Looper: time and time and time again…
… and sometimes science-fiction just does stylised action scenes in a more impressive manner than its more grounded opposition can… *There’s a degree of conscious choice involved in how much one can enjoy Looper, depending on how willing one is to accept two wholly independent impossibilities, to wit; time-travel and telekinesis. Both are introduced abruptly, the former with the tense-jarring “time-travel hasn’t been invented yet, but in thirty years it will be” and the latter with the similarly uninterrogable “around 10% of the population has the T.K. gene”, but the suspensions of disbelief required are not equivalent.
The idea of time travel as an invention implies a fairly concrete backstory of empirical study and methodology culminating in an anticipated goal, however implausible that goal and its achievement might be, whereas the events and actions which might have led to the population being decimutated in such a manner as to grant an inexplicable psionic power are not implied, even via the trope of the radiation-empowered superhuman. It’s not that there aren’t a whole other set of tensions between ideas or logical problems within the film, but the vast majority of these are post-credit concerns which don’t spoil the enjoyment of Looper as spectacle with the same ongoing presence.
It’s somewhat of a shame that the affectations of an almost-noir narration are used only to bookend the film, especially since Rian Johnson has some pedigree in the genre (his debut feature Brick), but the aesthetic juxtapositions of the city’s brute poverty and the obscenely baroque decadence of its violent upper-echelons help evoke the overtly abandoned form. Later, as the gaze refocuses on a more rural setting, the influence shifts from film-noir to its preceding instantiation in the western: anti-heroes and the irredeemably-damaged becoming folk-heroes just as the Blunderbuss, the Loopers’ weapon of choice, becomes visually apposite.
Even where Looper doesn’t quite work in terms of strictly making sense or as a cohesive set of ideas and technologies, it has a strong enough set of actors and characters to carry the action. Both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis play their respective Joes with separate yet compatible arcs, with the younger Joe having to hurriedly become the man his older self was at the point of his return whilst the older Joe reverts to the solipsism of his youth. Similarly both Emily Blunt and tiny yet rather incredible child-actor Pierce Gagnon have their own stories which are teased out against the backdrop of gunplay and other violence.
It’s something of an odd film then, which one might be tempted to label as a triumph of style over substance but that for all its pomp and flash the style is actually far shakier than its substance. The characters (the differentiation between protagonists and antagonists being somewhat blurred in Looper’s case) may be reacting to the senseless events that occur around them with a certain level of obliviousness, but they remain consistent in their self-interest and motivations. It may not stand the test of time or be numbered amongst the classics of its age or even its genre, but it’s a perfectly suitable way to waste some time.
* (vestigial point connecting this post to its immediate antecedent)