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Stephanie Ogrodnik [Celluloid 07.17.12] scifi action

As Emily Blunt spoke about Bruce Willis chatting on set while covered in blood, holding a flowery parasol, I couldn't help but wonder what this film was really about. Though his 2008 adventure, comedy Brothers Bloom had its share of action, sports cars and explosions, filmmaker Rian Johnson's Looper is a much higher caliber of action film, not to mention his first time tackling sci-fi. Emily Blunt praised the script for its originality, stating that it is a rare story not derived of anything else. However, after a somewhat lackluster footage release, I couldn't help but wonder how original a time travel story about a character facing his future self truly is, especially as the focus of discussion consistently shifted to how talented Bruce Willis is.

The story is set in the USA, approximately twenty years from today. Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Joe, a hired assassin known as a "Looper," that kills targets from the future. In 2072, when the mob wants to get rid of a victim, an enemy, etc., they send them back in time bound and blindfolded, to a discreet location where an armed Joe waits. When the mob decides they want to "close the loop" with Joe, meaning they want to end his contract, they send his future self back in time to be killed. For the first time, Joe hesitates and winds up breaking the first rule of being a Looper - don't let your target get away. The extra footage shown did little to inspire awe, though that may be due in great part to shoddy editing. One can only be so taken by dramatic quick cuts of characters looking stoic in attractive contemporary scenery. The dragging expositional voice over from Joseph Gordon-Levitt explaining the rules of looping in detail actually caused the footage to drag as well, though it was somewhat hilarious, considering Joseph Gordon-Levitt's involvement in Inception.

For the most part, there was little that was revealed to increase intrigue, aside from what we've already seen in the theatrical trailer. More bodies were blasted away with shotguns, we got a few glimpses of Bruce Willis covered in blood and shooting undisclosed victims. Considering the film is only set a few decades ahead, Johnson was careful to establish a world that we recognize as the future, yet feels within reach. Rather than giving us a lustrous future of blue lights, flying cars, he chooses his settings in familiar, down-to-earth territory, such as the cornfield we see in the trailer or a classic 50's style diner. The motorcycles do hover, but the machines' builds have a retro feel and are still well for wear.

While the footage focused less on setting up a dramatic futuristic world like the other Sony film panels for Total Recall and Elysium, more insight was given about the protagonist. We know that Abe, Joe's boss, admires him as the youngest Looper alive and that Joe is obviously too cocky for his own good. There was a brief look at a conversation in a diner, where older Joe scolds younger Joe for his wealthy playboy lifestyle steeped in murder and drugs. He desperately tries to explain that Joe should worry about his future, but Joe insists that this is only the future older Joe made for himself - he just has to tread his own path. It feels like a truly visceral scene and provokes the typical time travel question of what would you say to your younger self. However, some of the steam is taken out of that scene, due to a question brought up earlier in the clip: Has he already done this before? The answer to that question has the ability to make the entire following conversation irrelevant, yet Older Joe brushes off the question and instead proceeds to lecture himself about his own future.

My main concern with this movie is how Johnson handles the matter of explaining time travel. When an audience member asked Johnson what type of time travel film this would be, Johnson went into an almost nostalgic explanation of how the best part of Primer was breaking into the gritty details of time travel from the science of how it was possible to what it meant for the characters. He then went on to say that his film would be nothing like Primer. He said his story is constructed more in the way where developed characters are set up and the issue of time travel is quickly gotten out of the way to allow those characters to flourish. From the conversation in the diner described above, it looks like Johnson has already knocked away the issue of fate and has established that we do have the ability to change our future, should we have the opportunity. That said, it's a bit unclear as to what the significance of "closing the loop" truly means. There is a reason that the majority of time travel sci-fi involves facing one's past, rather than future (withholding A Christmas Carol) and usually it's because there's inherently more drama in the prospect of changing one's past. Theoretically, if destiny is within my control, I could violently gouge out my future self's eyes and it would make no impact on the known world because that body technically does not yet exist. That said, what is the significance of "closing the loop?" They establish that time travel has been outlawed and therefore no Looper can allow any target to escape, even if the target is themselves, but why send the Loopers future selves back at all if the mob is technically only connected with the Loopers thirty years in the past? Though there is nothing wrong with the format of setting up characters and driving the plot forward, this might not be the wisest decision for a film whose plot relies on these issues making sense.

It is too soon to know exactly how Johnson addresses time. It is highly possible, or perhaps probable, that the intricate plot of Looper will successfully answer these questions and that I'm simply letting out a lot of hot air for no reason. Both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt admired the script for its intricate layering and Johnson's ability to combine kick ass action with an intellectual plot. Joseph Gordon-Levitt also commended friend and filmmaker Rian Johnson by stating that while the money is always great, it shouldn't be an artist's main motivator and he could honestly say that Johnson is a man who loves making movies primarily for the love of movies. The main hope for this film is that it successfully upholds this level of praise rather than proving to be yet another fast-paced film with an intriguing premise that falls apart as soon as the top layers are peeled back.

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agentorange (9 years ago) Reply

Johnson hasn't really sold me on either of his films, so I remain hopeful that this will be his breakout. I'm not a firm believer in hard science explanations for fanciful set-ups like time travel, so his decision to have the time travel explanation "quickly gotten out of the way" feels like a good choice. 'Cause you know, Terminator never got into specifics ;)

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