Looper: All Loose Ends

While it pains me greatly to say so, Looper was vastly disappointing.

One of the things that I’d really come to love about Rian Johnson’s writing and directing through our Looper Prep sessions was his ability to deal with complicated subject matter without getting lost in the weeds. Looper, however, was all weeds.

Yeah. That’s right. Shoot me now.

At one point in the film, Bruce Willis’ older version of hitman Joe tells the younger version, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, that he can’t go into the details of the time travel stuff “or we’ll be here all day, making diagrams with straws.”

Well goddamn it, somebody should have. The time travel in Looper is utter garbage. It makes no sense on any level. I tried to overlook it for as long as I could, but the sad fact is that story didn’t engage me enough to suspend my disbelief. That’s not to say it was a terrible movie, or without merit, just that it was pedestrian at best. Of Johnson’s three features, I liked Looper the least by a wide margin.

Stylistically, the look kept me at a remove. Whether actual or digital, the alterations to JGL’s face to make him more resemble Willis were off-putting and odd. Characters came and went, largely without involving me. Worst off, I cannot even begin to start listing the holes in the film’s logic.

Even granting that time travel makes no sense in the first place, and forgiving the dismal, inconsistent, totally irrational treatment of it in this film—basic level plot pieces didn’t fit together. Why anyone did anything remains a near total mystery to me.

I will give you one, barely spoilery example. The entire premise hinges on the idea that “loopers” are hitmen who kill victims sent back in time from the future. They do this because killing people in the future is difficult (for reasons that also make no sense). The looper, when he grows to reach the age when time travel exists (or something similarly vague), is sent back in time so he can kill himself. This is called closing the loop. No loose ends, or something.

Here’s the thing, though:

Why, I ask you, would you, if you were a mafioso, ask someone to kill an older version of themselves? Would it not be vastly easier to send the old version to ANYONE ELSE IN THE ENTIRE FUCKING UNIVERSE and have them pull the trigger? Well, gee! Yes! I guess that would make sense!

But no. On we go into a world in which things happen because there’s some hidden emotional message to the tale that must be dragged free through these plot pretzels, whether or not they make a lick of sense (which they don’t). They compound and compound until one is left scratching clear through one’s own head.

And the emotional message, when it comes, hardly justifies the trip.

Now, I haven’t read any other reviews, as I wanted to see this film fresh. But I have seen lots of positive and even glowing headlines talking about the characters and Rian Johnson’s fresh take on sci-fi. I’m just going to assume I disagree with those folks. I cannot, in good conscience, tell you to see Looper.

But man, do I wish I could.

looper pierce gagnon

Pierce Gagnon gives excellent crazy face

I will say that Jeff Daniels is quite good and that the standout, by far, is the performance given by Pierce Gagnon. His scenes were the only time when I truly felt engaged in the movie. Lifted out of my chair, as it were. There were some other fun bits. A good line here or there. When I stopped trying to make sense out of what was happening and enjoy the film, I had some mild success.

Not to speak for them, but Mrs. Genius and the Being felt the same as I when leaving the theater. Perhaps they’ll add their two cents if they feel so moved.

I don’t regret looking forward to Looper, or digging deep into Rian Johnson’s back catalogue. I just wish he had applied some of the rigor he displayed in Brick and The Brothers Bloom to this script.

Time travel scorecard: D


Yeah. So. Crap. What should we look forward to next? Suggestions welcome.

29 responses on “Looper: All Loose Ends

  1. Ahem, that’s Dr. Genius to you. And I, unfortunately, completely agree. There were some almost-cool things that, had they been spotlighted more, would have made for a better film. But as it were, there were just too many themes and the gaping holes in logic were too large to overlook.

    I also completely agree that Pierce Gagnon is incredible. It’s almost worth seeing the film to watch his scenes. Can we call him baby genius?

