Looper (2012)

PG. Our ratings: V -3; L -1; S/N -1. Running time: 1 hour 58 min.

I will give them one heart, and put a new
spirit within them; I will remove the heart
of stone from their flesh and give them a
heart of flesh…
Ezekiel 11:19

Joe of 2074 meets Joe of 2044 in a cafe.
2012 TriStar Pictures

Director/writer Rian Johnson stretches and challenges our imaginations in his film that combines the themes of dystopia with that of time travel. By the year 2074 time travel has been invented and then quickly outlawed be cause of its dangerous effects should someone tamper with the past. However the crime syndicate controlled by someone called the Rainmaker has obtained the machine and uses it to send those whom he wants killed back to a Kansas cornfield in 2074. In that cornfield in 2044 a hit man called a Looper armed with a blunderbluss is waiting, checking his wristwatch to the second. As soon as the hooded victim materializes out of thin air, he shoots the man and disposes of the body in a special furnace. In the future the body disappears. No corpse. No mess. The perfect crime.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a Looper, and he knows that part of his contract is that some day the boss in the future will be sending his older self back for execution, a process called “closing the loop.” Meanwhile he is secure in the knowlede that for the next 30 years he can live on the rich fees provided by the mob. Currency is no longer viable in 2044, so Loopers are paid in bars of silver or gold strapped to the victim’s back.

The present, that is 2044, seems to be an extension of the income gapped world of today. The city we see on the horizon looks towering and majestic, but up close it’s streets are filled with homeless people still using grocery carts to keep their meager belongings togather. Drugs are prevalent, administered through eye drops. Joe spends his money on 20th century clothes—he is known for sporting a neck tie—and having a high time at the night spot run by the mob’s enforcer Abe (Jeff Daniels).

Things start to go awry when Joe’s friend Seth (Paul Dano), unable to bring himself to kill his 2074 self, takes it on the lam and vainly looks to Joe for help. Later Joe himself is confronted by his future self, Old Joe (Bruce Willis), and also hesitates to kill him. Old Joe escapes and sets out on a hunt to track down and kill the boy who will grow up to become Rainman, for reasons made plain in the next paragraph.

There are three boys who possibly will grow to become the future Rainmaker. I don’t recall how, but present Joe gets a copy of the map and notation that Old Joe has, so he is able to track down or keep abreast of his future self. Their meeting in a diner is an intriguing confrontation. There Joe (Willis) explains that he had been living in China happily married to a Chinese wife (Qing Xu) when the Rainmaker’s killers had broken in to eliminate him. His wife had been killed, but he had escaped back to 2044 in order to eliminate the boss.

Complicating all this is Abe who sends his henchmen after Joe when the latter upsets things by failing to kill Old Joe. Thus the film becomes an exciting chase film as well. The last third of the film takes place at a farm where Sara (Emily Blunt) is scratching out a living with her young son Cid (Pierce Gagnon). When Joe shows up, she is aggressively protective, her suspicions as to his motives slowly dissolving when he stays on. Of course, Old Joe, and then Abe’s hit men show up for an exciting climax—well no, the climax comes in a further, unexpected, scene and manner.

The cast members are all very good, with the make-up people changing Gordon-Levitt’s nose to match that of Bruce Willis’s. The young actor playing Cid deserves star billing, projecting such a mixture of innocense that can quickly change to leering menace when he sees his mother in danger (and in one scene even turning against her with a disturbing look of malevolence). In the future a few citizens have discovered they have telekinetic power that enable them to raise up small objects. Cid has this power in spades, as we see during the last chase scene.

The film is fascinating, able to make us forget our doubts, such as could the future Joe and the present one actually meet up and communicate. Best of all, though, is the depiction of Joe’s transformation, assuring us that even in a stark future where life is almost reduced to a Darwinian dimension, love as a self-giving force is still possible. The God of Ezekiel, who promised to transform the hearts of the rebellious Israelites is still at work, able to “remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh…”

For Reflection/Discussion

1. How is the future often depicted in sci-fi movies in a pessimistic way? Name some of these films, and compare them to this one.

2. What kind of a person is Joe when we first see him. How is the Scriptural term “heart of stone” applicable to him?

3. What has apparently happened to Joe in the future during his married period? Compare him to William Munny in Unforgiven.

4. How do we see a mixture of the benevolent (or innocent) and the malevolent in little Cid? What must have happened to him so that he grew up to become the ruthless Rainmaker of 2074?

5. What is it that transforms Joe. What did you think of the climax—were you prepared for this?

6. Given what happens in the climax, altering the conditions under which Cid will grow up, what kind of a person might he grow up to be?