In reality, it is theorized that backwards time travel would be impossible because of the grandfather paradox. The grandfather paradox proposes the situation of a time traveller who goes back in time to the time when his or her grandfather was unmarried and at that time. The traveller kills his or her grandfather, therefore making it so the time traveller is never born as meant to be. Of course, you don’t have a paradox if the time traveller is sent back in time and immediately killed. That’s how closing the loop works in the new Rian Johnson action thriller, “Looper.”
“It’s 2044 and time travel hasn’t been invented yet, but in 30 years, it will be,” Joe, a looper played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, informs the audience. And the second time travel is invented, it is almost immediately made illegal, leaving just the crime lords and gangs using it to kill off their enemies by disposing their bodies in the past, since bodies are too easy to track in the future. When the victims are sent back to the past, loopers are waiting for them. The downside to being a looper is that in 30 years, your future self gets sent back to be killed, effectively closing the loop.
So as long as the loop is immediately closed, that grandfather paradox isn’t an issue. But when things don’t work out as planned, that’s when things get a little messy. One day, Joe is sent a man to kill off, but when he looks him in the eyes, he sees his future self (Bruce Willis) and hesitates long enough for Old Joe to escape. Old Joe is not ready to die and is hell bent on changing the past to save his love from the future. To do this, he plans to kill the kid that grows up to the mobster ordering the closing of loops.
“Looper” doesn’t get too caught up in explaining the specifics of time travel or in showing the futuristic elements of this society, which is still the future for the audience whether talking about young or old Joe. It’s setting is surprisingly mostly set at a very rural farm that could easily be something out of 2012. This decision is a smart one that helps the audience avoid poking too many holes in the science of this film (though as a Kansan, I did dwell on the fact that the Kansas farm was somehow growing sugar cane, of all things; it would have been so easy to make it a wheat or corn field). The decision to go rural also helps emphasize the importance of the present when dealing with a society so concerned with everything but the now.
Seeing Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis on screen together as one person at different stages in life was very well done. Levitt’s prosthetics and makeup helped him physically looked like Willis, but he also impressively matched signature Willis mannerisms–from little sighs to rapid eye blinks. If this wasn’t such a stern film in its tone, the scene of the two Joes sitting opposite each other in a diner would have produced more audible chuckles. Willis was in his element playing the tough badass mf he’s played in so many other films, but he had some really great acting moments in this film as well, where he got to break that stereotype and show a bit more vulnerability. The scene that really stands out is one where Levitt’s Young Joe is starting to fall for the farmer, Sara (Emily Blunt). As young Joe falls for her, this begins to alter Old Joe’s memory. Old Joe’s whole purpose in staying alive is to save his wife in the future (who is not Sara), so we see him falling from the weight of the new memory and clutching a picture of his wife, begging her not to fade from him. It’s a powerful scene that does a good job going back and forth between Young and Old Joe.
What this film really boils down to is the question of free will; what in your life do you really have control over? Are people pre-determined to be bad or good? Can we change another with nurture and upbringing? Are we destined for one true love? The only certain thing is that you have at least one choice: what you’re doing right now with your life at this very second in the present. And even that thought can lead to opening a whole new can of worms.