  2. This article: http://www.slashfilm.com/ten-mysteries-in-looper-explained-by-director-rian-johnson/#more-140623

    gives some of Rian Johnson’s explanations for what I see as major story flaws. I find all of the explanations unsatisfying. If everything in your story needs a far-fetched explanation, you need another draft.

    Think about a sci-fi classic for example. You’re not asking yourself why the Alien wants to eat the crew of the Nostromo or why Obi Wan lets himself be killed by Darth Vader. These things make sense on a gut level. If Rian has to create some complex system of rules/logic to justify simple behavior, then… well. I already said it.

  3. My question. Bruce Willis comes back and doesn’t get shot. I’m fine with that. Loops open and they’re both on the run. Then why does the film immediately repeat the same scene that has already happened? And we start over? And Bruce Willis dies? But young Bruce grows up to become Bruce… That makes no sense logically… How can Bruce exist, if the first time he went back, he doesn’t get killed. I find it weird I haven’t heard anyone ask this same question online…

    • Yes. Exactly. Either actions in the past effect the future or they don’t. This film tries to have it both ways. If Old Joe doesn’t get killed by Young Joe, then Young Joe won’t grow up to find the same true love.

      Old Joe wants to drastically alter the future but retain the future he left. Super dumb. Incomprehensible.

      Plus, added bonus dumb: We are, at the end, left with the suggestion that it was Old Joe’s attempt on Cid’s life that scarred Cid and turned him into the Rainmaker EXCEPT in the future Old Joe came from, Old Joe was killed by Young Joe and he never attempted to kill Cid. So… yeah.

    • I thought it was obvious. The scene where Young Joe kills Old Joe is showing the first timeline to explain how he grows up to become old Joe and come back without the hood. He uses his foreknowldge to escape. Both scenes where Old Joe escapes are the same divergent timeline. We just flip to an alternate timeline to see him grow old.

      I agree it doesn’t make the greatest sense but I don’t think the film was really ABOUT time travel so I wasn’t too bothered.

      • yeah. you’re misunderstanding the question. i understand that there are two timelines. but, because there are multiple timelines, by changing them (escaping from his loop being closed) Old Joe is essentially ensuring Young Joe will NOT grow up to meet/marry his wife in the way he remembers. since he met her randomly in a bar, it pretty much won’t happen. so no wife. and since in the timeline he left, she was killed, no wife. basically: no wife.

        so Old Joe’s stated goal of “saving his wife” is pointless. either she’s already/future dead or she’s not/will not be his wife and so won’t be a target for the Rainmaker’s moronic men. even if somehow Young Joe does meet/marry this woman, the chance of same series of accidents resulting in her death happening is infinitesimally small. Old Joe might as well be protecting her from giant globs of toothpaste or rabid mites.

        that’s what i’m saying: either you can change the future or you can’t. if you can: future changed, job done. if you can’t, deal with it.

        • yeah I do agree. on the BAD open thread I said something similar:

          ‘In regards to the timetravel, it doesn’t really make sense because really by the end.. the Young Joe that Kills himself would never become the Old Joe that is trying to kill Cid. So I’m not sure how killing himself in this timeline would kill the Old Joe from a different timeline’

          I was a bit disappointed really if I’m honest. I like both of Rian Johnson’s previous films quite a lot but this left me underwhelmed.

          btw.. great site. not sure how I came across it. Keep it up.

          • thanks mash. glad you found us. i loved Rian’s first two films. the more i think about this one, the more i loathe it. oh well.

  4. I totally disagree with you… Sorry but I like the meaning behind the movie even if the plot was Only “so so”. It was an action movie that touched me on an emotional level. And I could be bias seeing that I am a mom. I would overall say this movie is worth seeing.

    • By the “meaning behind the movie” do you mean, “don’t be such a selfish ass?” It’s a nice sentiment, sure. I’m just not sure that Young Joe really learned that, though. I didn’t see him learn that, at least. He made a dramatic (and totally pointless) sacrifice to wrap things up neatly. Why he did so was explained in exposition, but didn’t really make sense for his character. Or make sense logically.

