Anthology of Interest: Looper
Thursday, October 11th, 2012
By Mike Girard
Time travel: the flightiest mistress in all of science fiction.
I have a very particular definition of science fiction: it must have science, and it must be fiction.
The balance between the two is the hardest part. Most sci-fi films never find that balance and end up looking cheesy or unintentionally funny – they never create a world that is both scientifically and fictionally believable; the implausibility of its science or drama (or both) outweighs the film’s real substance. (For proof, see any TV movie on the Sci-Fi channel.)
Looper, the time-travel film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, comes closer to the science-fiction balance than most. It’s set in 2044, a time in which poverty is inevitable for all but the most immoral and ruthless. This is largely in part because of the future – in 2074, time travel will be invented and immediately outlawed. Despite this, the future-mafia, as clever as its name suggests, continues using it.
Due to the future’s stringent body tracking technology, the future-mafia sends its victims back to 2044, where “Loopers,” contracted killers, shoot and dispose of the hits. Upon the closing of a Looper’s contract, the future-mafia sends back the Looper’s future self, tricking the Looper into inadvertently committing some complex variation of suicide – chronocide? Perhaps. Joe, one such Looper, allows his future self to escape. Thus, we have a story.
This film is far better on the screen than it is on paper – I tried my best, but that summary is both convoluted and not even really a summary. It’s just the setting; in fact, it’s just a couple of facts about the setting narrated by Joe in the first five minutes of the movie. This film presents a more carefully and concisely constructed world than most sci-fi worlds present in all of their combined media. (Did anyone say Star Wars expanded universe?) Clothing style, firearm build, vehicle design, world view, and designer drugs (to name a view) are all crafted and manipulated into a coherent world. Add an immensely satisfying full-circle ending; what results is a movie with true worth.
Of course, Looper isn’t without its faults. The paradox of time travel always makes me skeptical when approaching a sci-fi movie. I also find it hard to believe that the future-mafia can avoid the laws banning time travel, but at the same time can’t get rid of a body. Come on, future-mobsters. Most of these problems are, however, avoided through a lack of detail regarding the plausibility of these technologies. In one scene, Old Joe (Willis) and Young Joe meet in a diner to discuss their (or is it his?) situation. Young Joe brings up the logical problems in time travel theory; Old Joe responds by slamming his fist on the table and yelling, “IT DOESN’T MATTER!”
The film regards time travel almost playfully, and scenes like that, which are plentiful, prove it. In another scene, Young Joe argues with a future-mafia member about whether to move to France or China. The man ends the argument with: “Kid, I’m from the future. Go to China.” Clever writing always keeps the logical flaws out of the viewer’s mind.
I’ve noticed something over the past nine months of writing this column; I tend to write more about films I analyzed and enjoyed. Maybe that should be my new judging system. For now, go see Looper for 8 bucks.