There has been a lot said about time travel lately, on this blog and around the web. Too much, maybe. Definitely. But you can’t stop me. And I want to respond to people who don’t understand why I’m being so vocally critical of Looper.
In case you’re tired, here’s the précis:
1. Time travel never makes any real sense.
2. Nothing in Looper makes sense, even the non-time travel stuff.
Why Time Travel Doesn’t Make Sense (Ever)
Time travel is currently not possible. You may have noticed.
The reason it doesn’t exist is because time is wholly different from the other dimensions in which we travel. We can talk as if we have a sense of time as a dimension, like ‘depth’ or ‘length,’ but we don’t. Going back 10 feet is not at all the same as going back 10 days. This is because the final 9 feet do not need that 1st foot to exist unaltered in order to remain unchanged.
Time, as far as human consciousness is currently concerned, is consecutive. This moment now must occur before the next one. Even if you can somehow skip around in time, those moments still progress in chronological order (just maybe not in your subjective experience). Things that happen in the future are dependent on the present.
You can’t change anything in the past without leaving a lot of logic behind. If you start ‘changing the past’ essentially what you’re saying is that you/your character’s perspective on the universe overrules everyone else’s. I.e.: We all lived until we were middle aged, but then I went back in time and killed you so ha ha ha, actually you NEVER DID or maybe you did once but not now and somehow I get to live my youth twice? Wait. Forget it.
Alternate Universes Don’t Help
If you want to consider jumping to alternate universes to be time travel—which it may be on top of many other things—that just complicates things. As the Supreme Being points out, if dimensional travel is also time travel, that’s the least impressive thing it is.
In any case, if we’re talking about travelling to alternate universes, then nothing we do in another universe will change what happened in the universe we left. You are not “changing the future.” You are living your life over in a different way in a different place.
If I cut off the nose of a younger version of your best friend Seth in a different universe, it will have no result on Seth’s nose in this one. It is not the same nose. It is not the same Seth.
Combining these two conceptions of time travel makes as much sense as trying to sneeze your way to Atlantis. You can change things in some other dimension, or you can travel in time in your dimension. Both is dirty pool. And both without some sort of justification or explanation is just insulting.
Bring a Map
You aren’t where you were when you started to read this sentence. You’ve travelled at least 150 miles by now.
The Earth spins, on the Equator, at over 1,000 mph. It orbits the sun at approximately 63,000 mph. The entire solar system is orbiting around the galaxy at 446,000 mph. It does not take a math genius to undertand that jumping even 1 second in time would also require physically moving a person vast distances just to keep them in the same place relative to the Earth.
So if you want to travel back from, say, 30 years in the future in China to today in Kansas and end up on your knees on the ground (which isn’t a constant height relative to sea level) with your back to a man holding a gun, you do the math. I’ll be waiting. A long fucking time.
Looper Doubles-Down on Dopey
If time travel is such a mess at the best of times, why do people like me complain when films like Looper are so unbelievable?
Because storytelling is an art.
I can let a lot of things in a film go. I can ignore the unreality of faster than light travel, or explosions making sound in space, or what have you.
The reason Looper exasperated me is because everything Rian Johnson bothered to demonstrate in the film was contradictory and nonsensical. Forgiving the inherent nonsense of time travel itself, the story level conceits we, as an audience, were asked to swallow were just too much.
Characters didn’t make any sense.
Here’s just one example. Old Joe wants to ‘save his wife’ by changing the past. That is his primary motivation. He also speaks as if he understands the mechanics of time travel (although he won’t explain them). If he knows that changing the past will change the future, then certainly he knows that the younger version of himself is vastly unlikely to meet his wife-to-be in the future because he’s just drastically changed the past by surviving. So what is he doing? If he just wants revenge on Cid, well, killing him as a kid seems like a pretty fucked up way to get it. The future he came from already happened and he’s left it. He can’t go back (no time machines). Even assuming time travel works in the screwy way Rian Johnson tells us it does, Old Joe hasn’t got a chance in hell of making anything better for himself or his young self. And so.. he’s just an asshole. A one-dimensional character. That’s our main character, or half of him at least.
Another example: Sarah is a young party girl. She ditches her son with her sister who owns a farm. She finds out that her son has killed her sister with his massive, uncontrollable telekinetic powers. So she decides to move to the farm and run it while caring for a dangerous and previously unloved toddler. Even though she likely knows not a single thing about being a farmer, motherhood, or why a farmer would have a full-size safe on the second floor of a farmhouse in buttfuck Kansas. Uh. Okay? More likely she’d shoot her kid in the back of the head and go back to dripping stuff into her eyeballs.
If I don’t understand why a character does something, I don’t like them. I don’t like these characters. They are all idiots, assholes, crazy, or idiotic, crazy, assholes.
The premise doesn’t make sense.
Is it impossible to kill people in the future or not? If it is, then why did Old Joe’s wife get killed? Why did the Rainmaker go on the destructive spree Old Joe saw on the news? If it isn’t impossible, then why bother with the whole Looper thing in the first place? Am I supposed to believe that the Rainmaker is some uber-gangster and yet he can’t have his enemies killed for fear of… what? Tracking devices in corpses? He’s got access to time machines and he uses them to kill middle-aged, retired assassins?
That may be the stupidest thing in the movie.
Since Cid grew up with loopers killing people and with loopers escaping “closed loops,” he must know his plan to rid the world of loopers is pointless. What’s more, he must know that the only way to ensure his mother does not get killed (which she doesn’t, in any time line we see) is to DESTROY ALL THE TIME MACHINES and stop sending old loopers back in the first place.
Funny. He seemed like such a smart kid. How’d he grow up into such a stupid jerk?
The plot doesn’t make sense.
Even given the strange, contradictory explanations we’re given to time travel in Looper, can anyone explain to me how the Rainmaker’s relationship to his mother could possibly be the primary causal factor leading to his future rampaging? Old Joe came back from a timeline in which Young Joe closed the loop on Old Joe and in which Old Joe DID NOT KILL Cid’s mom or give him a face scar… and yet the Rainmaker in that future had a scar and was awfully mad at loopers. So does changing the past matter or not? Fuck if I can tell. The only answer is: when it suits the writer.
And that’s it, really. “When it suits the writer” means no one bothered to write the script in a way that would pass muster. Could it have been done? Certainly. Did Rian Johnson do it? No.
Now, you can argue that Looper was a lot of fun and smart for a sci-fi film and that you love it. I have no problem with any of those statements. It certainly was smarter than Transformers 3 or Skyline.
I’m not looking for films that are better than that shit, though. I want to watch films like Children of Men. I want to watch films like District 9. I want films to make more sense the more I think about them, so I can watch them over and over and cherish them. I want them to give me ideas, crazy ideas, that make my brain expand and explode.
That’s what a good movie does. That’s a movie I’ll tell you and everyone to go and see. You don’t need me to tell you to see a film like Looper. And I wont. Because it isn’t good.