, only that he came out of nowhere and assumed control of all the crime families in no time all, all by himself, a seemingly impossible task. Older Joe has three possible addresses, and three possible kids.
Younger Joe picks one of the addresses and camps out, knowing that his older self will come there eventually. The address he picks belongs to a single Mother, Sara (Emily Blunt) who is raising her son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon) He lets her in on what's happening and they develop a working relationship, based on the idea that he'll help protect them. Cid turns out to be a gifted child in many ways, and Joe can't help but bond with the both of them. It's only a matter of time however, before Abe's men, Sara and Cid, and both Joe's have their confrontation.
Looper keeps the time travel simple. As Older Joe points out, figuring out all the rules of time travel can give you a headache and usually leads to making diagrams on tables with straws. Time travel here is a one way proposition, and older Joe's memory is fuzzy when younger Joe is in action, becoming clearer, every time young Joe does something. Older Joe is visiting his own past, and the only tragedy he cares about has already happened. This gives us a good chance to look at the old "kill Hitler as a child" time travel question. Since Joe doesn't pretend to be noble or heroic his answer is pretty clear. If killing a few kids will keep his wife from getting killed, he's absolutely going to do just that. The "Kill Hitler" problem has been asked many times before, most memorably in a Twilight Zone episode, where a woman traveled back to kill Hitler and succeeded, not realizing that Hitler's nanny would replace the baby with a similar one destined to be the Hitler we know. Limited perspective is certainly a problem it wouldn't hurt to be careful about.
Of course Old Joe isn't happy about it, but Willis is very good at playing an unstoppable guy doing things he doesn't necessarily enjoy doing, but has to. He even knows that two of the three kids are totally innocent, but that doesn't compare with his own tragedy, a woman saved his worthless life, he got her killed, but has a second chance. He doesn't see any choice there at all. How Willis manages to kill kids and still be sympathetic is a mystery to me, but he pulls it off. He's also the best there is at casually shooting buildings full of bad (worse?) guys without breaking a sweat, and he's true to form here.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt looks a little different, made up to resemble Bruce Willis more closely. He certainly studied Willis too, as his mannerisms and speech patterns coincide with the older actor. The younger Joe, isn't the dangerous man he would later become yet. He's simply a former vagrant who was given a shotgun and told he could be something more. He's fascinated by his older self, but would gladly kill him for a way back into his old job. He gave up a friend to keep his money. He's more forward thinking than most Loopers but still has a lot to learn. Still, it's easy to believe that the younger guy becomes the older one. All the machinery is there, it just hasn't clicked yet.
Emily Blunt elevates what could have been a standard damsel in distress role into a pivotal one. We learn that her relationship with her son is a lot more complex than you might imagine. She isn't shocked to learn that her son could become a monster one day, but she protects him anyway. She doesn't come from Older Joe's future. In her mind, many things are possible, and she hopes that being there for her son will produce a better future. She's the contrast to older Joe much more than young Joe is. Young Joe is the mediator, although it isn't against his nature to kill the kid himself should he believe that he is a monster. And of course, being an abandoned child, he can relate to the damage losing a parent can cause. Joe from the present could go either way.
As good as all these actors are, the standout is Pierce Gagnon as ten year old Cid. He shows us both the blind rage and the insecurity than can exist in any ten year old. He can be cruel and sincerely sorry within moments of each other. After one particularly bad tantrum, we see his mother pick him up after he raged himself to sleep, and he then tell her he's sorry and give her a hug for all he's worth, and we can't help but believe him. He can be a monster and he can be very sweet. Like most ten year olds he goes back and forth depending on what has happened to him. Certainly young Joe identifies with him a lot, himself a kid who saw a shotgun in his hand as a far better alternative to the life he'd been living.
This is a movie about the things that people are willing to kill and die for, and what gives life meaning. It's hard to choose between causes when they're all, on some level, well meaning motivations. When you have something that's so important you're willing to die for it, it can look like you have no choice at all, especially when life is as grim as it is here. A man puts a gun in your hand to take you off the streets, so you go to work for him. A man comes looking to kill your son, you protect him. The man who took your wife from you and caused untold suffering is in front of you as a child, you get rid of him. Everybody has a good reason, and no one's trying to be the bad guy, but everybody in this scenario can't get what they want, not as long as everyone's a victim of their own circumstances and willing to defend their present, and "something of their own." to the death.
Rian Johnson gives us an exciting story that satisfies (at least to me) all the problems attached as soon as you start using time travel. Although the sci fi set up allows some futuristic elements, this isn't A Blade Runner kind of future, rather a world like our own only amplified at certain points, both good and bad. There is more advanced technology, but fewer people have it, as the poor are plentiful, and now labelled "vagrants." a step or two removed from feral cats. But still, the mob uses guns that hold bullets and time travel machines are the pay off to the old gun control arguments, with only criminals using them. In "Looper" however grim the future looks, the past is not a place that many people want to go, but rather something everyone tries as hard as they can to forget about. And the future? Well, no reason to hurt yourself rushing there, it's certainly no prize either. Maybe in the present there's something to live for, it typically boils down to "what would I sacrifice for what's mine?" Here, it can take some drastic circumstances to figure that one out clearly.