Looper Couldn’t Close Its Own Loopholes

When I first saw the trailer for Looper, my immediate thought was “Who the f*** is that?!” I had absolutely no clue that it was Joseph Gordon-Levitt until I was reading one of my favorite celebrity gossip blogs, and they said it was him. As a naturally skeptical person, I IMDBed the movie and YouTubed the trailer because I still couldn’t believe that it was Joseph Gordon-Levitt underneath the creepy prosthetics and that raspy, action hero voice. But when I realized he was playing Bruce Willis in the past, I was kind of intrigued.

Then again, my intrigue might also have been because of the whole time-travel concept in this movie since that shit is always freaky. But I guess you’ll just have to see what I think about that…

Here’s how Sony describes the plot: “In the futuristic action thriller Looper, time-travel will be invented—but it will be illegal and only available on the black market. When the mob wants to get rid of someone, they will send their target 30 years into the past, where a “looper”—a hired gun, like Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)—is waiting to mop up. Joe is getting rich and life is good…until the day the mob decides to “close the loop,” sending back Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) for assassination.”

As creepy as it was to see Joseph Gordon-Levitt in prosthetics, I have to say his acting in this movie was pretty great. Since he was playing a younger version of Bruce Willis’ character, he had to not only look like Bruce Willis, but he also had to sound like him and act like him. Obviously, the costume and makeup people took control over making him look like Bruce Willis, but he, himself, had to learn Bruce Willis’ raspy vocal patterns as well as his facial expressions (such as the eyebrow raises and squints). And Joseph Gordon-Levitt mimicked them extremely well. In fact, the scene when they’re sitting down at the diner in Kansas after Bruce Willis’ Joe escaped Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe is almost comical because it’s like watching two Bruce Willises…or is that Bruce Willi?

Also, I really liked the message of this movie, which is that all of the things that happen in the future are consequences of decisions made in the present. The whole reason the loopers existed was because present Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) didn’t kill future Joe (Bruce Willis), who ended up killing Sara (Emily Blunt), leaving her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) to grow up without a mom and never learn how to control his telekinesis, which made him become “The Rain Maker,” the evil mob boss who hired the loopers to do his killing in the future. After seeing this cyclical nature of death, present Joe kills himself, making future Joe never exist, which saves Sara and Cid and means Cid doesn’t become “The Rain Maker.” While that might seem like a shitty ending, it does resolve this loop (which is probably the only loop actually closed in this movie, but more on that below…).

(Author’s Note: I’m apologizing ahead of time in case this criticism seems lengthy and/or dizzying. But, in my own defense, the only reason it will seem that way is because the movie’s writing was filled with so many gaping plot holes and unanswered questions that I, myself, am still baffled).

My biggest criticism of this movie is that nothing—and I mean nothing—was ever explained to the audience. You know how the setting and backstory are usually explained (or shown) thoroughly in good books and movies? Well, that didn’t happen with Looper. Now, somebody is probably arguing, “But this is an action thriller. There doesn’t need to be a good plot beyond guns, explosions, and fight scenes.” And you’re right, in a sense, because most action thrillers have the depth of a puddle. However, most action thrillers give you enough information about the setting and backstory that you can sit back, shut up, and watch the movie.

As I said, that didn’t happen with Looper. Why is this a problem? Well, when the audience isn’t given enough information about the setting or backstory of a movie, then it becomes extremely difficult for the audience to enjoy the movie for what it is because they’re constantly trying to make sense of the questions that aren’t being answered by the very movie that brought them up in the first place.

When a movie like Looper brings up difficult questions and opens up some serious plot holes because they wanted to construct a world beyond the current world, they’d better damn well close their own loops (Oh ho! It’s funny because that’s what the loopers are instructed to do!). All the audience was given for this movie’s setting and backstory was a quick narration about how time-travel wasn’t invented until 30 years after the year 2044 (when the movie takes place), that it’s illegal to time-travel, that a mob man known as “The Rain Maker” uses it in the future to kill people he doesn’t like, and that loopers are the people in the past (the movie’s present) who kill the people sent back from the future. That alone is a lot of shit to process. And guess what? They never explain why any of this happens or how any of it physically works.

