Thursday, January 31, 2013

Friday at the Movies: Looper Review

At the moment, I am working on a new format for my Pull List Review. In the meantime, I figured I'd do a review and analysis of a movie I really enjoyed recently: Looper.

First, I'll talk about why I liked it, that way anyone who wants to avoid the spoiler-filled analysis can  avoid them.
I really like this image. Old and Young Joe.

Why I watched Looper twice, more or less back to back:

I loved the movie's setting and they way they presented the facts about what was going on. It is set in the near(ish) future (2044) which looks a lot like today, the changes ranging from hodge-podge to pretty damn sci-fi: we see cars we'd see on the road today converted into solar powered vehicles by having solar panels strapped to them, but we also see futuristic looking hover bikes. It looks like the world is midway to a dystopian future.

Most of the movie takes place in either the shadier parts of the city or the countryside. The buildings are run down, the people are desperate, crime is rampant and the police are nowhere to be seen.

Enter the Loopers, "professional" hit-men of today servicing tomorrow. And by tomorrow, I mean 30 years from now, when time travel is invented. Because it's such a dangerous technology, it is immediately banned. This means that only the biggest criminal organizations have it, and they use it to get rid of people. In the future, it's impossible to kill someone and NOT get caught. So they send them back in time, handcuffed, a sack over their head, and with money (silver) strapped to their back, to 30 years in the past. Upon arrival, they are killed immediately (via shotgun, called blunderbuss) by a Looper.
Probably doesn't take an actual professional hit-man...

This is facilitated by Abe, a man sent back from the future to organize the Loopers.

It's an interesting premise and, presented just vague enough, works. Initially it sounds strange, which is what put me off from the movie, but in practice it is really all just part of the setting. There are small things that you might not notice but are there to reinforce certain key points. Time travel is a messy business. I won't get into this too much here, I'll save that for the next section, but it isn't laid on as thick as some movies (and books, etc...) that deal with Time Travel. Our narrator, the protagonist Joe, tells us a few story elements here and there and they are to be accepted as fact. There's no debate, no argument, that's just how it is.

Once you've lost yourself in the setting, you can begin to follow (and should have little problem accepting) the story. The past, present, and future collide, sometimes in surprising ways. Little touches are put in the film but not expanded on; you pick up on them or you don't. A world has been created, and it seems to be well thought out, but we're only getting a small slice of this world -- we really only get to see Joe's story, and he acts as an every man (dare I say... an average Joe?).

There's action, a dash of romance, suspense, and more, but my favorite part of the movie is the treatment of the characters. Even minor characters are made to be relatable, understandable, and unique. There are a couple of cliches here and there, but even they are to be appreciated.

For the cast itself, I was actually surprised. I consider myself a Bruce Willis fan, so I wasn't surprised to enjoy his character. I have also liked Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the past, though I found their attempts at making him look closer to Willis to be a bit humorous. Still, enjoyed the character, especially when interacting with Cid. There should have been more of Jeff Daniels (Abe), but what we got was awesome. And, though I don't think I've ever liked her in anything else, I think Emily Blunt was perfect in her role as Cid's mother.

There are some confusing points and leaps of faith. Also, certain things are tacked on as plot elements ("TK", or telekinesis being the prime suspect), but I think it all works and makes an interesting/engaging film. As long as you understand that it's a (potentially) unique look at time travel, it's not too hard to believe (especially since, you know, time travel doesn't exist).

My arbitrary rating for the film is a 9/10. The more I think about it, the more I really enjoy it, which I don't think has ever happened before.

From here on out, I'm going to get spoiler-ific, so reader beware!

Closed Loops or Open Plot Holes?

Closing the Loop: When a Looper kills his future self and receives their final payday (in gold instead of silver). The crime bosses close loops because of how illegal time travel is. This isn't a surprise to Loopers, they're told this when they sign up. They get a final payday and live the next 30 (or so) years in a sort of early retirement.

Letting the Loop Run: When a Looper fails to kill is future self and instead let's them escape. This is an issue because it screws with the time continuum -- every action someone from the future takes in the past can alter the future dramatically.

