I was nervous walking in to see Looper at the weekend, and not only because the cinema was surrounded by rugby fans. Science fiction is my favourite genre at the movies and the last time my hopes were built up they were dashed – I’m looking at you, Prometheus. Looper has not been helped by the posters draped across the sides of buses, ridiculously proclaiming that the film is the ‘The Matrix of the Decade’. But, feeling boosted by a succession of good reviews and buoyed up by the thought that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis are its stars and not even deterred by Emily Blunt (having largely recovered from my anti-Bluntitis), I was ready to be generous.
It’s worth pointing out that I am a huge Star Trek fan and as such I am well trained in the technique of adjusting my brain to deal with the distortion of temporal anomalies. This involves the acceptance of plotting anomalies. Time travel invariably ties both the traveller and the cinema-goer in knots – after a while it makes sense to stop puzzling over whether something could have happened like that if that other thing had not happened like this and if someone had not gone back in time to do the thing he shouldn’t do in order for us to be like we are now and not in the past but maybe in the future. It’s a miracle our heads don’t burst.
This anomaly acceptance is crucial for an appreciation of Looper. It has a fantastic premise behind it. Looper is set in the 2040s, a time when the divide between rich and poor is immense and the rich protect themselves from the poor (and other rich) with blunderbusses. Fashions look back to the 20th century and little fuel remains to power failing, decrepit cars. This is a man’s world where women entertain in bars and both sexes dull the monotony with narcotics dripped into their bodies via their eyes. Life and death are cheap.
Time travel has not been invented but thirty years from then it will be and in the 2070s the ruling thugs send their victims back thirty years in time, blindfolded, wrapped in silver bars, to be shot dead by a team of assassins, Loopers. The silver is their payment. But time travel is a secret in the future and there comes a time when even the Loopers must be silenced. When that happens, the payment is in gold.
Looper is a film divided in two and while the first half seduces with the glamorous trappings of science fiction – clever cinematography, villains in black, beautiful club girls, shocking violence, drug dreams, surprises – the second half astonishes thanks to the introduction of Sara (Emily Blunt), and the difficult relationship, so imbued with the deepest emotion and dread, between Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Add Sara’s son Cid – played remarkably by Pierce Gagnon – and you have the secret of the success of Looper. It combines intriguing world building, a great premise, a large amount of mystery and enormous quantities of something that goes deeper. Watching Joe learn about himself is a moving process despite being wrapped up in SF glitter.
The cast is excellent. Bruce Willis reminded me here of his portrayal of James Cole in Twelve Monkeys. Willis makes science fiction characters complex and he shares the screen here with another actor who clearly shares the same talent, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
Looper is a film that deserves the buzz. It shifts and bends in unexpected ways. It has one scene in particular that I may never forget. In fact, the whole film will stay in the mind long after I’ve given up trying to figure it out.