In the Loop: Looper

It’s a joke now that we’ve all been repeating the same day over and over for more than a year now. I had been thinking about this and also my unapologetic love of time loop movies.

Welcome to In the Loop, a project where I will write about time loop movies (and on occasion, TV shows) once a week.

Note: I will be writing about all of these movies as if you’ve seen them, so spoilers ahead!

Looper (2012, directed by Rian Johnson)

  • Time until the loop begins: 30ish minutes, sort of.
  • The cause of the loop/inciting incident: Time traveling assassins!
  • Number of time loops: 2? 1? I guess it depends on how you count.
  • Lessons learned: Sometimes you just need to take yourself out of the story

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For nearly an hour, Looper feels like it’s just going to be a typical — if incredibly stylish and fun — sci-fi action movie. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is an assassin tasked with killing people sent back to the past (there’s something about body disposal and such that makes killing people in the future a lot harder). If an assassin survives long enough, they’ll be sent back to the past to be killed. Old Joe (Bruce Willis) is sent back in time but escapes Joe (Old Joe wants to keep his future wife from dying) and sets off a bit of cat and mouse as Joe chases after Old Joe who is pursuing the mysterious Rainmaker as a child. It’s the opposite of someone’s past catching up to them — in Joe’s case, it’s his future catching up to him.

There is definitely a lot of setup, but it never feels boring. The extensive world-building feels like it has a purpose. Writer-director Rian Johnson creates a reality that feels messy and lived-in. While it does have some of the Blade Runner-esque neon-lit cityscapes we associate with movies set in the future, it also feels dirty. This isn’t meant to be glamorous. We come to care about Joe — both Joes — because we see the reality he lives in. (And I have to admit Willis as an older Gordon-Levitt oddly works. They don’t necessarily look like each other but I can believe that Gordon-Levitt would look like that when he’s older.)

Initially, the women in this movie are mostly just there. There’s a minor sex scene that just feels a bit there and Old Joe’s wife isn’t even given a name! But the shift occurs when we meet a young mother named Sara (Emily Blunt), living out on a farm with her telekinetic son, Cid (Pierce Gagnon). Cid is one of the children Old Joe suspects will grow up to be the Rainmaker (oh, by the way, there are also people with telekinetic powers in this movie, because why not?).

This movie thrives in the quieter moments between Sara, Joe and Cid as they become something like a family. There’s a romantic element between Sara and Joe but mostly, they just seem like two lonely people looking for connection in the end.

As much as we follow both Joes, this is Sara’s story, truly. I know how often I complain about movies where they should be about someone other than the main character (Live Die Repeat, also starring Blunt, is definitely one of those cases), but Johnson and Looper pull this switch off nicely. It’s not really Joe’s journey or his redemption. It’s about him understanding this isn’t his story — or even Old Joe’s story. It’s Sara and Cid’s story and Joe’s realization to take himself out of it is a powerful choice.

At one point, Jeff Daniels’ looper boss Abe says to Joe, “The movies that you’re dressing like are just copying other movies. These goddamn 20th-century affectations. Do something new, huh?” That seems to be Johnson’s mission statement here. His love for the movies that set the path for Looper are clear but he makes the unexpected choices and has made a movie that does actually feel new.

Next week on July 20: Source Code

In the Loop logo by Sarah Burnett. If you’d like to support this project, buy one of my Polaroids.