It’s 2044 and Joe works for the Kansas City crime syndicate as a looper. Thirty years into the future time travel will have been invented and outlawed and, because technology makes it nearly impossible to dispose of bodies, the syndicate sends people back in time to be killed and vanished by loopers. The catch is that when a looper retires, he is sent back to his younger self to be killed in exchange for a hefty sum of money and release from the contract. But in the future, an all powerful telekinetic crime boss called “The Rainmaker” is making it his personal vendetta to close all the loops. It’s almost impossible to talk about this movie without revealing some spoilers, so consider this your warning.
Looper (2012) deals extensively with the temporal paradox. That is, your future self can never alter past events because what has happened to create that future has necessarily already happened. You can never prevent past you from committing an act because future you must operate with your past knowledge. This is essentially the crux of the story. When Old Joe (Bruce Willis) is sent back to meet his death, he escapes and attempts to convince Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) that they must find and kill the Rainmaker as a child. But think of it like this: if the Rainmaker is killed before he becomes the Rainmaker, Old Joe never gets sent back and he and Young Joe never seek the Rainmaker out. It’s an unending loop, if you will. What has happened has already happened.
The movie attempts to get around this by saying that nothing in the future is fully set. Old Joe tells Young Joe that his memories aren’t really his memories, they’re just a cloud of possibilities that get clearer or cloudier as they become more or less likely, and only fully clear once the present moment has passed. “It’s messy,” is his explanation around the paradox. (Some might even call it “a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey stuff,” no?) This allows for events to occur that set Joe and the Rainmaker on a different path, ostensibly improving the future for all.
I woulds call shenanigans on this movie, save for the fact that they do a fine job with what I like best about sci-fi. They use a future scenario to explore something germane to the human condition. Here, it’s an examination of what causes people to become who they are. Old Joe believes that the Rainmaker is inherently evil and that killing him is the only way to prevent a bitter future. But Young Joe sees how their pursuit of him drives him down that path. “If he grew up with me raising him. If he grew up good,” says the boy’s mother (Emily Blunt) when Young Joe asks her to imagine what will happen when he learns to control his powers. Young Joe can then see how the boy Cid will come to be a frightening, powerful sociopath.
Looper, like the best kinds of sci-fiction, is an allegorical tale. Although filled with chase scenes and gun shootouts, it makes us question how the choices we make today will create the future we live with tomorrow. If you ignore the issues with the temporal paradox and appreciate Bruce Willis being the badass he is and JGL’s fine acting (he sounds so much like Bruce!), it’s a highly enjoyable sci-fi action flick.