Saturday, June 8, 2013

Flick Backtrack: Looper

Directed by: Rian Johnson
Written by: Rian Johnson
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis


Popcorns for the hungry mind are easy to find in today’s slew of science fiction flicks. Harder to seek out are those that aren’t too caught in the complex technicalities of metaphysics or any other weird branch of science. Too much explanation, too much action, and what you get is a cold story that doesn’t do much aside from driving you bonkers. Can’t we get at least one intelligent movie this year that actually has a heart?

Enter Rian Johnson’s Looper, a sci-fi thriller that touches on the topic of time travel. In the year 2074, time travel will be invented, but dangerous possibilities of messing with history prompted the authorities to outlaw the practice. In an era of economic collapse and black markets, crime bosses made use of time travel to be their easiest murder-and-disposal method. Tracking system in the future is so advanced that they couldn’t hide bodies, so what they do is send their targets 30 years back and have a “looper” kill the victim. Needless to say, loopers are special kinds of assassins. The reason they are named as such is the way their employers end their contracts: they have to kill future versions of themselves, aka “closing a loop.” This is because crime bosses don’t want any trace of the murder or a relationship with a looper to be connected to them.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is one of the loopers in the year 2044. The time to finally terminate his contract has come, but his older version (Bruce Willis) ends up escaping him. To avoid getting in trouble with his boss, Joe dashes after Old Joe to clean up the mess. But it seems like escaping isn’t only the mission Old Joe has in mind. Apparently, he is determined to kill the child that will be the abominable ganglord Rainmaker in the future, who becomes responsible for the death of countless loopers and Old Joe’s wife. In a world where cleaning up actually means stuffing your closet with more skeletons than it could possibly hold—and when being a looper is synonymous to being both a murderer and a suicide-committer—can Joe do the right thing? And what exactly is the right thing for someone whose hands were stained with too much blood and amorality?

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the most simplified explanation for the film Looper. But despite how it sounds, steeling your brain for a potential battering wouldn’t be necessary. Yes, it can make you scrunch your brow, but its plot wasn’t fashioned in a way that would give you migraines. There’s a scene where Old Joe grumpily refuses to discuss time travel, saying that “if we start, we're going to be here all day, making diagrams with straws." It’s Johnson’s subtle way of telling us to turn our focus on the film’s well-told story instead on the scientific mechanics lying beneath its premise.

What was supposed to be a generic time travel flick turned out to be an in-depth character portrait—a story of salvation, sacrifices, and changing destinies. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to take its own sweet time to flesh out its characters and develop the plot. Gordon-Levitt was powerful in his depiction of the grim Joe. In fact, the way he made the character palpably human was worth a standing ovation. Joe may be a drug addict that perfectly blends in with the movie’s seedy setting, but he’s really just a man who longs for a normal life—something that, even after his plans of resigning as a looper, he probably wouldn’t get. Willis’ performance as the anti-villain was commendable, too. His character effectively showed that just because you’re older doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wiser.

The film’s second half is vital in its own way, telling the Rainmaker’s origin and how irony catches Old Joe in its mischievous net. Emily Blunt’s Sarah was all heart and (metaphorical) brawns, and she’s as three-dimensional as a secondary character could get.

While the ending wasn’t entirely unexpected, it was potent enough to elicit heartfelt reactions from the audience. The basic nugget of wisdom is easy to grasp: tinkering with the past to change the future is a pipedream even in Looper’s world, but changing your present to make the next minute better is possible, if only you’re selfless enough to make the right decision.

As a whole, Looper contains a rare story that gets the exact formula for a real reel treat. There were many dashes of futurism—hover bikes and telekinetic mutation, anyone?—but it manages to establish connections to our present through copious references to the “past,” the 20th century. That’s not counting the emotional links it hooks into the audience. It’s a proof that no matter how interesting an intelligent movie may be, it couldn’t lend itself much to memory muscles if it doesn’t have a heart.


Published in Gala magazine.

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