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For Your Consideration: Looper

 

Time travel sure can make a mess out of things. Within a few moments of thinking, time travel plots turn into headache-inducing paradoxes with plot holes that are big enough to drive a DeLorean through. Director Rian Johnson’s Looper doesn’t put the focus on the time traveling exploits but uses it as a backdrop to a create a fascinating meditation on violence and fate.

Looper takes place in the not-so-distant-future where time travel has not been invented yet. When it does get invented the governments of the world immediately outlaw it. Now it’s only used by a criminal organization to get rid of people they want gone. They send people back through time where they are exterminated by assassins known as Loopers. Joe, a Looper played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, lets one of his targets get away after hesitating to pull the trigger. His problem? The target is his future self, a weary Bruce Willis. Now with the mob, the cops, and everyone else on his tail he has to make things right or else suffer a grisly fate.

Looper’s tale could have taken the low road and showcase a wiley game of cat-and-mouse between Old and Young Joe. Instead, the film separates the two early on with the majority of the film having them contemplating their fate and what they must do to restore their respected lives that have fallen apart. A great move on Johnson’s part instead of sliding into overt machismo and a dueling assassins focus.

Great science fiction is never about the more fantastical elements. These crazy, high concept ideas are merely tools to explore deeper questions. Lopper definitely falls into this category. The film doesn’t even take place in some sprawling futuristic metropolis or some weird time traveling lab but on a simple Kansas farm. In Looper’s case it explores the characters’ fates and how or what they will do to control them. Old Joe’s peaceful life is torn apart, Young Joe’s suddenly loses the freedom of how to live out his life, and the rest of the cast that are dragged into their bloody conflict. The film is unrelenting in this matter. Characters make despicable choices to make their fate their own. Looper is far from tame in exploring the dark angles in the Joes’ conflict but it never loses it edge of sympathy. Yes, the Joes do horrific things- they are assassins, criminals, innocents die but it never loses its balance and characters are never painted in a simple, one-dimensional light. The Joes’ choices are ones that shape the world, for good or for ill, and are expertly balance throughout the film by Johnson.

Bringing this conflict to life are Gordon-Levitt and Willis playing Young Joe and Old Joe, respectively. Gordon-Levitt transforms into the young, cocky Bruce Willis of the 80’s. He fully embodies the cool cowboy with swagger to spare from Die Hard. It doesn’t just end with an uncanny transformation into Bruce Willis but he combines this with a growing maturity out of the 80’s action mold and into the older self filled with guilt and desperation played by Willis. Willis playing his second weary, down-and-out old man of the year has found a new niche for his tough guy persona– one that has lost everything in his life and is violently, desperately trying to bring it all back together. While Gordon-Levitt plays his Joe with a sense of urgency and anxiety, Willis’s is one with a reckless abandon, going out on his last shot to fix his life while it gets harder for him with each choice he makes.

Looper doesn’t concern itself with the process of time travel; it is a tool to get something from point A to point B. This movie is about the moral complications of the choices people make and why they make them wrapped in a shiny, stylish thriller wrapping.

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