I gave myself a headache just thinking about the fact that, when a looper kills his future self, it technically means there’s an infinite loop of him aging and getting killed by his younger self, who then ages and gets killed by his younger self…well, you get the point. But that wasn’t the shit the writers forgot to explain.

Here were the things they didn’t explain. This movie is set in the U.S. in 2044, but all we see is a poverty-stricken, futuristic city run by criminals. How did that happen?! The characters keep mentioning the vagrants (homeless people looking for food) and showing the distinction between the upper-class mob men and the lower-class vagrants, but the movie never tells you how that happened. Did a war wipe out the economy, which led to the mob taking over the city? I don’t know because no one explained it!

Generally, when you have a movie distantly set in the future, you don’t really need to explain a lot of how the world got the way it did in the movie because, well, it’s almost too far to comprehend. But when you have a movie set 30 years from the current time, there needs to be a little explanation. I mean, for f***’s sake, even the shitty Total Recall remake explained how the world got the way it did, and it was set hundreds of years in the future (and it was shitty).

Next question. If this was set in 2044, why the hell were they driving cars from the 1990s and the early 2000s? You would think they’d have awesome new cars (like in I-Robot, which took place in 2035). Or at least they could’ve explained WHY they were driving those cars. Another thing about the cars (as my mechanically-inclined boyfriend pointed out), why, if they had solar panels and wires hooked up to the cars to suggest they were using alternative fuel sources, did the cars still start up with an internal combustion engine sound? Were the sound editors drunk?! It doesn’t take that much effort to remove that sound and insert a different sound in the film’s soundboard.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the telekinesis shit. Was there a nuclear blast or radiation exposure that mutated people into telekinetics? Again, I don’t know because it wasn’t explained. Now, here’s the big question that I can’t get over—how in the hell did the loopers get their time and destination information about the people from the future they were supposed to kill? This seems like an enormous plot hole to me.

Think about this way: In Back to the Future II, Doc left Marty McFly a letter in 1885 with specific instructions that it not be opened until 1955 by Marty. Marty only got the message because it was written in the past and held until the future. So…WTF, Looper? How does someone get a message from the future detailing where and when they should be waiting for a man to poof through time-travel onto a white sheet in the middle of nowhere? Sure, you could argue the people in the future would know where and when because it already happened; but how do they pass along the message to the past when no one ever appears via time-travel to say “Hey, go kill this guy here!”? I want answers, goddamnit!

I know someone is going to say, “Well, Inception was just as dizzying!” Yes, but Inception was dizzying because you were left with an ending that made you question whether or not everything that had happened in the movie was real. They at least explained the whole dream construction and how the dreams worked. Looper‘s screenwriters weren’t being coy and trying to make us think—they literally just got so caught up in the awesomeness of time-travel and looping that they couldn’t close their own story loops. And what’s even worse? NO ONE WILL NOTICE because this movie is so “unique” and “thrilling.” Ugh. I don’t want to live on this planet anymore…

Overall, while the general message of this movie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance as a younger Bruce Willis were good, I don’t think I can watch this movie again. Sure, it was something with a different concept than the normal action movie crap we’re forced to watch, but I can’t get over all of the unanswered questions and unexplained plot holes (Did anyone else feel this way?). When I see that many problems in a movie, it shows me that the writers, producers, and director were so hellbent on shoving this movie out into the theaters because it was “cool” rather than taking their time to craft an intelligent and thought-provoking movie. You know it’s bad when animated family films have more depth and well-written stories than movies made for adults.

Looper: C-

9 thoughts on “Looper Couldn’t Close Its Own Loopholes

  1. Hallo… first time here, got here by googling for Looper reviews. I did like the movie, but part of that (more than half, probably) is thinking about the structure and plot holes and bits of laziness.

