What with all our traveling, my minor illnesses, and the depressing succession of broken appliances, the most recent being the garbage disposal, we hadn’t been to see a movie for a while. Yesterday my husband suggested we go see Looper. A futuristic movie about a hit man starring Bruce Willis did not sound like a movie I wanted to see, but I didn’t have any better suggestions, and anyway, hubby was paying.
It turned out to be quite a thought provoking movie, a very violent one, but thought provoking. The movie dealt in paradox, the paradox of time travel of course, but also the far more perplexing paradox of doing evil to prevent evil. Specifically the evil is that of killing one person to change the course of history, but there’s also the paradox of doing evil in presenting mindless violence in a movie in order to get the viewer to think about what violence accomplishes.
The film’s main character, Joe, is a “looper”. Loopers are hit men who exploit time travel: they are sent victims from the future, when time travel has been invented, to kill and dispose of in their present. The victims are sent to them trussed up like Thanksgiving turkeys, wearing hoods, and with the looper’s payment in silver bars strapped to their persons. The killings take place in a rural field near the world’s most depressing urban area, known merely as the city. When Joe isn’t killing folks out in the cane field, he lives in the city.
“Loopers” get their name from a peculiarity in their contracts: at some point in the future when he will have outlived his usefulness to his boss, the Looper will be sent back to the past to be killed by himself. Payment for this hit is in gold. Killing one’s future self is called “closing the loop”, hence the term “looper”.
Okay, digression here. Another plot point is that when time travel was invented, it was immediately made illegal, so that the only people who have access to it are criminals. Think about that. Apparently every country in the world has made time travel illegal, and no military or law enforcement agency has access to it, just the bad guys. Does that make any sense to you, Gentle Reader? Because I just don’t see that happening. What I see happening is whole armies going back to refight and refight and refight the wars of the past hoping for a different outcome, until finally the whole planet goes up in smoke, but of course that would be an entirely different movie. (One in which white supremacists in this country go back to the mid-1800’s to refight the War Between the States while a faction in great Britain goes back to the late 1700’s to refight the Revolutionary War. Then something goes wrong and they wind up in the same place at some point in 1830.)
If there is any explanation for why the looper has to be the one to kill himself, I missed it. It seems like it would be easier and cheaper to assign the hit to another looper. I wondered at first if perhaps the script was based on a book that gave a 14 page description of why it had to be done this way that just didn’t make it into the final script, but no, the script does not appear to have been based on other source. As far as I can tell, the only reason for this particular clause in the contract is that otherwise, there wouldn’t be a plot.
Because what happens is that when Old Joe (played by Bruce Willis) is finally picked to die, he manages to fight off his captors, get into the time machine to meet his younger self, and escape him, too. Is there a TV trope that goes “the bad guys never know karate”? Because if there isn’t, there should be. Old Joe is determine to find and kill someone who is going to become a villain called The Rainmaker at some time in the future. Young Joe tries to find and kill Old Joe, because unless he does, Young Joe’s boss is going to have him killed. (Which is why I wonder how it came to be the case that the young loopers have to be the ones to kill of their older selves. If someone else had been the one to botch the kill on Old Joe, there would have been just one manhunt, the one for Old Joe, and it might have been successful. Of course, then there wouldn’t have been a movie.)
Young Joe may not be able to prevent all of Old Joe’s violence, but he can see, in a moment of clarity at the film’s climax, what is going to create the endless loop that leads to the exact end Old Joe is trying to avoid. He closes the loop the one way he knows how.
I think this is a good movie, but it is, as I said, very violent. If you avoid violent movies on principle or for reasons of taste, I am hesitant to tell you that you should make an exception for this one. It bothers me that I have come to the point that I can see a movie in which people are being killed every few minutes (and the worst violence takes place off screen) and still think of it as a good movie.
As I said, it is thought provoking.