The very first day I moved into Exeter, I met my new housemates, Alex and Hannah, who told me they had just got back from seeing Looper, a film I wasn’t then aware of. They billed it as being an awesome sci-fi film. Looper was the very first thing I knew about my new friends. Over three months later, the film was showing in a cinema in Holland, because Dutch theatre is just a little bit behind. After seeing the film with my family, I can finally agree with their opinions heartily.
Looper stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Joe (not very creative), in a futuristic sci-fi action film. Much like Total Recall, this film is both heavy on the actionand the sci-fi. His job is to execute prisoners that a mob send to him 30 years backwards through time. He is supposed to shoot blindly, not asking questions about who the people are that he is mercilessly slaughtering. He is in the full knowledge that he may encounter himself one day and not know it. However, when the time comes, his future self, played by Bruce Willis, is more than ready for him, and manages to escape. This results in a thrilling sci-fi enhanced action story, worthy of Paul Verhoeven or better.
Perhaps the one odd thing about the story was the inclusion of ‘TK’, short for telekinesis, a power that supposedly 10% of the population in 2044 have. While there’s nothing wrong with adding a little more unexplained sci-fi into your movie, the TK seems rather tacked on in the first half of the film, and isn’t integral at all until the second half. I’d almost forgotten about it by the time it reappeared.
Perhaps now is the time to start my ramble on time travel in films. On the way home, I was disappointed to engage in the inevitable pedantic arguments about time travel with my dad and brother. In the film, Bruce Willis is depicted travelling through time in two different manners. One time, he travels back and is killed by his younger self, but the next time, he manages to escape. The question was, roughly, why wasn’t the first Bruce Willis able to escape? Surely he would have been in exactly the same situation as the second Bruce Willis. I tried to argue that it wasn’t a given that Willis was in that situation, but they weren’t convinced.
Time travel has been the inspiration for many forms of sci-fi literature, but there’s a fine balance that must be observed: the balance between how many rules your ‘time travel’ has, and how much freedom you have to make thought provoking sci-fi. For example, if you state that there is only one timeline, this makes the idea of time travel less interesting, since it is impossible to change anything that has happened. In The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger still managed to make this idea interesting, because she found ways to connect time travel to emotion and made the protagonist’s point of view seem helpless. On the other hand, when you allow the future to be erased, and be replaced by a different future, then things get interesting. Unfortunately, this results in a lot of rules needing to be laid down, or carefully overlooked, to be made solid. Back To The Future or The Terminator are good examples of these types of film. Examples of bad rules are: ‘you can’t change the future’ to mean ‘you can’t stop someone from dying, even if it means they’ll die in a different way’, because that’s a little bit wishy-washy, wouldn’t you agree? H. G. Wells, I’m looking at you.
In this film, the time travel made sense to me – just about. I know not to go looking for plot holes, or asking unnecessary questions, and with a film like this, I simply didn’t need to. Bruce Willis is on top form, racking up the body count and giving Arnie a run for his money. Like Total Recall – the original that is – this is a fantastic brains and brawn film that’ll titillate anyone with a bit of grey matter. Now I think Joseph Gordon-Levitt wants to sing us something: