Science fiction aficionados have a real treat awaiting them in “Looper,” one of the most original films in the genre to come along in quite some time. In fact, I can’t remember ever having seen a film quite like this one, and I freely admit that it lost me in several places. But the movie’s basic premise makes it consistently fascinating. In a voiceover during the opening scenes, young Joe Simmons (Jason Gordon-Levitt) explains what is going on in Kansas during 2044.
“Time travel has not yet been invented, but 30 years from now it will have been. It will be instantly outlawed, used only in secret by the largest criminal organizations. It’s nearly impossible to dispose of a body in the future I’m told with tagging techniques and what not. So when these criminal organizations in the future need someone gone, they use specialized assassins in our present called loopers. And so my employers in the future nab the target, they zap them back to me, their looper, he appears hands tied and head sacked, and I do the necessaries, collect my silver, so the target has vanished from the future and I’ve just disposed of a body that technically does not exist. Clean.”
Joe is a looper who goes to a designated spot in a field at a certain time, and shortly after he arrives, his target appears on a white sheet, and Joe blows him away with his blunderbuss. When Joe then tears open the target’s coat, he finds the corpse conveniently packed with silver bars that are his payment.
Now Joe’s boss is a guy named Abe (Jeff Daniels), who was sent back from the future to supervise the loopers. Abe is the equivalent of a Mob boss, and he has surrounded himself with his own group of thugs known as Gat Men. As you would expect, the organization must have checks and balances, and Joe explains how this works.
“There’s a reason we’re called loopers. When we sign up for this job to take out the future’s garbage, we also agree to a very specific proviso. Time travel in the future is so illegal that when our employers want to close our contract, they’ll also want to erase any trace of their relationship with us ever existing. So if we’re still alive 30 years from now, they’ll find our older self, zap him back to us, and we’ll kill him like any other job. This is called closing your loop. You get a golden payday, a handshake, and you get released from your contract. Enjoy the next 30 years. This job doesn’t tend to attract the most forward-thinking people.”
Now if I were to go into a complete summary of the plot in this column, you would need two or three weeks to read it all. Therefore, I’ll make it as simple as possible. One day when he routinely reports for a job, Joe suddenly finds himself facing his older self (Bruce Willis). After a series of confusing events, the two meet in a café, and old Joe tells young Joe how a guy known as the Rainmaker attempted to orchestrate old Joe’s death and in the process killed his wife. Joe travelled back from the future to hunt down the Rainmaker and kill him as a child.
The whole thing comes to a head at a farmhouse where Sara (Emily Blunt) lives with her 10-year-old son who could be the Rainmaker. If you’re thinking this all sounds like an extremely complex storyline, you are absolutely right. Oftentimes the flashbacks interrupt the flow of present events so unexpectedly that you wonder what the hell is happening. Nevertheless, the movie is an intriguing one, and it offers some fine performances from all of its cast members.
The makeup artists did a remarkable job of making Gordon-Levitt resemble Willis as a young man, and in the film’s production notes, Willis said how eerie it was for him during the scene in the café where he sits across from his younger self.
“I was sitting across from Joe across a table. I was supposed to act and get all my lines right, but I just found myself looking at him and thinking how weird it was. It’s really a strange thing to see someone that looks like a young version of yourself. He’s a great actor. I love his work, and I just love what he did in this film. He picked up some of my cadence of speaking, which was odd, and yet, really cool at the same time.”
Also in the production notes, Gordon-Levitt told about a particularly gratifying moment for him during the filming.
“I didn’t want to do a Bruce Willis impersonation – that’s not really my forte. I wanted to create a character that felt like it could be a younger version of this guy – just give it a bit of that Willis flavor. Bruce is a really understated guy, so to see him to a little double-take when he looked at me was really thrilling. At one point, he said, ‘Man, you sound like me.’ I tried to play it cool – ‘Oh, thanks, dude’ – but inside, I was thinking, ‘YEAH!’”
Of course the film also boasts its fair share of special effects, especially in the scenes involving telekinesis, but the most disturbing aspect of the film is the picture it offers of the future. If it ever gets to the point where it’s possible to use time travel for sending our older selves back from the future to confront our younger selves, I think I don’t want to deal with that.
As I said at the outset, science fiction fans probably will love “Looper” (Give it a final score of 7.), and although I respect it for its originality, it’s not something I would want to watch again. I guess that puts me out of the loop, and I’m glad to be there.