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October 13, 2012

Looper: I See What You Did There

I like to think of myself as abnormal.  There is a lot -- a whole friggin’ lot -- of evidence to suggest that I’m not exactly an average Joe.  But for the moment, I’d like to zero in on one piece of evidence in particular: I don’t watch a lot of movies.  I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned it before (if not on this blog, then elsewhere), but there was a huge chunk of my childhood -- entire years -- where I didn’t see a single movie in theaters.  And to compound the problem, there are a LOT of classic movies I haven’t seen.  I haven’t seen any of the original three Indiana Jones movies.  I haven’t seen Apocalypse Now.  I haven’t seen (all of) Pulp Fiction.  I’m pretty sure there was a girl ready to give me a DDT because I told her I’ve never seen Titanic.  I’ve gotten a little better about seeing movies recently -- I DID watch all three Back to the Future movies a year or so ago, and I DO have all three Godfather movies on DVD -- but…well, I’m more likely to play and buy a new game than a movie.

That all said, I like good things.  If there’s a good story to be had, I’ll try and experience it -- because that’s what a good story lets you do, regardless of medium.  It lets you experience it. 

Which brings me to Looper.  And…really, do I have to say anything?  You should know instinctively that this is an awesome movie, because it’s starring Tommy Solomon and Bruno the Kid.


…I made that joke on Facebook, too, and I’ll be damned if I let it go without SOMEBODY laughing at it.

(Spoilers to fo…you know, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s been in a lot of movies lately.  He’s been a cop, a cyclist, and now he’s a hitman.  I think it’s only a matter of time before he goes all Eddie Murphy on us and plays all the roles in a movie.  I wonder if he can pull off a fat suit.)

I’m gonna throw a few quick nuggets of info at you guys.  First of all, this isn’t going to be a multi-day, multi-week endeavor like it was for The Dark Knight Rises, because I’m pretty clear about where I stand on this movie (it’s good).  In fact, not only can I place it about HERE on my SmartChart™:


But I can also pinpoint it here in the ranking of movies I’ve seen this year.

The Avengers > Looper > The Dark Knight Rises > The Hunger Games > Prometheus

I know that ranking sounds kind of odd, given that I ultimately suggested you should see THG, and even odder considering that I ultimately didn’t like TDKR.  But in terms of raw quality, I think it’s suitable…at least for now.  But I still think The Avengers takes top honors in my book, and here’s why.

I’ve compared The Avengers to a sandwich several times before, and that analogy still stands.  It’s a very simple dish, but all the components are top-of-the-line ingredients that take a simple and well-traversed tale and make it into something supremely satisfying.  Fair enough, right?  But in light of Looper, I think I want to branch out from that analogy.  What The Avengers does, it does extremely well -- action, comedy, and drama taken to admirable extremes, and offering something for anybody eager for both explosive thrills and nuanced intelligence.  That’s fine.  That’s what makes the movie what it is, and I respect it for that.

But Looper operates in a similar way.  If TA is a sandwich, then Looper is…well, let’s call it a soup.  There’s lots to enjoy and appreciate on the surface, but the deeper you go the more good stuff you find -- consistently good stuff that’s only enhanced by virtue of soaking in all the broth and remnants of the dish.  It dares you to engage.  It beckons for you to dig deeper, and get even more than what you paid for.  It’s something with lots of diverse but connected elements, eager to pull you in and let you get your fill.  In a sense, it’s on a similar axis as TA -- but whereas that movie was a feast for the soul, Looper is a feast for the mind.  It’s such an intelligent and well-thought out movie that I can’t help but praise it.  Granted it doesn’t reach the pure highs of that certain superhero movie, but it’s still something that you should see if you haven’t already.

I’ll be honest.  Writing a story that heavily features, or even centers upon time travel seems like a good way to give yourself a headache.  There are just so many ways for it to go wrong, and so many rules you have to make, and so many considerations…I’ve dabbled in the idea, and personally I think the best course of action is to A) make the rules simple, common-sense matters, or B) make the story a comedy so the rules are a bit “softer”.  But of course, Looper handles its rule-making -- its frames -- with ease.

