Every once in a while a truly great piece of science fiction comes along that is so groundbreaking, so audacious, that it immediately makes its mark as a watershed moment for the genre. More often than not, it revolves around the ethical and scientific dilemmas surrounding a new piece of technology, genetics, or something of that nature, into a society not yet ready for the consequences. Looper, the newest film from rising filmmaker Rian Johnson, is all that and more. It’s a morality tale, a thrilling action film, a hard-boiled thriller, and an intellectual sci-fi film. But most importantly, it does what great science fiction does best: Tell a story about human beings.
It’s a morality tale, a thrilling action film, a hard-boiled thriller, and an intellectual sci-fi film. But most importantly, it does what great science fiction does best; tell a story about human beings.
In typical hard-boiled cinema fashion, we’re quickly introduced to a future dystopian world with an appropriately shocking opening scene. Our protagonist, Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), explains in a voiceover worthy of Humphrey Bogart, that time travel has not been invented yet, but that it will be in thirty years. In the future, it has been outlawed and is used by the mob to make people disappear. They’re sent back in time, and a specialized assassin known as a Looper kills them and disposes of “a body that technically does not exist.” Joe describes this in perfectly deadpan manner as “clean”.
Eventually Joe is confronted with the tasking of killing his future self, which is known as “closing your loop.” But all hell breaks loose when he hesitates, allowing future Joe (Bruce Willis) to escape. From there, things completely shift gears in a direction I could have never guessed, but it brings us to the true ethical dilemma of the film. If you could go back in time and kill someone like Hitler before they became the mass murderers they turned out to be, would you? Or would you give them a chance to grow up right, under the guidance of people who loved them and set them on the right path?
The film never offers a definitive answer, but it certainly makes a case for the latter, that violence only begets violence, creating an unending cycle that will never cease until someone decides to change it. But how can you know? That’s the other issue the film presents. Is the future already set, or is it just a series of possible outcomes, forever changing in the face of the day-to-day choices we make and take for granted? If you take the choice away from someone to ever become what they’re destined to be, will anything really change? Or is it just taking away one variable, allowing for another to take its place?
All the moral dilemmas in the film are fueled by the pain and suffering of the characters, and each one is so fully fleshed out that it never loses sight of that fact.
These are the questions Looper asks, and instead of getting mired in the endless cycle of contradictions they might present, it simply makes a case for one solution, but never tells the audience if it’s the right one. Meticulously scripted, the film never once looses sight of the human beings at the center of the story. All the moral dilemmas in the film are fueled by the pain and suffering of the characters, and each one is so fully fleshed out that it never loses sight of that fact.
Immaculately designed, it’s a strong technical feat but more impressive as a piece of world building. The facts and rules of this future are never unclear, and luckily, aren’t lingered on. Joe gets the basics out of the way in that wonderful narration that is used sparingly but to great effect. Every little detail pays off in the end, and in very surprising ways. Speaking of being used sparingly, it comes as a bit of a surprised just how little screen time Bruce Willis has when compared to Joseph Gordon-Levitt or even Emily Blunt. But it’s easily his best work in years so you’ll hear no complaints about that. A tragic portrayal of anger and loss, it’s the rare role that allows Willis to use his natural charisma and often unseen human side. Joseph Gordon-Levitt really does own the film though, down to getting every little facial and body language of Bruce Willis just right so that even when the heavy makeup he’s wearing doesn’t come off as completely natural, it’s never in doubt that he is the younger version of Joe. It’s such an uncanny performance that never once comes off as mimicry; he simply IS the younger Joe, the same way Willis IS his older self. Lived-in portrayals that always ring true.
Towards the middle of the film, when the two Joes sit down to have a man-to-man chat, older Joe snaps, “I don’t wanna talk about time travel” after his younger self starts to ask too many questions. This simple line isn’t meant as a cop-out to ignore the rules that have been established thus far, especially not a film as meticulously written as this one. Rather, it’s simply Rian Johnson speaking to the audience through Joe, telling them “This isn’t the story we’re going to tell. It isn’t about the science, it’s about the people.” In any other film, it wouldn’t work, but Looper tells such a complete and rewarding tale of love, loss, and morality that one never wishes that more time was spent on the logistics of it all. The most well oiled machine can’t function without a human hand to guide it, after all.
[notification type=”star”]90/100 ~ AMAZING. Looper tells such a complete and rewarding tale of love, loss, and morality that one never wishes that more time was spent on the logistics of it all. The most well oiled machine can’t function without a human hand to guide it, after all.[/notification]