Tuesday, 26 May 2015

film review: Looper (2012)

Time travel has not yet been invented. But thirty years from now, it will have been. It will be instantly outlawed, used only in secret by only the largest criminal organisations. It’s nearly impossible to dispose of a body in the future, I’m told. Tagging techniques, what not. So when these criminal organisations in the future need someone gone, they use specialised assassins in our present called Loopers. And so, my employers in the future nab the target, they zap them back to me, their Looper. He appears, hands tied and head sacked, and I do the necessaries. Collect my silver. So the target has vanished from the future, and I’ve just disposed of a body that technically does not exist. Clean.
Although well made, in a grimy dystopian noir sort of way, and fun to watch, in a mindless sort of way, the plot of Looper doesn’t hold up to even the smallest scrutiny. Let’s start with that lazy introductory voice-over: only criminal organisations use this outlawed tech? There’s no Time Police hunting them down? Given the way they can change the timeline? And the only use these master criminals can think of for time travel, instantly outlawed presumably for the amazing power it has, is to dispose of some bodies? Oh, and “tagging techniques” that could seemingly survive incineration or other 2074 disposal technology, somehow don’t raise suspicions when people keep going poof from time-machine-containing warehouses? Nope.

There’s more voice-over (why should I bother summarising this stuff when they couldn’t bother to work out how to film it?):
There’s a reason we’re called Loopers. When we sign up for this job, taking out the future’s garbage, we also agree to a very specific proviso. Time travel in the future is so illegal, that when our employers want to close our contracts, they’ll also want to erase any trace of their relationship with us ever existing. So if we’re still alive thirty years from now, they’ll find our older self, zap him back to us, and we’ll kill him like any other job. This is called closing your loop. You get a golden payday, a handshake, and you get released from your contract. Enjoy the next thirty years. This job doesn’t tend to attract the most forward-thinking people.
Anyway, that voice-over is spoken by Young Joe [Joseph-Gordon Levitt], a Looper who’s about to encounter his future self, Old Joe [Bruce Willis], sent back to close his loop. Things do not go well. We know he has to kill his older self, as we’ve seen what happens to a Looper who messes up.

First time round the loop, he does as he should: Young Joe’s contract is closed, and he gets to enjoy the next 30 years. But when now-Old Joe, a somewhat reformed character, is captured by The Rainmaker’s mob to be sent back, he manages to change things, so that when he arrives in the present, this time round Young Joe fails to kill him. The chase is on: Young Joe must find and kill Old Joe, to avoid the grisly fate of failed Loopers. But Old Joe has a mission: to kill the future crime boss The Rainmaker while he is still a young child, Cid (maybe not that reformed, then), to stop his rise to power in the future. Time lines are fracturing and the future is unsure: eventually Young Joe makes a desperate sacrifice to avoid catastrophe.

The main timelines are nicely shown in this graphic:

This graphic illustrate my first peeve with the plot. Old Joe is trying to kill Cid to make sure he doesn’t grow up to become The Rainmaker, but it becomes clear it is Old Joe’s efforts that make him the Rainmaker, so Old Joe must be stopped. But actually it’s not clear that’s what makes Cid into The Raimaker, as he existed in the initial timeline, which started all this process. (Old Joe killed Sara in timeline B, setting off the Rainmaker transformation, but we don’t know what happened to her in timeline A.)

But my main peeve is with the whole underlying premiss. We see what happens to a Looper who fails to kill his returned older self. The organisation starts chopping bits off the young version; the older version then has these bits chopped off too, but there is no other change to the timeline. Young guy looses a finger: old guy in the present suddenly notices he has a finger missing, all nicely healed up. Then another finger goes. Then his nose. Then a foot. Then a leg. By the end, there’s hardly anything left of him. Given all his wounds are healed, presumably because the younger one lives (lived? will live?) long enough to heal, how one earth does this not have any other effect on the timeline? How does the chopped up guy get to come back? Okay, let’s say for the sake of plot it somehow doesn’t change the timeline. But then Young Joe uses this technique to make his sacrifice in order to change the timeline: not just to stop Old Joe now, but to make Old Joe never have happened. WTF?

And that sacrifice is just stupid. Young Joe has no real reason to believe it will heal the timeline. He could just carry on, become Old Joe, and do something different the next time round, make things better. And if that doesn’t work, do things differently again. He’s so right: “This job doesn’t tend to attract the most forward-thinking people.”

Oh, and the reason Cid can become The Rainmaker is that he’s powerfully telekinetic. Hint: don’t add two impossible things to your SF: either time travel or telekinesis, but not both. Especially without thinking through the consequences of either.


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