    Some things aren’t plotholes as such, but instances of what can be called “idiot plotting”, ie elements that work only because the characters are idiots, bits put in by the writer to make the plot move on even if daft. For instance, if murdering people in 2074 is such a dangerous no-no, why do the mob show up to arrest Old Joe Willis with fatal weapons? Even that arch clod Kid Blue used a Taser/stunner to capture Old Joe back in 2044. Obviously, Kid Blue should have simply killed Willis – Abe wanted him dead, not presented to him – and the 2074 mob wanted Willis (and his wife) alive, not dead.

    Another example is the blunderbuss… loopers have them to ensure the close-in death of their victims (“you can’t miss”), but if “letting your loop run” is both extremely undesirable and common enough to have a name, even if loopers don’t have a partner as backup executioner with them, why not have a backup gun? The real reason loopers use blunderbusses is for the convenience of the writer in the visual standoff at the end, so that young Joe can’t shoot old Joe at a distance.

    But a story-telling problem is one you identified, about the information passing back. The literally clockwork (Joe and his timepiece) and precisely timetabled delivery of criminals implies a very regular future. It seemed (at first) that a looper killing his future self and getting his gold guaranteed to him 30 years of future retirement. However, we see that it is possible for people to change time; we see Joe take two paths; we see Young Joe’s actions in the timeline where he let Old Joe escape create new memories in (and new scars on) Old Joe. This sort of thing must be happening all the time.

    Fair enough in one sense. The geographical/temporal location of the point of view in Looper is “now” (2044 being now), looking forward and examining what you might be able to do to change the future – a message of the movie is that actions you take now have implications for your future. But the clear, accurate information coming from 2074 in Looper implies a stable, fixed future – and that does tend to undermine the telling of the story, I think.

    12 Monkeys, the other Willis time travel story, seems to work better structurally. There the story point of view, the “now”, is located in the future; Willis’s “colleagues” are looking backwards to try and make sense of and get information from their past, the 1990s – they’re after the cure for the plague which they think was released by the Army of the 12 Monkeys. Their information about the past is patchy and limited, and their attempts at time travel are messy and inaccurate. It takes three goes to get Willis to the proper target time: he arrives briefly in WWI, then in 1990, where his questioning about the Army in a lunatic asylum turns out to have seeded the idea of the Army in the first place, so by 1996 there is an Army. But the Army is a red herring in any case – they’re an ineffectual bunch who released some zoo animals, it turns out someone else is responsible for the plague.

    The messy, confusing and wrongly-analysed information in 12 Monkeys fits and serves its story much better than the clean, accurate, Swiss-Railways information suits the story of Looper.

    Still, I enjoyed it, and enjoyed thinking about how it was put together. One other bit that didn’t work is Joe giving a voiceover to his own suicide; where did he dictate/record that?

  2. However (sorry to carry on) I don’t think your analysis here is right: “The whole reason the loopers existed was because present Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) didn’t kill future Joe (Bruce Willis), who ended up killing Sara (Emily Blunt), leaving her son Cid (Pierce Gagnon) to grow up without a mom and never learn how to control his telekinesis, which made him become “The Rain Maker,” the evil mob boss who hired the loopers to do his killing in the future.”

    It’s another plot hole – in fact, I can’t see that anyone ever kills Sara. The Joe we see grow old in Shanghai 2074 is the one who already killed his future self in 2044, retired, and grew old. That Young Joe never met Sara and Future Joe didn’t because he is instantly dead. When the Joe-who-killed-Joe grows old and comes back, this time he escapes younger Joe, and hunts down potential Rainmakers. But in this iteration, he still doesn’t kill Sara, as young Joe stops him. No-one ever killed Sara! So where did the Rainmaker come from?

    Possibly a way round it is this: maybe the Rainmaker was not caused by Sara’s death turning Cid super-angry, but by Cid being continually angry anyway because he thinks Sara is a liar and fraud and he denies she is his mother (combined with the earlier death of her sister/his aunt, who he thinks is his mother). So Cid is angry – nothing to do with any Joe – and grows up to be the Rainmaker in Old Joe’s Shanghai world. Joe goes back to try and stop him by killing him; although he doesn’t kill him or Sara, he does prevent the Rainmaker by threatening Sara so much that Cid calls her Mommy and they are reconciled and Cid has a happy childhood. It’s a bit of a stretch and not really justified by anything you see in the film.(Equally likely is that Cid always turns into the Rainmaker anyway).

