“Looper” Throws You for One

By Michael S. Goldberger

Special to the Observer


“Looper,” writer-director Rian Johnson’s entrée into the sci-fi, fry-your-brain, time travel cinema sweepstakes, is just the dish for those who like an enigma wrapped up in an anomaly, frizzled with action and tossed with lots of perplexity. And if there’s anybody out there who can make sense of it, well, then I’ve got a country you might want to run.


Nonetheless, it’s fascinating stuff, built on an imaginative hypothesis that has intrigued humankind even before we could keep time. It’s about flitting back and forth in history, changing one’s destiny at the pull of a lever or by issuing an incantation. Never mind that, of all the inventions we can dream of, this is the least likely to ever be realized.


It’s a good thing, too. Otherwise, I might have gone back to grammar school, done better in math, passed organic chemistry in college, become a dermatologist rather than a film critic, and instead of reading this review you’d be having me clear up Junior’s acne. So this works out better, at least for you, as I most likely wouldn’t accept your insurance.


But if you think that’s convoluted, wait until you get a load of this premise. It is 2042 in that post apocalyptic-looking world so popularly imagined of late…junk strewn on the streets, a land of haves and have-nots (hmm). But Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe is making a good living, paid in silver as a hit man for the mob of the future…in 2072, to be specific.


You see, while time travel hasn’t been invented yet, up in 2072 it has…though the government has outlawed it save for very secret use. Of course that hasn’t deterred the wise guys of the day from utilizing it for their own skullduggery. Suffice it to note, they aren’t interested in visiting yesteryear and acing organic. Theirs is a more sinister pursuit.


They’ve dispatched a point man, Abe (Jeff Daniels), back to 2042, where he’s in charge of doing their laundering. He hires, manages and fires executioners who, on regular cue, extinguish folks the bad guys ship to the past. No corpus delicti, no crime. A street urchin taken in and nurtured to kill by this futuristic Fagin, Joe closes the loop…i.e. – a looper.


The action scenario filmmaker Johnson dusts off and plops down to power his rendition of the Brave New World is a timeworn cliché. But happily, having matured into a full-fledged actor right before our eyes, former kid star Joseph Gordon-Levitt manages to invigorate the old standard. He’s the sinner at a watershed, now turned hunted renegade.


The epiphany that spurs his breakaway into the treacherous unknown is a doozie, and arguably the most impossible aspect of time travel: that you and your former self could meet…maybe even share a Big Mac and fries. Yeah, I know, nothing’s impossible. But

my head aches just thinking of some pundit explaining why this might be totally possible.


So here’s where you come in, deciding whether or not, based on how the director proffers his theory, to lend your suspension of belief and be a participant in the fantasy. However, beware! Even if duly game, you won’t be exonerated from anguishing thoughts like, “Huh, I thought physical law says you can’t be in two places at the same time.”


Then again, being too reasonable might impinge on the fun factor, like the guy in my dorm who, when discussing the finer points of “The Howdy Doody Show,” opined that Clarabell the Clown was an idiot. Well, duh. Me? If this genre gets too obscure, I like to just give up and look at the pictures. But I do have a rule. There has to be consistency.


That is, no tacking on explanations every time the director’s imagination exceeds his logic and he paints himself into a corner. Even if the puzzle’s pieces don’t quite fit, it’s the filmic magician’s responsibility to apply just enough prestidigitation to make it seem, albeit farfetched, not out of the realm of possibility. “Looper” supplies good illusion.


Thus, for the film’s intents and purposes, it’s an ugly, hyper-realistic world where Joe despondently does his looping, all the time saving his ill-gained silver and studying French, hoping to somehow rise up out of his fate and one day escape to Paris. Then it occurs…the proverbial monkey wrench tossed into the gears. He must kill his future self


To assuage the trauma caused us by cogitating the ins and outs of the plot, Mr. Johnson conciliates with a compelling subtext: a contest of survival between old (Bruce Willis) and young Joe, replete with a meditation on life’s what ifs and second chances. I know if I had it to do again, I wouldn’t close this review with “Looper” is almost super duper.

“Looper,” rated R, is a TriStar Pictures release directed by Rian Johnson and stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt and Bruce Willis. Running time: 118 minutes