Looper and Stories that Can't End Well

October 8, 2012 at 5:16pm

Looper is a striking, well-wrought, and tragically character-driven film that reaches so far past its time-travel concept to tell a powerful story with imagery as cutting as its posters would suggest.

With voiceovers and the development of minor characters succinctly expositing the mechanics and Cormac McCarthy-esque worldbuilding of the film, the opening act shows that entering into a contract as a looper more than transforms Joe nominally; he turns his life into its own vicious cycle. The concept of "closing your loop" is hard not to see as a Gordian knot metaphor — ensuring the entanglement of your past and your future.

As self-entitled as they feel, loopers don't get second chances. The gang's dealings with Seth and other Seth make that abundantly clear. It's made all the more painful when Joe's second chance is taken away from him by the Rainmaker; this, in turn, motivates Joe to take away Cid's second chance at a normal life in the past. Old Joe sees Young Joe in the diner and is shown the extent to which he didn't deserve his own second chance. However, no matter how much he berates his younger self for his self-destructive selfish entitlement, isn't his purpose to reclaim his own future? It's not a sense of righteousness, but a manifestation of self-hate that Joe expresses.

Looper is a film about making choices, and the price and consequence at which those choices come. Joe acknowledges that the looper lifestyle doesn't exactly attract the most forward-thinking mentality. They don't want to think about the wibbly-wobbly implications of time travel might fry your brain like an egg, only about their payment (in silver, perhaps 30 pieces), which is a short term reward. The incredible shortsightedness of these decisions is something that plagues both of his lives. Old Joe, in the span of 30 years, comes to know selflessness and the merits of life in the long term; when the Rainmaker's men come for him in the future and he fights back, he fights against the choice he made for himself years ago. He refuses to accept the consequences of his own decision. Similarly, when Joe the Younger is confronted with the culmination of all of his decisions — an endless cycle of self-perpetuating violence and hurt between the boy, the man, and his reflection, he desperately rejects the outcome in the film's climax and finally grows up past the childish mentality he saw in himself. It becomes not about what he deserves, but about taking responsibility for the choices he made and the tangled loop of the knot he was about to tighten.

I particularly appreciated the solemn chord progression as the film faded out to white, and the respectable amount of silence following the beginning of the credits. It's a thing of beauty that this film encourages the reflection that usually occurs after the closing of the film, before walking out of the theater. Looper showed us the entrapment and the impossibility of easy escape in our self-wrought labyrinths in a way that really could never have ended well. Sometimes, we don't get the happy ending to which we as audiences feel entitled.