While this review does not contain a great deal of spoilers, there may be enough to warrant a warning. Consider this it. — The Management
The first thought I had when I walked out of the movie theater last night was “Finally! A smart-yet-action-packed sci-fi flick!” Believe it or not, the movie I was referring to was the Joseph Gordon-Levitt / Bruce Willis actioner, Looper.
The plot is very much tried-and-true. Man meets future self. Future-self wants to prevent personally cataclysmic event in the future. Will present-self help? Hinder? Believe it? It’s a time travel movie, so of course there’s a photograph that serves as a guidepost to the shenanigans–but then again, isn’t a photograph the most current time travel technology we have, capturing and preserving it moments at a time? The plot centers on changing the course of history–and is this a good thing or a bad thing? What are the characters willing to do to preserve or change their lives? We’ve seen this all before.
But like good sci-fi, Looper takes the tried-and-true and turns it on its head. The “present” is thirty years in our future. Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but will be in thirty years (sixty years from our present). Who has access to the illegal technology? The mob. And they’re using the past as the perfect place to dump an unwanted body. The future isn’t a bright shining utopia nor a post-apocalyptic nightmare but a Philip K. Dick-style dystopia in which the mundane mixes readily with the futuristic and in which those who deserve it least have the most power. Also, like much of Dick’s fiction, reality is fluid and hangs on the actions of conflicted, ordinary characters. But what makes this movie truly unique is that it is a prime example of good storytelling.
First and foremost, it follows the old adage of “show, don’t tell”. We see a dystopian future in which people kill each other in the streets to protect their own. We hear about “vagrant wars” and other such events–but the story doesn’t linger on them, or at least, only long enough to demonstrate their relevancy to the overall plot. There is a history–but it is only told through the consequences of present events and how they affect the decisions made by the characters.
Further, while there is plenty of shoot-em-up action, this movie gets into the heads of the characters. How would time travel affect the brains of those that experience shifts of reality? What happens to those memories? Can a future-self, trapped in the present, “remember” what his present-self is doing at any one moment?
The plot doesn’t involve changing the course of history, but of individual lives–so the stakes are much higher. Not only are both Joes caught in a loop of time, but in a loop of their own making. Younger Joe is on a path of self-destruction, a circular trail of violence and drugs that leads to more and more of each until he’ll eventually die of it–and alone. Older Joe has found a way out of that loop–but in order to preserve it, he must descend once again on that dark path, completing the circle.
But there is a message of hope. In the climax, Joe finally ends the cycle in the only way he knows how. And even with his final act, we don’t know for certain that everything will turn out alright. We don’t know how Cid will turn out–and that’s what gives us hope. His path is no longer fixed. He’s out of Joe’s loop.
A more flippant review would call Looper “Blade Runner meets Back to the Future“. But it is a much more complex and satisfying flick than that. It’s got plenty of adrenaline but it also always demonstrates that there is brain behind the gun hand to direct it.