I confess that I'm a sucker for time travel films. I love their tightly-controlled plots, their speculative science and their high-adrenaline action. If there's one thing they tend to lack, it's heart, but "Looper," Hollywood's latest submission into the genre, has it in spades.
In the futuristic world envisioned by the creators of "Looper," time travel is illegal and available only on the black market. Therefore, when the mob needs to dispose of someone, they send their target 30 years into the past, where a looper - a hired killer, like character Joseph Gordon-Levitt, played by Bruce Willis - is waiting to take out the trash.
When the mob decides to "close the loop" by sending back Joe's future self, Joe hesitates long enough to be beaten into submission by his older counterpart. We later learn that old Joe intends to undo his wife's murder at the hands of The Rainmaker, the mob boss of the future, by killing The Rainmaker as a child.
When young Joe meets Sara, a fiercely independent woman who lives in the boondocks with her son, he has reason to believe that this child may become The Rainmaker, which therein lies one of the film's many philosophical rubs.
"Looper" has a wonderfully subtle way of avoiding the cheap shots and easy answers of mainstream cinema, without withholding information. For example, rather than explicitly stating that the older iteration of Joe was unable to have children, Willis wistfully says of his wife, "She would have made a great mother." The film then cuts to a shot of the older Joe and his wife in bed, both of whom look mournful and are dressed in black, whereas similar shots had previously shown them dressed in white. Director Rian Johnson doesn't need to give us specifics; we know all that we need to know.
Similarly, in a scene in which a child is murdered in his backyard, the viewer witnesses an understated, yet powerful fallout: the killer passes a playground bustling with laughing children as he flees from the scene. When he breaks into tears beneath a nearby overpass, we hear not the sobs, but instead the laughter. A lesser director than Johnson would feel compelled to spell out to us what we're intended to feel in these emotionally-charged scenes, but Johnson's power lies in his extraordinary restraint. He gives the viewer the credit of being as intelligent as the filmmaker - a rare thing in Hollywood these days.
"Looper" is a film about seclusion and sacrifice, remorse and redemption and love and loss. It begs a weighty question of its viewers: how much would husbands sacrifice for their wives? Parents for their children? Relative strangers for relative strangers? And would those sacrifices be worth anything, at the end of the day? Every character in "Looper" seems to have something at stake, or better yet, someone at stake, and it shows in the film's high-octane action scenes and its more heartfelt moments.
I think that "Looper" will go down as a cult classic in the way that Blade Runner has - after all, both films are similarly nihilistic, action-packed and heartfelt. Johnson has produced a loud, violent, highly-stylized film, one in which the blood flows liberally and the gunshots continually startle the audience. However, as remarkable as "Looper's" production value is, it's never the bells and whistles that make a timeless film. It's the meaning, and "Looper" has more strength, smarts and heart than most films in its genre, let alone most films at all.
- Westenfeld is a sophomore from Fort Wayne, Ind., majoring in English writing and literature.