Just as Woody Allen and Pedro Almodòvar have their muses in Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz, so, too, does Rian Johnson in Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The writer-director collaborated with Gordon-Levitt on his first feature, Brick, a modern take on the noir genre that Looper seems to continue in its own futuristic way, and it is a partnership that has rightfully persisted.
Recently, the lack of original sci-fi scripts has been noticeable (remakes of Total Recall and The Thing come to mind), but with Looper, it is as though Johnson is setting a new bar again for intelligent sci-fi not derived from the literature of Philip K. Dick. That being said, Looper pairs time travel with organized crime and throws in a genetic mutation in a minor portion of the population that instills the ability to telekinetically move objects to create the crux of the plot. Because time travel is outlawed in the present, crime bosses have sent Abe (Jeff Daniels) from the future to manage a group of hitmen called loopers.
Joe’s best friend, Seth (the lovely Paul Dano), is another looper who closely mirrors the same self-absorption and overall disregard for others–case in point being when they ride through the poverty-stricken streets together in Joe’s ostentatious car terrorizing anyone in their way. They frequent a nightclub managed by Abe, mainly so Joe can pursue his vague relationship with a showgirl named Suzie (Piper Perabo, who will forever be the star of Coyote Ugly in my eyes). The meaninglessness and monotony of Joe’s life is tempered only by his drug use (mysterious eye drops that he uses daily) and his financial savings for the goal of one day moving to France (in spite of Abe’s direct quote, “I’m from the future and I’m telling you, you should move to China.”).
It isn’t until Seth barrels through Joe’s apartment window in a panic that Joe learns of a crime boss from the future called the Rainmaker. Causing havoc among the crime world, the Rainmaker has started the trend of closing the loop on all loopers, meaning he sends the older version of a looper back in time to be shot by his younger self. In Seth’s case, he was unable to bring himself to do it, which is why Abe and his gat men are on the hunt for him in an instant. With no one to turn to but Joe, Seth begs him to let him hide until he can figure out his next move. But when Abe calls Joe in and threatens to take all of the silver Joe has been stashing away for retirement, Joe gives up the information they’re looking for.
In a cruel twist of irony, Joe soon finds himself in the same scenario as Seth (who didn’t have the luxury of escaping a slow, painful death), with Older Joe (Bruce Willis, who doesn’t know how not to be badass) descending from the sky minutes later than Joe was expecting his mark to land. Flummoxed by the sight of his older self, Joe hesitates too long in shooting him, leaving Older Joe the chance to knock him out and flee. It is at this point in the film that the perspective shifts to Older Joe, and what happened to him in the thirty-year time span that separates him from Joe.
To the dismay of both parties, Joe and Older Joe find that working together might be the best approach to survival, in spite of how disparate their objectives are. As they attempt a cordial conversation at Joe’s favorite diner, one of the primary themes of Looper becomes evident: It’s easy to hate yourself–specifically when you can look back on who you were and foresee who you will become. As they discuss their respective objectives, the two quickly find that they are not going to agree on how to survive unscathed, with Older Joe wanting nothing but to kill the Rainmaker in his child form to protect the future and Joe wanting nothing but to kill Older Joe so he can close his loop and collect his gold payoff.
Going their violently separate ways, Joe finds himself experiencing drug withdrawals as he goes to a farm that was listed as one of the potential addresses of the Rainmaker. Already well into the second act, it is not until now that Emily Blunt as Sara makes her appearance. Constantly wielding a shotgun at the slightest tremor in her field, Sara hears Joe rustling in the leaves but does not actually see him until he comes to her defense when a vagrant tries to get into her house. Realizing how harmless Sara is, he informs her that he has to stay on her farm as there is nowhere else for him to go without getting caught by Abe. When Sara sees the sequence of numbers written down on the map that led him to the farm, she angrily shoots him–with salt rocks. Demanding to know how he obtained the numbers, Joe tells her that Older Joe wrote them down. Sara then tells him that they signify her son, Cid’s (the simultaneously creepy and cute Pierce Gagnon), date of birth and the hospital he was born in.
With the promise to help protect Sara and Cid from his older self (though Sara doesn’t know it’s his older self until later on), Joe is allowed to stay on the farm, growing increasingly attached to both mother and son. As Cid’s soon obvious telekinetic powers manifest whenever he gets upset or scared, Joe is forced to admit that Cid will grow up to become the Rainmaker. In spite of this knowledge, his final standoff with Older Joe leads to his ultimate character arc in that he at last understands the importance of self-sacrificing love. It is a culmination both bittersweet and triumphant.