      But I’m glad you liked it. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s enjoyment of anything.

  5. I got out of the cinema a couple hours ago and was bitterly disappointed. Since then I’ve been browsing the web looking for people who share my opinion. I’m glad I could find solace here. Thank you.

  6. yikes. i just read that article you linked to with Johnson “explaining” the logic of the movie. wherein he explains exactly nothing and concedes that none of it makes any sense.

  7. I just came back from the theater and have to say that I did enjoy the movie overall; good performances by all the actors involved. However I lost about 15 minutes of the movie because I was trying to puzzle through one sequence of scenes that involve the first time old Joe goes back in time to be killed but turns his back etc… and gets away. This causes trouble for young Joe. Then somehow the scene repeats itself and the second time old Joe goes back in time to be killed he is killed. Shouldn’t those two scenes be in reverse order? In other shouldn’t Old Joe get killed the first time, loop is closed then he lives the next 30 yrs in which he meets his Asian wife THEN goes back and survives to cause all the trouble and set up the rest of the sequence of events. Is this a glaring editing issue or am I missing something?

    I agree too that the premise of the loopers is weak, i.e. sending people back in time to be killed.

    Other than that and the glaring “loophole” I mentioned above it was still worth watching.

    • You’re right. If played in reverse order, the scenes you’re referring to would have made more sense.

      I believe the writer/director did it this way so that the movie would seem more complex than it really is.

  8. They were going for a combination of the two major time travel rule-sets, I believe. The way that it struck me, was that both timelines happened simultaneously. As the events of the second timeline unfolded, the one where old Joe runs, The future was rewritten in real time for us. Perhaps old Joe didn’t know anything about the Rainmaker, until he escaped from young Joe, thus altering the future and thus gaining the knowledge thereof. Old Joe mentions that his memory is effected by the actions that young Joe takes, as they happen.

    This explanation still doesn’t save the plot from being corny, but it does justify the ending somewhat. In this movie, there are no parallel universes created by paradoxes. Instead, the future is simply altered directly by whatever takes place in the newly effected timeline. The one constant apparently, is that old Joe was always captured and sent back, up to the point where young Joe kills himself.

    Of course, he could’ve simply shot old Joe in the back and ran after the kid, and theoretically he could’ve survived to help raise the boy. They must have considered this, but they ultimately chose the more edgy, tragic scenario.

    This was a fun and entertaining, albeit highly flawed, action flick. There was a lot to dislike about it though. My least favorite bit of future fluff, was the air keyboard that Willis used to find the location of the Rainmaker. How would that make typing any easier? I was hoping for a future free of Apples “innovations”.

  9. I realized at a certain point (when Young Joe & Child Joe were co-terminal) that what was occuring was really a series of movements through parallel universes-

    I mean, I thought it was clear that Joe is his own father (pretty classic temporal paradox, right), and that Emily Blunt’s references to her “sister” were actually points where she was talking about an alternate reality version of herself.

    Just like Child Joe’s dialogue about “not being strong enough to protect his mother” show that the kid is a dimension-jumping character as well.

    Even with that, I found myself asking a lot of questions, in particular, why don’t the other Joes have telekenisis? That one stumped me.

    Time travel is to science fiction as “whodunnits” are to mysteries. There are *no* loose ends in either, if done right. Its like “Murder on the Orient Express” ending with a series of unrelated murders, that Poirot never bothers to even mention, much less solve.

    Afte seeing the movie, I looked up interviews with the director, and its clear he never bothered to establish any real motive for most of the movie.

    Towards the end, I felt like I was watching an over-long episode of “Lost.” Considering everything I had heard about this movie, *really* disappointed.

    • Woah. Tuppence. That’s pretty nuts. And I like it. I had never heard anyone suggest before that Joe and the kid were the same person. Mostly because I don’t think that’s established or indicated in the film. But it’s an interesting idea and I like thinking about it.