Me being me (a megacephalic gamer), I can’t help but over-analyze and ultimately nitpick everything I see.  And even though people  said the movie was great, a part of me was prepared to nitpick.  At certain points in the movie, I even started going into nitpick mode -- thinking things like “Hey, why is he…?” or “Why don’t they just…?”  But here’s the thing: even if I did make those nitpicks immediately, it didn’t take long for me to realize there was actually a reason behind the actions and rules taken.  Counter-arguments, justifications, lines of reasoning, or just holding back on answers for later…the fact that I’m not sitting here, typing about why Bruce Willis is an idiot and should feel bad about himself only proves how airtight, how intelligent, and just how good the movie is.  And yes, I COULD (and might) bring up points that bugged me, but I’m in a good place with the movie. I’m glad I saw it, and as long as I have that, I can’t say anything too negative about it.

But enough gushing.  Let’s see if I can say anything meaningful about the movie.

Internal monologues still piss me off.
Aw, damn it!  No!  Bad Voltech!  BAD!  No nitpicking!  NO!

…Okay, this is more of a pet peeve than an actual problem with the movie, but…I really hate internal monologues.  I’ll admit that there are times when they can be done well, but my experience with them has been anything but kind.  They’re dull, they’re melodramatic, they break up the story’s flow, they tell us things that should and could be shown instead…urgh. 

Thankfully, Looper keeps the monologue voice-overs to a minimum, and gives us vital information instead of junk, and all but axes them after the first fifth of the movie, but there’s one standout example that encapsulates why I hate them so much.  Joe’s friend let his mark get away, and he comes to Joe for help, knowing that he’s facing some real trouble from the organization’s higher ups very, very soon.  It’s very obvious that this is a bad situation -- but of course, Joe has to tell us this is a bad situation.  Why?  Was that not clear enough?  Could we not have figured that out on our own thanks to his friend crying and begging for help?  URRRRRRRRRRRRRGH.  Movie, you’re not doing yourself any favors by making me think of Final Fantasy 13.

JGL =/= Bruce Willis.
Pardon my stubbornness, but I have a hard time divorcing the characters from their actors.  That is to say, I have a hard time believing that JGL -- or Joe, as it were -- is destined to age into Bruce Willis.  I thought that viewing the movie would change my mind, but I guess I was wrong -- especially after hearing that JGL used makeup and contacts to look more like Willis.  I know that’s not really fair, because they’re both talented actors and there’s always the fact that someone can change a whole lot over thirty or so years (doubly so, considering that Joe’s a drug addict that relapses at least once), but still…when I think Willis, I think action hero.  When I think JGL, I think squinty-eyed elf. 


...Just take my word for it, all right?

Young Joe = Old Joe.
Looper is ostensibly an action movie, but to be honest I enjoyed the parts without guns and explosions more than those that did.  You know how I roll, I hope -- character development, definition, and interaction are vital for a good story, because that trade and presentation of ideas adds so much to a story.  So with that in mind, I am very glad that there were scenes where Young Joe and Old Joe actually got together and talked things out (even if they didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye).  Admittedly, after the first scene where the Joes meet in the diner, I was rooting solely for Old Joe.  Old Joe rightfully called out his younger self for being a self-absorbed, callous smartass who’d drive straight off a cliff if not for his elder’s advice.  It made sense, in a twisted sort of way; how many people out there would tell their younger selves that they were royal screw-ups if they had the chance? 


I expected Young Joe’s arc to have him get past his general dickishness, and for the most part I was right.  But imagine my surprise when the pieces start coming together -- and clearly, in fact -- to reveal that for all is age-earned wisdom, Old Joe isn’t as smart or savory as I first gave him credit for.  You could argue that what he did (i.e. child murder) was something he did out of desperation and loyalty to his wife, but in the end he’s not that much different from his younger self.  Maybe worse.

Here’s the thing that made me think, though: if Old Joe was savvy enough to come as far as he did and survive damn near every close encounter (and even bail out Young Joe), shouldn’t he have realized that engaging Cid would create a time loop that would create the Rainman?  Did he really get so desperate and blinded by passion that he didn’t stop to think what his actions might do?  Was talking to Cid and explaining to him that he’d become some sort of deadly crime lord -- or just lying to him and leading him down a different path -- never an option?  Just sayin’, chasing after a kid who very nearly turned you into bloody fireworks is not a very good idea.