This is never stated to be a direct butterfly effect, and it is something that CAN be managed. Abe is from the future, but seems to have no hurt the future (as far as we know). There may be a few reasons for this, the least of which is that we never see him leave the building we meet him in, and to see him requires an appointment/pass pretty intense security. When Joe's friend, Seth, let's his loop run, Abe says that something to the effect that every moment he's unaccounted for makes things more dangerous. This COULD be because the more time here's here, the more chances he'll have to impact the future, or it could reference that any temporal distortions take time.

The way a running loop is fixed is a bit interesting (and potentially a bit problematic). Young Seth is caught and changes are made to his body that appear on Old Seth. It's stated that Young Seth isn't outright killed because that would be to dramatic/traumatic a change in the timeline. So they scar him and remove body parts. This, to me, seems like it would be pretty damn damaging to the timeline, but it's apparently considered "safer" than outright killing him. When we do glimpse Young Seth being operated on, there does seem to be some futuristic devices attached/monitoring him. Possibly this is just life support to keep him going despite what's happening to his body, but maybe the technology has something to do with why this method is considered better/safer. It's not really stated too clearly, and this is the major leap of faith you have to have.

Old Joe: This guy is a bit of an issue, conceptually. Old Joe comes from the timeline where he closed his loop as a younger man. He spent his life pretty poorly and eventually finds love towards the end of it. Her death leads him to try and change the timeline. The second he runs, however, the timeline is different. If this was a direct butterfly effect type of time travel, he would stop existing then, or at the very least come closer and closer to doing so as the chances of him being sent back in time are less and less. But this isn't a butterfly effect time movie, not exactly.

Old Joe and Young Joe (and a cup of Joe).
What does change is that Young Joe creates new memories that slowly begin to overwrite Old Joe's. Permanent physical changes to Young Joe change Old Joe. Old Joe, however, isn't worried about that. He thinks that, by killing Rainmaker as a kid, he'll prevent his wife being killed and him being sent back, meaning he'll either return to her or at least his direct timeline won't come to pass again. But, either way, he's not willing to give her up, which would be another way to solve the dilemma of her dying. He still wants Young Joe to meet her and end up with her.

MAJOR SPOILER. I saw someone confused about when Young Joe kills himself and Old Joe disappears. They thought that the past should be affected directly and most of the movie Looper would be unwritten. That's not the case. Everything Old Joe did in the present remains, but a new timeline is born where he ceases to exist. This is the major trouble that Abe tried to prevent by NOT killing Young Seth. It's not clear if the old timeline exists or not; it doesn't matter in the end. The past can't be changed by something that happens "now", unless someone was sent back in time even earlier.

Rainmaker: We learn that Cid, Sara's son, will grow up to be the Rainmaker, the big, bad crime boss that appears suddenly in the future and turns the world pretty much upside down (most importantly for us, he sets out to close all loops). We know Cid is the Rainmaker because of information Old Joe gets about the hospital/day he's born. The telltale sign is when Old Joe recognizes Cid's powers when he sees them in Young Joe's memories.

This is Cid's "make it rain" face.
A confusing point here -- Old Joe says that nobody's really sure what Rainmaker looks like, though "some say" that he's got a prosthetic jaw and possibly saw his mother get shot and killed. In this film, Old Joe shoots Cid in the jaw (it's a graze, but we're to assume it gets infected if not taken care of) and comes this close to shooting Cid's mother, which would create the origin for Rainmaker.

This is a problem because Rainmaker exists in Old Joe's timeline, even though he closed his loop and couldn't have possibly created Rainmaker in that timeline. We have to assume that Cid becomes Rainmaker some other way, Joe involved or not. This is aided by the fact that there ARE no actual facts about Rainmaker -- the jaw/mother shot story COULD be false or could be something that's be passed on by other running loops (which could potentially change the timeline more).

In the movie's given timeline, Cid's mother lives AND he's had exposure to Young Joe, which wouldn't have happened in Old Joe's timeline. It does seem that, due to Young Joe, Cid is able to finally connect with his mother better, which we have to assume leads to him NOT becoming the (evil, at least) Rainmaker.

Kid Blue: Anyone else think this guy is young Abe? I saw someone mention it and then the idea get shot down, but I like it. I'll have to watch the movie a third time and keep a close eye on all the Kid Blue/Abe scenes, but I think it has merit and is a nice touch.
Same person? I dunno.


Now, are there any confusing elements or plot holes I missed, or is someone interested in arguing about the logistics of time travel as presented in the film? I'm always willing to see someone else's interpretation.

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