On Looper: A Bit of a Masterful Mess


So You Created a Wormhole co-writer best friend Nick and I headed out to the movies on Friday to catch Looper, because apparently no one has ever made a Bruce Willis time travel movie before, and it has lit up the Internet with time travel buzz.

Coming out a few hours later, we discussed what we liked about Looper — and we did like it — and how it fails with time travel because it’s a patchwork of logical incongruities and plot holes. Such is the fate of the time travel movie, and the reason we wrote the book in teh first place; we thought originally that we would explain why time travel movies suck at time travel so often and how to do one properly, but as we got into the project we realized that most movies cut so many corners because time travel is so incredibly complex. Plot holes are to be expected. They’re a fact of the genre.

And Looper and its director, Rian Johnson, purposely say repeatedly that they don’t want to get hung up in the boring analytical stuff. So even though Nick and I went to the movie and then pulled apart its timelines and time loops after the fact (we’ve actually written a blog post about it that will hopefully soon see publication at The Huffington Post), the movie and its creator don’t really want to be judged that way. Instead, the movie wants to be dealt with on the merits of its characters and drama, and I can respect that. (We still did our analysis, but it’s for the fun of playing with time travel, not as a critique of the film.)

Having discussed Looper a few times with a few different people, I have to say that I like that the is up front about its time travel intentions. It wants to create an exciting little world and test its characters based on the power that world might give them (or not give them). That’s the purpose of the film. And I believe that Johnson has at least thought through most of the logical dips and divots in the story, and has come to the decision either that he’d rather not deal with explaining those things because they’re not worth the portions of the limited run time they would cost, or that they’re too convoluted for the story he’s trying to tell.

You could call that a cop-out, if you wanted, and I’m sure there are people who are doing just that. On the one hand, Johnson is saying, “I want time travel but I don’t want to bother making it make sense.” And that’s sort of annoying, in its way; I hesitate to use the word lazy (I don’t think laziness is a factor), but it does seem like having cake while eating said cake.

But by the same token, Looper does mostly stick to the rules it lays out for itself. It cuts the corners, sure, but I respect that Johnson says at the outset that respecting corners is not what he’s looking to do. It’s one thing to ambitiously take on time travel, and then twist your own rules, make mistakes or watch your story crumble because you weren’t up to the challenge of handling time travel well; it’s one thing to try time travel and fail. It’s another thing to recognize the shortcomings of your movie in that regard and make a conscious decision that those shortcomings really don’t matter to the enjoyment and understanding of the story.

So I still recommend Looper because I still really enjoyed it. The performances are solid, even if the causality is a bit wonky and even if it pretends to be about a time loop but there’s actually not a time loop in it. Sure, the time travel is a bit of a mess — but time travel is usually a bit of a mess, and getting the time travel cleaned up and perfect isn’t the point. I love that it pretends to be a sci-fi gangster movie but that it’s really a western for all intents and purposes. And I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s two-hour Bruce-Willis-in-Die-Hard impression. Those things are great.

Rian Johnson doesn’t want you to sit around thinking about causality or paradoxes, and I for one say that it’s cool for him to ask you not to do that. Or if you want to do it, at least enjoy the movie for what it is first.

Published by Phil

He's like, you know, the guy.

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  1. Yeah, totally. I love that movie (and the short on which it is based). It’s almost strange that Looper got so much hype, though. Not sure what it is about that movie that resonates so well.

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