    And I don’t think the Rainmaker created the loopers in the story.

    He is said to have come out of nowhere, taken over the mob, and accelerated the closing of all the loops, but the implication is that the loopers existed already, he didn’t start the system or the mob. Of course, this raises the chicken-and-egg situation of who did decide to start the looper system. Was it the people in 2070s, when the time machine was invented? Well, in a way, yes – the people in 2044 can’t have come up with the idea to start shooting people popping into existence from 2074 on their own. But in a way, no, the 2074 mob can’t have conceptualised and invented the system because they would have been well aware that there were loads of retired looper assassins hanging about in their time, whom they had tabs on in order to send back (so why don’t the authorities know all about that? Emily Blunt did back in 2044). The implication is that the mob of 2074 has to create a stream of victims to send back to 2044 to be shot, to give the younger versions of these retired 2074 ex-loopers something to do!

    That’s another problem of the clarity of the “information”. You’d think in practical terms it would be better if the mob from 2074 hired people in 2044 who died in murky circumstances in 2052 or something, so they wouldn’t be loose ends cluttering up the future. However, when you get to that sort of thought the whole movie setup of meeting your own self and your current actions having an impact on your future and so on falls apart…

    And when was the time machine invented? It seems to work on a strict 30-year bridge/loop, so Abe is likely to have been the first person through, to hire the looper assassins (does he have a list of retired loopers from the future and go and hire their younger selves?). However, Abe and young Joe have a chat about how Abe took Joe in as a “kid”… when was this? Some years ago, presumably, as Joseph Gordon-Levitt is 30+.

  3. I love that you over-thought just as much as I did! You brought up several more points that I didn’t have room to cover. Actually, I hadn’t even thought of the point you brought up about Sara not dying! If she technically lived both in the future where present Joe closed his loop and the future where present Joe didn’t close his loop, then what the hell?! After reading everything you found as well, I’m really beginning to think that everything that happened in this movie was just for the writers’ plot convenience.

  4. Eh, I enjoyed it. To quote the director, Rian Johnson, who has actually admitted to be one of the people who picks apart time travel movies, “if there’s a good enough story, I can forgive [time travel inconsistency]”. That was the case here. The time travel element, for me, was a fantasy element – simply a device to propel the story along. I enjoy True Blood even though it makes no fucking sense that vampires exist in the present day and we don’t know how they got there, and because it really isn’t a story about fairies and werewolves. Looper isn’t a story about time travel; it’s a story about the lengths a man (well, two of the same man) will go to in order to absolve himself of his mistakes. The time travel bit just makes it unique and compelling.

    Furthermore, if it’s not essential to a story’s outcome, I wouldn’t call it a “plot hole” – that would imply a serious weakness that detracts from the narrative. There are some inconsistencies and omissions as far as the futuristic setting of the story, but that’s not the same as a character suddenly displaying unlikely behavior, or a random event that resolves loose ends. I couldn’t think of anything that disturbed the internal logic of the movie.

    You and Ryan would have a field day tearing apart the universe of Looper and the perhaps too-linear POV utilized haha. Just had to throw in my worthless two cents

    1. Hahaha! You’re right! I didn’t even think about that. If they had the power to send people back in time, why didn’t they just poof them somewhere where they would immediately die?

  5. Interesting thoughts everyone. My simple dumb question is how does Sara know about loopers? And in the same scene Joe sort of matter-of-factly compliments her on her TK ability. I guess with that we assume this is a power some people have in the future.

  6. Little Cid needed a father. Sara was a single mother in need of a husband (and she obviously liked young Joe because she had sex with him).

    The way “Looper” should have ended is, instead of young Joe committing suicide, he should have yelled to Sara across the field, “Will you marry me!?”

    Old Joe would have turned in astonishment, “What??” and then disappeared since the negative future he came from would have never existed.

    The theme would have then been “love conquers all”, which would have been better than the bleak “suicide is the answer” message that the movie currently has.

    (inspired by the “HISHE” cartoon for this movie)

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