Note: I saw Looper years ago, but am posting some brief thoughts because director Rian Johnson was recently selected to write and direct Star Wars Episode VIII…
There’s a lot about Looper that I appreciate. Looper goes beyond the usual tropes about assassinating Hitler and finds a unique angle for a time travel story. In the future, criminal syndicates use time travel to conduct assassinations by sending those they want killed back into the past where they are killed by “loopers”, assassins paid with silver bars strapped to the victims.
Admittedly, I always have trouble getting over the paradoxes in any time travel film. Time travel doesn’t make sense. In some time travel films, such as Back to the Future, time travel is a plot device for a character-driven story. In other films, time travel provides an excuse to put familiar characters in a new environment, as in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In such films, time travel isn’t the point of the story, it’s just a mechanism through which the story is told. The film only ask audiences to suspend disbelief just enough to travel with the characters.
Not so in Looper. Looper asks viewers to take its time travel very seriously. That means that any unexplained time travel paradoxes stick out all the more. And the laws of time travel in Looper are wildly inconsistent. Sometimes an event in the past seems to have an immediate effect on characters in a future timeline. For example, a crime boss might cut off somebody’s arm or brand his skin, and 30 years in the future that same person will start to notice the effects. Ultimately, it required a bit too much suspension of disbelief .
Even beyond the normal time travel paradoxes, the storytelling becomes quite convoluted. The first part of the film jumps around different time periods and barely gives the viewer time to understand the world of Looper and know the characters. The film slows down in the latter half, but also shifts gears quite suddenly. It’s no longer a time travel story and instead becomes a murder mystery (namely, who will kill the looper played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the future). I think this part of the film actually has some nice character moments, but I didn’t feel like I’d had enough time to really be invested in the characters.
Rian Johnson clearly knows how to create ambiance in his films. Looper is dark, gritty, and times disturbing. I’d love to see Johnson take that skill and apply it to a more focused story. Looper simply has too many ideas in play at once and struggles to do justice to them all. The story jumps around so much that by the end I had to read the movie synopsis on Wikipedia just to understand what had happened and why.