Anyway, on an unrelated note…

Just how much of an effect can those in the past have on the future?
There was a point around one of Kid Blue’s scenes -- when he’s hit rock-bottom, so to speak, and he’s failed to impress Abe or nab Joe -- where a thought occurred.  He looked so grim and serious, I could feel the emotion…and then I asked myself a question.  “If a person wills it enough, can he subconsciously change the future?”

I came up with a quick scenario.  If I tell myself “I’m going to go to the store tomorrow and grab some pencils” that’s one way to change the future; it puts me onto a timeline where I have more pencils.  Pretty simple.  But suppose I conditioned myself to think for a whole week “I’m going to get more pencils.”  Then the me a week from now would have more pencils.  Kind of a silly notion, but you catch my drift.  What I’m getting at (and admittedly kind of hoped would happen) is that Kid Blue could have conditioned himself to get Joe no matter the cost.  He certainly had the drive to do so; it wouldn’t have been a stretch for him to think “I’m gonna get that Joseph Gordon-Levitt!” every day for weeks, and because of it drive his future self to think of nothing but that goal.  It would become such a huge part of his character that, ultimately, Kid Blue’s future self would brute-force his way into the time machine, head back, and team up with his past self to get Joe and his future self -- kind of like how the two Biffs from Back to the Future put their heads together to get rich and take over the town.

That’s kind of a strange place to take the movie, but it’s just one of many possibilities.  That said, it’s not a necessary one; the future looms large over the movie, but what’s important is the present.  Kid Blue acts in the present to prove himself, and gain recognition NOW instead of LATER.  Even after a botched offense on his part, he manages to prove himself to be (slightly) more capable than his first appearance would suggest.  He had an impetus to go off on his own, and acted on it; in a sense, he decided his future immediately after being slighted.  A shame it didn’t work out for him, but…well, I kind of like him as a character.  Part of me wishes that he was the main character.

And speaking of which…

Abe might be my favorite character.
I know, right?  Abe, who’s undeniably one of the villains, is someone I can’t help but like.  Me, the guy who’s all about heroes and idealism and grrr-no-more-gritty-stuff, likes Abe.  I mean, can you blame me?  He’s not the callous, conniving villain you’d expect.  He gives the impression that he’s just running a business, and actually does a good job of building a “community” of sorts out of his “employees.”  There’s a roguish charm to him, and I’m hard-pressed to point out any scenes that have him lose his cool…well, except for smashing Kid Blue’s hand.  Even if it is just an act, he puts up a very convincing front; even if the loopers and hitmen are just tools to use (and that’s debatable, given that he brought kids in off the street), he acts as if they really matter to him.  In a sense, he’s more frightening as a laid-back villain than he would be as a raging monster.

And speaking of which (wow I’m using that phrase a lot today)…

Everyone in this universe lives in a gritty and overall crappy world…and I love it.
See?  I can be impartial.

The future is a pretty miserable place…as is the future of the future.  Time travel is not only outlawed, but almost immediately (and likely exclusively) used for crime.  Apparently, you can commit crimes large and small almost without repercussion, at least in Joe’s city.  I guess there’s nothing to do except go to clubs, have a blast with some showgirls, and do drugs.  Even outside the city limits, the world is barren and isolationist; I can only guess that Cid would be a more well-adjusted kid and have less inclination to become the Rainmaker if he had more people his age to play with…though given that he could flip out and asplode someone, maybe keeping him alone is a better choice.  

But in any case, the world kind of sucks, and I can’t find fault in that.  It’s a grimy and oppressive place, but it has a character of its own -- and I suppose that’s the distinction between a “good gritty world” and a bad one.  It’s not just grit for the sake of grit (take notes, Resident Evil 6 and the RE movies), but one with a purpose, a meaning, and a definite intelligence behind it.  It’s a necessity for conveying ideas and information, albeit subtly -- something that the movie consistently does well, in my opinion.  Such as…

Old Joe’s take on the fight scene was hilarious and deep.
It would have been easy to repeat the first encounter between Young Joe and Old Joe, but also lazy.  It also would have been simple (and preferable) to show the fight with a greater emphasis on Old Joe’s perspective.  But to my surprise, after all the grisly stuff shown that details how (and why) Old Joe made it back to the past, we see…a zoomed-out encounter with no fancy visual or sound effects.  Just Old Joe decking his younger self.  My brother and I had a good laugh at that one.

