“Then I saw it. I saw a mom who would die for her son. A man who would kill for his wife. A boy, angry and alone. Laid out in front of him, the bad path. I saw it. And the path was a circle. Round and round” . Joe
Time travel films often struggle to capture their own unique spin but Looper is not among them. Standing between a chase and a mystery, it’s a film that holds attention beyond its time travel elements, relying instead on history rather than the future as its focus. While it might borrow time paradox material from titles like “The Terminator”, Looper easily stands apart within the genre, atop a polished and highly detailed plot.
When time travel is invented thirty years into the future, a criminal system is introduced to successfully murder without detection, by sending victims into the past to die in another time. They rely on Looper’s, specialist assassins, to do the killing for them, sending money on the body to pay for the hit. But when one Looper, Joe, realises that the next target sent back in time is himself thirty years older, his hesitation allows him to escape.
One of the film’s more distinguishable features is its perspective from the other side of time travel. While most films opt to follow the time traveller, Looper is mostly rooted in the past, in what Joe, played by Joseph Gordon Levitt, considers his present time. This decision provides the dystopia an edge; suggesting the future might not be any brighter. The concept of closing loops with the deaths of loopers builds dread out of the inevitability of what’s to come. We see this again in Joe’s adamancy to learn French, despite being told and eventually ending up in China, as though his efforts to direct his own fate are futile. But hope is restored in some part by his older self, played by Bruce Willis, who in spite of his experiences argues he never regretted it and whose very existence in the past promises some degree of change to their combined destiny.
History is something that repeats itself, as Abe tells Joe, and this is all the more damning throughout the film, and source of all its conflict. We see this first in its detail. Abe’s frustration at Joe’s ties, and how fashion seems to go and come back. Their science fiction guns, modeled after revolvers and blunderbusses, harking back to a technology long past which has now returned. Even Joe’s betrayal of his friend and his payment in silver pieces does more to remind us of biblical stories than the future. The film’s sets, costumes and props all aid in this mission, never too much to distract, but individual enough to be noticed.
The supernatural evolutionary trait ‘TK’ is quietly introduced early on, and gives credit later to the ‘Rain-maker’, a character we never see but manages to inspire terror regardless. When Joe’s mission to stop him becomes clear, the younger Joe’s shift from self-obsession to a higher morality feels genuine, consolidated by his growing relationship with Sarah, played by Emily Blunt, and her son. The older Joe lacks no less sympathy, his frantic attempts to hold onto his wife’s memory, and her fragile locket dangling precariously from his fist all helps to deliver emotional depth and desperation.
Sarah’s fear of the dangers on all sides and her determined bravery in spite of a history of abandoning responsibility, make her a strong support and compliment Joe’s own complexes regarding motherhood. His desire to have his hair stroked is mimicked from the film’s start to finish, and touched upon by the presence of Sarah’s own son. We see Joe’s longing in early scenes as he nearly hits a homeless boy in his car, eyes wide in his headlights, and are reminded of how Joe himself experienced this lost childhood until he was groomed into being a killer. This compares well to Sarah’s son, foreshadowing a possible future and the cycle it represents.
As time travel films go, Looper is very accessible, ably describing the conditions of its world early on without being bogged down, or losing its audiences in too much technicality. Its level of detail and depth elevates it within the genre, with its shocking and impactful scenes making it as grim as it is cool. Levitt might not look like himself or Bruce Willis, but he’s been careful to adopt his mannerisms, providing a strong performance alongside an equally respectable support cast. Looper is a film that entices you to watch again, and not from a need for comprehension.