      In the end, though, it just reminds me of how much potential this idea had and how little of it I felt made it to the screen. I keep coming back to what I was saying last week about Django; if it’s a film that moves you emotionally on a surface level, one is willing to be inventive in finding meaning/explanation. If the film doesn’t move you, then its cracks show.

      • Sure, I think its set up almost right away, when Joe talks about how he can’t remember his mother (which is the same sort of “quantum memory fuzz” that Old Joe has later with his wife)

        and when Joe talks about his mother “running his hands through his hair”… that’s exactly what Emily Blunt does at the end. He never mentions this to her, and she does it out of reflex.

        I mean, its all just conjecture, anyhow. It reminds me a lot of “Whats in the suitcase” conversations after “PULP FICTION”, right?

        You’re right about the emotional movement of a movie – I write movies for a living, and the thing I hate *most* is logic. I’ve always thought that film (and theatre, where I got my start) is just someone else’s dream that we’re given the privilage of getting to watch. So, of course, it should follow the logic of dreams, which are mostly emotional truths.

        But still, having been working on an adaptation of an Agatha Christie script for some time now for a studio, you may hate logic, but you better recognize its existence.

        Thanks for entertaining my hypothesis!

        • My pleasure! It was and is entertaining. And I do see hints of what you’re mentioning, just mixed in with a lot of other noise. I’m not sure how the kid would have time travelled to become young Joe but… Logic. Right. It’s important to create a framework for story, so people can engage and understand. Otherwise what should be a major plot point is missed even by those who are looking and inclined to see.

          That said, it seems many did engage with Looper. Why they did and I didn’t is something I’m considering.

          • Yes. Hulk has some good things to say but his premise is “being engaged is more important than logic.” While I agree to some extent, being engaged is subjective.

            I was not engaged by Looper. And I wasn’t engaged because I could not map the story to an objectively comprehensible reality.

          • I’m with the evil genius. I didn’t dislike Looper because of the plot-holes. I disliked it because I didn’t think it worked as a *movie*. It was under-structured, had broad strokes for characters, and became strangely static about halfway through.

            I started noticing the plot holes because I wasn’t interested in the movie. I’m pretty sure “Lost Highway” has more than a few gaps in logic, but I find the movie so haunting, creepy, compelling, and atmospheric, that I never bothered to look for them.

            For me, Looper isn’t a bad movie because it fails to express a rigorous time-travel narrative. For me, Looper is a bad move because its a *bad movie.*

  10. Yeah, especially since my experience with Hollywood mainly involves the word “why”. As in, when you’re developing something, the only question anyone asks is “why does he do this” or “why does he get that thing”. Which is *why* you end up with thirty pages of back-story as your first act. Because everyone wants you to explain EVERYTHING. So I find it extra super puzzling that you could put a script together and never go through the withering “gauntlet of why”.

    I’ve always thought screenplays should operate on the “Law of Economy” – everything is *essential* to the script. Anything un-essential is a thing that the script abhors. So out it goes. Its like in “Die Hard” when at the beginning they mention the watch that Bonnie Bedelia was given for closing that deal. That’s the thing that kills Hans. Even the WATCH is essential in that awesome, most awesome movie.

    But that seems to be less a law and more a notion these days: in days past it was “You wanted a miracle? I give you the F. B. I.”

    good talk, man!

  11. Backstory as first act drives me completely bonkers. Movies are about people doing things. All you need to start a movie is a person doing something. I always loved the bit at the start of Die Hard where Bruce Willis’s seatmate tells him his theory of squishing one’s bare feet into the carpet after a long flight. Which Willis does. And hence he’s stuck with bare feet for the whole movie. It’s those kind of little things that make so much difference in a smart script.

  12. How did cid become the rainman in the beginning if Joe killed his future self? God damn fucking loop holes!

  13. Pingback: Looper – 4.5 stars | filmvetter·

Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, man.

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