Looper: Facing Yourself in a Dystopian Future

By Aniruddha Basu • Published on October 17, 2012

Looper[I]t’s been the year of Hollywood. After  stellar big ticket offerings like The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Moonrise Kingdom and Arbitrage, comes Looper the latest sci-fi time bender about the perilous notion of doing battle with your future self. The film directed by Rian Johnson, who shot to fame with the gripping high school neo-noir drama Brick, tells a fascinating story which is complex and original, but one which is also a product of multiple influences; due homage is paid to Hollywood classics including The Terminator, The Usual Suspects and Memento. It also owes more than a little to early Stephen King . (think Firestarter, Carrie)

In its conceptualization  style and execution Looper is compelling and brave. It uses the much abused clichés of time travel  (you meeting your future self for example),  futuristic thrillers ( a mother and son stalked by a warrior from the future) and fear in isolation (the lonely cornfields in Signs) but manages to transcend all clichés and move into the realm of mythical allegory. It takes bold risks with storytelling and audience expectations and most of the director’s choices pay off.

The narrative is set in a dystopian future in 2044 where China is the new superpower and the U.S. society has started imploding. What we see is an American  society where class wars have seemingly ended , and that too badly (almost everybody is either disprivileged or a gangster), and where through some mysterious mutation, 10 percent of the population have acquired telekinetic abilities—small things like making a coin or a lighter airborne.

The protagonist Joe (Joesph Gordon Levitt adds yet another impressive performance to his resume after The Dark Knigh Rises) is  a hitman who executes people sent back three decades to him by the future mafia. Hitmen like Joe, also known as the titular Loopers, enjoy fine luxuries like expensive nightclubs and fast cars which most can only dream of. All Joe has to do is execute the luckless victims who come bound and blindfolded from the future, dispose off the body and stash his silver. It’s that simple.  There is only one golden rule: The target must not be allowed to escape alive.

Joe’s uncomplicated life and comfortable existence (he is learning French so that he could move to France once he retires) is shattered when he finds out that his next victim is his own older self, sent back in time to be disposed off and “close the loop”. He hesitates to shoot , and Joe Senior( a kickass Bruce Willis) takes it on the lam, jeopardising his younger self’s safety with the mob boss (Jeff Daniels in a superb cameo).

It turns out that in 2074 the crime world is all but taken over by the “Rainmaker” a shadowy, ominuous crime head in 2074, who has unleashed a global “reign of holy terror” (yes, the Keyser Soze overtones cannot be ignored). Joe Sr is on a mission to discover the Rainmaker’s origins in 2044 and kill him to end his unholy reign.

Levitt in heavy prosthetics is made to resemble an younger Bruce Willis, none too plausibly, but there is a stunning montage which shows Joe ageing 30 years culminating in a funny scene where the character loses most of his hair and ends up looking the senior Willis. Though the actors do not really look like alike they perform their parts flawlessly with the younger Levitt absorbing some of the older actor’s mannerisms which are shown to good effect in a face-off in a lunch café.

What starts off threatening to be a standard Terminator/Back to the future action clone becomes at the halfway point a film about moral choice and character study. Joe Junior takes refuge with a single mom and her son, in an isolated farm in Kansas. There, he befriends the strange unsettling kid who might be harbouring a terrifying secret (child actor Pierce Gagnon delivers an astonishing performance). His interaction with the mother-son duo propels the story to a stunning and unexpected Biblical climax where the time travel juggernaut is resolved in an unpredictable fashion.

For a change, the film is not an adaptation of some best-seller or graphic novel. The script is an original and the strength of the film lies in the muted subdued moments, that are often shattered by sudden bursts of rage and violence. Also irresistible are the details. Black people seem to have disappeared (much like in Bladerunner).  The time machine when shown is no glitzy spectacle but an old fashioned wiry telepod perhaps that HG Wells might very well have dreamed of.

The fluid cinematography does a terrific job in contrasting the  seedy rundown urban American streets with a shiny, glittering, futuristic Shanghai (obviously replacing Manhattan as the City of the Future).  The characters, especially the Loopers, dress up in ties and dinner jackets, as if they belong in some gangster classic of the 20th century. Like the gangster in Godard’s Breathless they allow their lives to be dictated by cinematic mores. They don’t live in the present. The conclusion does not tie up everything neatly, instead opting for a somewhat open ended approach, ensuring that movie geeks will be debating the film on internet chat sites for some time to come. This is one of the best Hollywood offerings in 2012. And with the new James Bond saga Skyfall also being called as the best in the series, the good times are still not over.

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