Looper is a dark, gritty action thriller about a crime syndicate operating in the future and distant future at the same time. Sound confusing? Well, you’re right, it is.
The audience plays catch-up for the first half of the movie, starting from the opening scene where we see Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, waiting in a field and practicing French. Suddenly a man appears in front of him, bound and with a bag over his head. Joe immediately shoots the man in the chest with a high-tech shotgun.
This shockingly fast violence sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The story focuses on Joe , who is a “looper,” or assassin of men from the future.
In this world, a mob from the future uses illegal time-travelling technology to send people they want killed back thirty years so that they can be killed and disposed of easily. Joe understands that eventually the person that will appear in that field to be killed will be his future self. This is known as “closing his loop.” But Joe is taken by surprise when that day comes and future Joe, portrayed by Bruce Willis, arrives unbound and ready to fight.
What follows is a violent painful journey as the two Joes fight to survive the dark gangland that they inhabit and change the future.
Although this is an action-packed movie, it is also very much a writer’s film with a large chunk of the movie dedicated to plot and character development. The most striking element of the movie is the moral struggles that each character works through. None of the characters are saints and are, in fact, quite the opposite. Each character is the twisted, drugged-out, and often psychotic result of living on the streets and fighting for survival for their entire lives. And yet, despite their harsh natures, the audience can’t help but be drawn in by these characters and root for them to change.
Through this story we see these people deciding between helping themselves and helping others in a world where charity is a foreign concept, and the disparity between the rich and poor is huge. Sometimes they make the right choice, but often their rationalizations win out and they end up serving themselves in the end.
The theme throughout the film seems to be the weakening relationships between people in the future. There is a very strained sense of personal responsibility. Every character has been taught by life that they can only look out for themselves, and this reluctance to act in an altruistic manner appears in many instances throughout the movie. Early in the narrative, Joe allows one of his friends to die so that he won’t lose his life savings.
Joe was taught to act in own interest from his role models, and later in the film, he in turn teaches a ten-year-old boy the same lesson. This futuristic world is one that has grown out of our current system of inequality. The wider the gulf stretches between the working class and upper class, the less motivation to help out our neighbors. This film speaks to this growing apathy and argues the consequences of letting this pattern continue.
However, while this movie is far from a feel-good film, it does have momentary flashes of humor that break up the harsh tone and a hopeful ending which leaves the viewer wondering where the story will go from there.
The director, Rian Johnson, combines brilliant cinematography, brutal violence, and a phenomenal cast to create a unique movie that is well worth watching.