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When it comes to films deemed 'unloved,' there are worse cases than Looper. It was universally praised by critics and it did surprisingly well at the box office, especially considering the film's modest $30 million budget. In conversation, however, no one seems to have even heard of Looper. When talking about Rian Johnson the only topic on hand is obviously that space opera everyone loves to argue about.
Released in 2012, this was Johnson's third feature film and all of the strengths of Looper stem from the script. Not surprisingly it was this film that cemented my pursue of a career in screenwriting. Aside from my personal relationship with this film there is a lot going on here that deserves as much attention as Star Wars: The Last Jedi does.
Time travel films, good or bad, like to test your intelligence and leave you scratching your head in thinking how it all works. A recurring problem in these films however is that character and story are sacrificed for ridiculous time travel shenanigans that go against the rules of the world presented to us. Looper avoids that by making sure time travel remains a plot device and not the plot itself. "I don't want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we're going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws," retorts the senior version of Joe. Other characters dismiss the time travel element too, but the film uses time travel as a means to develop characters and story. In one of the most ingenious moments of the film we are shown Joe's timeline play out and then the timeline where he becomes Old Joe; with the two timelines seamlessly converging into one present timeline. Apart from making you grin with how brilliantly it is executed, it serves as an introduction to Old Joe and how he differs from his younger self.
Of course this all leads to the eventual confrontation between the two men, a conversation in a diner. A strange concept is turned into a fascinating scene, two men who are literally conversing with themselves. They're not interested in time travel, they're interested in themselves and their goals. This whole way of storytelling, character comes first, echoes throughout the whole film. There are some great action sequences, brief but brutal, and some interesting world-building but it is all in service of character development. Looper is lean because of this approach, at just under two hours long every scene is there for a reason and the film shows mastery in pacing.
There are a lot of marketing horror stories for films but it couldn't have gone any better for Johnson here. Looper isn't exactly a marketable film but obviously the promotional material were action heavy, thus bringing in a larger than expected audience. It was a surprise to most people that the last hour of the film mostly takes place on a farm and tackles the themes of parenting and change over time. The dynamic between Joe, Sara and Cid is the secret core of the story; a junkie protecting the two only to change his own future, a mother correcting her past mistakes by doing everything she can to raise her son well and a young boy with unexplainable powers in a cruel world. It all ties together to raising Cid in a world of violence and teaching him not to use violence with his powerful telekinesis. The relationship between the three evolve over their time at the farm and leads to Looper's satisfying conclusion. Everyone and everything is stuck in time; making the same mistakes and committing the same sins, never changing. Over and over again. A loop if you will. Joe decides to break that loop the only way he knows how. It is with his courageous act that also smartly ties up the time travel plausibilities of the world too.
The film succeeds because everything presented is in service of the story. Forgive me as you will no doubt be hearing that a lot from me. Looper delivers exciting action, deep philosophy and intriguing science-fiction—all to tell a story that digs deep within each character. Johnson's debut Brick will be remembered for making it his grand entrance and Star Wars: The Last Jedi will forever be remembered for dividing the biggest fanbase on the planet but Looper, it seems, will be quietly sat there as the middle sibling. Hopefully in the future Looper will come back to people's minds before Johnson's filmography is completely in a galaxy far far away.