Saturday, October 20, 2012

In which I talk about Looper

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Have you guys seen   yet? 

If not, stop reading and go do that. I'll wait.

If you're all like, "screw you, Muz! You're not the boss of me!" then this little essay thing is not for you. Move along. Go watch cat videos or whatever it is you guys do for fun.


A few friends of mine and myself have been planning on watching this movie for the past few weeks and I've finally gotten to watching it last night and I really liked it.

Full disclosure: I love time travel.

As a concept, as a literary widget, as a trope, as everything. It's paradoxical, it makes no sense, it's the ultimate escape from where you are, who you are and when you are, it's just the best thing.

Now, having said that.. Looper is not a movie about time travel and the philosophical, ethical, moral conundrums people face when dealing with the consequences of time travel.

Shut up about that already.

You want movies that are about time travel or seek to use time travel as the BIG IDEA of the movie, see the Back To The Future Series or Primer or even The Time Traveler's Wife.

Looper is not any of the above. And I like this movie not because of the time travel.

It's because it's a movie that takes a sci-fi concept and tells a good story with it.

Odd that I feel it's a big deal, but it is. Too many sci-fi/fantasy/weirdquirky movies with premises that match can't tell a good story. Being weird is not an obstacle to that end is what vexes me.

Weird stuff is always good. I love stories that push people's brains around a bit. Wiggle their preconceived notions about stuff. Wrinkle their brows and crinkle their nose and "huh?"s them out of the theater.

In Time was the last movie that pulled me in via just its concept. Using a person's time to live as currency? GENIUS.

But all the movie did was just repeatedly show us its concept in multiple ways and selling us the cool ideas that spring forth from it.

Yeah it's interesting. Literally gambling a person's life away? Interesting.  A wealthy grandmother, mother, and granddaughter who all look the same age? Cool.

But then what?

Not to discount In Time's merits as a parable on class division and how it hurts everybody, but a story is about the characters and what happens to them. The worldbuilding and concept-selling was good, but the characters are meh.

I don't think anyone who watched the film remember Justin Timberlake's character's name even. 

Looper, on the other hand, has a super interesting concept. Time travel is illegal in the future where criminal organizations use it to dispose of people by sending them to the past and have these assassin dudes shoot them off.

Time travel. Cool.

but instead of showing us how cool the future will be like or how time travel gets illegal or why it's illegal or what happens when you change your past or whatever..

Looper takes time to show us what kind of person Joe is, what he wants (be with his chick and get money, booya) puts obstacles between him and that (Old Joe running) and how he gets through this and gets what he wants (by changing what that means, but I'm getting ahead of myself here)

Any other time travel film would make the meeting between two versions of one's self an exercise in discovering one's hopes, fears, regrets and mistakes or what have you. Perhaps even as exposition about how time travel works.

Doesn't happen here. 

It's even lampshaded by Old Joe saying "we'll be sitting here making diagrams with straws".

I respect that a film trusts itself to be able to tell a story without showing off its sci-fi concept so much. (I'm looking at you, In Time.)

There's a difference between films that try to tell you its smart (sup, Justin) and a film that shows you that without appearing too smug about it. (sup, Primer)

Joe's deal at first is that he's a self-serving dude. Not a bad guy, just looking out for himself and no one else. In comes Old Joe who then tries to tell him how he should be. 

Of course it doesn't work. (Remember the showing vs telling thing up there.)

Young Joe then, through a series of mishaps, learns to do the right thing and be the better man. Closing the loop in a bigger way. (Aww.)

Let's clear up some things. 

Time travel messiness is a Good Thing. 

When dealing with time travel there are a few ways where things can go:

- Things have always happened and attempts to change it will end up with the thing happening anyway

- Traveling between points in time creates a new timeline and whatever you change only affects the new timeline, leaving the original timeline unchanged

- Some blending of the two

When things happen because they were always meant to happen even though characters went back in time to change stuff, it creates a pretty cool story effect. Things were meant to be this way and it's okay. Also the writer kinda gets to show off how tightly s/he wove the story (boo.)


What happens there isn't a cool little commentary on predestination vs free will.. what happens there is the characters not really changing anything. Why time travel anyway when things are gonna happen the way it was supposed to? It implies that the characters in the story don't really have a sense of agency.



when it's the second version of time travel, a.k.a. the branching of different timelines, doing anything means nothing to anyone anyway. No changes to the people from the original timeline, just a bunch of things happening because someone's screwing around with spacetime. 

Fun. But with no stakes, it ends up being quite bleh. Fun crazytimes with no risk, thus no real reward.


Messy third option is the best for storytelling. Where the audience understands that some effect is happening, bouncing around between the past and the present.

This uncertainty as to what will happen is the basis of drama. Tension and suspense, yo.

Looper is at the heart of it, a story about a man learning to think of, be responsible for and believing in something bigger than himself. A well-crafted story, told within the trappings of sci-fi without being a dork about the sci-fi bits.


It's not my favouritest movie in the world. Or even in this year. But it's brave and smart and quirkycool. It's definitely the most "I wish I wrote this"-est movie of this year.

I'll probably watch it again.

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