The Rear-View Mirror: Looper (2012)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Bruce Willis has made far more stinkers during his career than really good movies. Time travel is often just a gimmick for action-loaded sci-fi flicks, and used in a wrong or physically impossible manner. If you are certain of these things, then obviously, you haven’t seen Rian Johnson’s Looper. And I think you should. I am not much of a sci-fi or fantasy fan, but Looper lets a few of my pet peeves come together and turns them into a pretty good flick.

There’s Joe, a hitman who gets sent back in time because in the future, time travel is illegal, and only the most hardened criminals use it to send their victims back in time, where so-called loopers like Joe terminate them. Loopers get paid royally, but their loop ends when they have to shoot their older self in order to, well, not leave any witnesses. Joe is played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis, by two actors who don’t look much alike, but Looper seems to be able to convince you that they seem to have some features in common.

Of course, Joe doesn’t manage to shoot his older self, and so has to go on the hunt for himself (hmmm…) On the way, he needs to hide on a farm run by Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon, who has made it into Twin Peaks). Sara and Cid are not just plot gimmicks or eye candy, but they have an actual stake in the outcome. And there are small gems of dialogue that I still remember, for instance when Joe talks to his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels):

“I’m going to France.”

“You should go to China.”

“I’m going to France.”

“I’m from the future. You should go to China.”

Or there is the moment when Young Joe sits down in a diner with Old Joe:

“I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.”

It’s actually a good sign if you feel like quoting from a movie’s dialogue because its strength is not in its images, but also in its words. A really good movie works as an audiobook for surprisingly long stretches of time.

So Bruce Willis is really good in this one. And time travel? There is a simple solution to that. Looper knows it and uses it to great effect. While other movies get themselves entangled in the paradox that time travel inevitably holds, Looper sidesteps it. It doesn’t need to show the device for time travel because the fun is elsewhere: a lot of Looper‘s suspense comes from the cat and mouse game between Young Joe and Old Joe trying to track each other down. Will they meet in France or in China or on Sara’s farm? They can guess each other’s plans because they are the same person. Does that make it easier or harder?

The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.

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