But thinking back to it, I realize that there’s a bit more depth than just showing how competent Old Joe (or either Joe, to be honest) can be.  When we first see the scene, mostly from Young Joe’s perspective, it makes Old Joe look like a seasoned combatant that can predict and outwit anyone -- and it certainly helps that he’s got one mean right hook.  Young Joe’s likely amazed, and the audience is supposed to be amazed -- and in my case, I was.  But when seen again from Old Joe’s perspective, it loses a lot of its flair and dynamism.  It’s just the old man taking care of business, doing what comes naturally to him.  A fight is nothing worth getting excited about -- just take out your enemy as quickly as possible by any means necessary.  In some ways, this makes the fight more potent than one with lots of slow-mo and shaky-cam antics.

Why does the time machine send people thirty years into the past in certain locations?
You know, I’m still hard-pressed to answer this question.  I mean, the obvious answer is “Because if it didn’t work this way, there would be no movie.”  But here’s my reasoning: if I had to dispose of a person, I wouldn’t even give them the chance to try and escape.  I would set the time machine so that it pops them right into the middle of the ocean, or the Antarctic.  Or since it’s a time machine, dump them at the dawn of civilization -- the areas are nice and barren, so there’s no chance of them interacting with other humans/animals and creating an unsavory situation (A Sound of Thunder, anyone?), and since the police haven’t been invented yet there’s no reason to start searching for bodies or arrest people.  To be fair, I don’t think there was any mention of the time machine being able to CHOOSE a location, so maybe it just has a locked-in, one-way destination. That’s a bit of an assumption, though, but then again so is my own proposal.

But come to think of it, why do they even have to send the captured people back alive anyway?  If the loopers in the past are just going to get rid of the body anyway, what’s the purpose of having one of them stand watch at a certain point and fire at whoever appears there?  Can’t the future-thugs just off them, throw them in the machine, and have the loopers cart them off to get incinerated?  I guess it’s not much consequence given that there’s almost no chance of escape…but then again, considering that the escape is exactly what causes the movie to happen…  

How did the Rainmaker take over with nobody knowing when his power is not exactly subtle?
We never see the Rainmaker in the future, so it’s hard to say whether or not Cid actually becomes him in the end.  (As the Eternal Optimist, I’d like to think that he didn’t thanks to his mother’s love.)  While this works in establishing the big boss’ threat and mystique, it also makes me wonder just how exactly he got into that position.

Cid is established to be an intelligent kid -- which in retrospect was foreshadowing of his TK abilities -- but I wonder if intelligence alone is enough to take over the criminal underworld, and everything around it.  But that aside, how does anybody not know how he took over if his namesake involves making people explode into a rain of blood?  That seems like the kind of thing SOMEBODY would make a note of.  It doesn’t change a lot in the grand scheme of things except offer a little more foreshadowing (and there’s already a fair bit of it), and Cid likely could have learned how to control his powers in the thirty-ish years that followed, but still…

Eh, I guess I shouldn’t complain.  I’m still slack-jawed over the fact that Burt from Raising Hope was in this movie.  Shame about the whole exploding thing, though.

Did Old Joe ever think of using more subtle tactics than shooting people point-blank?
A wise man once said, “Was talking to Cid and explaining to him that he’d become some sort of deadly crime lord -- or just lying to him and leading him down a different path -- never an option?  Just sayin’, chasing after a kid who very nearly turned you into bloody fireworks is not a very good idea.”  Now, who was it?  Oh wait, that was me.

Seriously, did Old Joe ever think of using something a bit less overt?  Honestly, talking to the Rainmaker candidates would have been my first choice (even if that is a bit unsavory), but even if murder was the only option guaranteed to work, surely there are better ways of going about it even if you’re desperate -- hell, BECAUSE you’re desperate.  Poison, drowning, sniping, there are lots of ways to get the job done if you really…

…Why am I talking about alternate ways to kill children?  Abort topic!  ABORT TOPIC!

There’s not much I can say about Looper…and maybe that’s the nicest thing I can say about it.
Honestly?  I don’t think there’s anything that needs to be said besides “it’s a good movie” and “you should go see it.”

Even with my “complaints” -- even with other plot points and details that aren’t exactly clear or effective -- it’s not enough to wreck the delicate balance Looper has.  Every item it brings up has purpose and meaning.  Every topic is covertly discussed, but invites viewers to consider the ramifications and ideas on their own.  Character actions and motivations are not only justified, but become a focal point even bigger than the time travel.  Everyone is pushed to extremes and (on the surface) indefensible decisions that define them better than straight heroics.  Joe goes from sacrificing a friend in need to sacrificing his hopes of taking off the heat, to sacrificing going to France -- or China -- to start a new life, and ultimately sacrifices himself.  Old Joe goes back to the past, knowing that he can never return to the future even if he saves his wife, all for the sake of fixing what will inevitably go wrong.  Sara is willing to isolate herself and her son (and threaten to shoot trespassers) for the sake of giving him a good life and a bright future.  Kid Blue will do anything to get the recognition and love he wants from Abe.  Cid will blow you the hell up if you cross him and his mommy.

The main idea running throughout is “protecting what’s yours.”  Joe says it and repeats it, but he almost doesn’t have to; the movie’s greatest strength, I think, is operating and centering on that simple yet dangerous idea.  In a sense, you could say that the spirit of this movie is “selfishness” -- people doing whatever they can and whatever they want to have their world just the way they want it.  You could argue that they all have noble intentions but get pushed past their limits…or you could just think of them as jackasses that deserve their poor lots in life.  You could think of the grimy world they live in as a result of selfish living, but even a single selfless action can change the world -- the future -- for the better.  You can engage with the movie on numerous levels, get numerous answers, and ask numerous questions…and then, take your own life and put it in perspective.

That’s what a good story can do.  And that’s what Looper can, and likely will do to you -- provided you’re willing to open your mind and enjoy the experience.  You should probably go see it, is what I’m trying to say here.  But I’m not entirely a credible source.

I like to think of myself as abnormal.  There is a lot -- a whole friggin’ lot -- of evidence to suggest that I’m not exactly an average Joe.   

5 comments:

  1. So.. I actually havent even heard of Looper until now, but I will see it, and soon!
    And... as far as trying to see Joseph Gordon-levitt age to be Bruce Willis I dont think i could ever see it either! Bec Bruce Willis will always be the strong hero, and JGL will always be the nerdy love-sick boy from 500 Days of Summer. LOL
    I think its funny that your favorite character was the bad guy. :)

    BUT- now I will go watch it, maybe tonight. I dont know. But soon anyways!

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  2. ...I KNEW there was a JGL movie I was forgetting.


    Honestly, I'm a little surprised I liked Abe as much as I did. There's a strong argument that Abe is just A villain instead of THE villain, as well as an argument that Abe is less of a bad guy and more of a businessman that just wants the job done right. Or maybe in some instances, he actually IS a hero; given the timeline shenanigans, who's to say what he becomes or what he prevents?


    Anyway, hope you enjoy the movie. And I hope I didn't spoil too much of it for you. I don't have a very strict policy/aversion to them, but for some people, a spoiler is grounds for a public execution.

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  3. Easily this was the best movie I have seen in a while. After Harry Potter ended there was little reason for me to look forward to movies. (Pretty sad, I know.) But this sounded awesome from day one, and it paid off really well.

    Although the kid always bugged me from beginning to end. I'm sure it was the point since he was going to be the Rainman if the wrong cards were played. But still. That kid was really creepy. o_O

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  4. Crap, that reminds me -- I haven't seen the last movie yet. I should get around to it one of these days; I wouldn't mind seeing Sir Neville M.F. Longbottom save the day in live-action. You can probably guess what the M.F. stands for, and it suits him very well; he could solo the entire Potterverse if he wanted to.

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  5. Just don't be shocked if you cry manly tears at all. Shit gets real.


    I wouldn't be surprised if a fan somewhere decided to write a spinoff fanfic with Neville as a main character. He DID came out pretty badassly by the end.

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