‘Looper’ Director Interview: Ending Explained & Questions Answered

Published 3 years ago by , Updated February 15th, 2014 at 10:26 pm,


I don’t generally bring myself quite as fully into an interview as I’ve done with this one, but the truth is that I had a deeply personal response to Looper - one which brought up not only questions of a broad, societal and philosophical nature, but personal questions about my life and one specific choice I made, which, ultimately, may have sent me on a different path than the one I had been on.

There has been a large measure of online debate about the film since its opening; a response that speaks to Looper’s strengths. There are many who are engaging in discussions about the film’s larger implications as an exploration of violence, both in cinema and the world around us – and some who enjoy delving into the details of the seeming inconsistencies or time travel plot holes.

If you’ve seen the film you know the basic storyline and premise. Within that framework Johnson paints a dystopic portrait in which abandoned and starved children become easy prey to the seductive promise of security and wealth that the mob offers. Joe is one of these kids. A young man who hordes the silver he reaps with his gun, in the hopes that one day he will be free of a prison of his co-creation. He fantasizes that he will learn French, become a different man, travel, feel human. But instead, we see that even released of the need to kill for pay, he does so anyway (as Old Joe) – we assume because it is all he knows.

The most fundamental theme in the film, for me, is violence begets violence. It is fascinating that, in the world of cinema, the only way to really delve into the question of violence is via a blood soaked film – one which some have taken only at the most base, visceral “watching Bruce Willis shoot that place up was awesome!” level. So the question becomes: where is the line between adding to a culture of violence and holding up a mirror to one? I think Looper has done a remarkable job of the latter. But a filmmaker’s role in society at large is something that is of interest – particularly when (as a colleague of mine has pointed out) what is at stake in this film is the mental health of a child surrounded by apathetic brutality.

With all that in mind. I hope you enjoy and engage in our conversation with Looper director Rian Johnson.

looper clip bruce willis Looper Director Interview: Ending Explained & Questions Answered

SCREEN RANT’S ROTH CORNET: We spoke briefly previously, but I wanted to get into a little more depth. The first thing I wanted to talk about is the Meta nature of the film in terms of Looper as a violent film that questions, not just the morality, but the efficacy, of violence. I wouldn’t normally do this, but I want to tell a quick story just to illustrate my point:

When I was a senior in film school, I won a grant to make a documentary. I traveled to the Middle East, to Israel and the West Bank, to make a film about a girl who had been killed in Gaza. I can’t stress how crucial finishing this film successfully was to the path I was on and the future I wanted. But, I hit a wall that I just couldn’t get past. Because in doing my research and in shooting it, I realized that I could not find a way to make the film without somehow adding to a dialogue that I felt was a fundamentally flawed. It was this Kafkaesque self-perpetuating loop of rage, death, violence and trauma. And, most of what I saw from the media, even those with good intentions, was agitprop versus agitprop which fueled the flames and fed that cycle.

I couldn’t find a way through, so the only thing left to do was to remove myself from the equation. Now this is a very loose comparison, of course. But in Looper, Joe must remove himself from the equation in order to do his part to halt a cycle of violence. And that seems to work as a metaphor on a larger scale. So, in a world filled with violent cinema, in your mind, what are the parameters a filmmaker should use to decide to either remove, or add themselves to that equation?

RIAN JOHNSON: “Oh that’s interesting, I understand that Meta level your coming from. You know, I think maybe engaging on that Meta level is  much more of a critical point, meaning talking from a critical standpoint, than I should try to engage with. Because that’s digging into the movie as a text, which I’m thrilled with and would love to hear the conversation of, but I’m not sure that it’s the healthiest thing for a filmmaker to engage in the conversation of. But in terms of a storytelling point of view, I wasn’t consciously thinking in terms of that Meta level of a filmmaker portraying violence and that being represented in Joe and that idea of taking yourself out of it. I was more just thinking of it on a human level and the place of violence in our world today. Part of that is in movies because it is largely in action movies that you see the most simplified and distilled version of fixing the problem by finding the right person and killing them. That’s something that I think we see very often in action movies, so much so that it’s just taken for granted. The good guy is going to find the bad guy and kill him and then the day will be saved.”

Looper Time Travel Paradox Old Joe Bruce Willis Looper Director Interview: Ending Explained & Questions Answered

SR: Which is what typically happens in a Bruce Willis action movie and why that casting works so perfectly to highlight that Meta aspect of the film. We look to Willis to do what Willis does best: destroy folks, kill the baddie and then save the day. But Looper asks us to examine the assumption that the death of the “bad guy” (in this case the young boy who will become the Rainmaker) will solve the problem. When in fact, that murder will only create exponential increase in the world’s problems.

RJ: “Unfortunately that’s not something that’s created by action movies or that’s solely in action movies. It’s something that we sadly attempt to do on many levels in the real world. So that’s kind of the main thing that I was thinking of. Less of the Meta level of how films engage in violence and more just how we engage in it as human beings and the self fulfilling loops that just keep getting perpetuated by trying to use violence as a form of problem solving.”

It is kind of a distinctive choice to have Joe take himself entirely out of the loop.

“True, yeah. It’s interesting because the ending is very much the sort of thing where I think that the mature reading of it is definitely not a literal advocating of suicide. You kind of have to look at it in terms of moral choices… for me it was more about self-sacrifice versus sacrificing somebody else for what you want. It’s about giving of yourself rather than taking. And for me that was more the nugget that that choice at the end boiled down to. It was  just starting in a very self-serving place where he was willing to kill others and take advantage of others in order for him to hold onto his thing, and his seeing that that’s maybe not the way to move the world forward and it’s not the way to bring about the greater good. So I guess that was kind of the terms in which I was thinking about that final choice.”

Looper Time Travel Paradox Young Joe Joseph Gordon Levitt Looper Director Interview: Ending Explained & Questions Answered

Well, as to loops, do you personally feel that cinema plays more of a reflective or an influential role on culture? In other words, is it fundamentally influencing attitudes and behavior or holding up a mirror to it?

“The answer is that it’s both. It’s this strange loop. It’s this bizarre kind of knot that you can’t really untangle. If there is a prevailing wind, or an overall tide, it’s for cinema and stories reflecting life. I do think that overall the stories that we tell, if they connect with us and if they are ‘influential’ it’s because we’ve seen something in them that we recognize and we respond to that as a culture. And I think there are movies that are influential and that amplify certain things in a way that effects the culture and effect the way that we think. But mostly I think that if it appears that a film is having a huge impact in culture and it’s making people act in a certain way that it’s more that people are seeing a way that they act in that film. They are seeing something that really resonates with them. And to me that means that they are seeing something from real life that they’re recognizing and they’re responding to that.”

I’ve talked to you about this previously, and of course it’s fairly obvious that you’re playing with genre tropes in your films. Tying that into this discussion: There have been moments, the French new wave for example, where filmmakers and critics looked at the cinema being produced and said: ‘This no longer feels honest to me, it’s become formulaic and stale to the degree that its no longer resonating.’ There are self-reflexive moments in Looper where you are looking at cinema in, again, what really feels like a Meta way. You are calling things out, certain storytelling tropes. Is that something you like to do, in part? To look at how we tell stories? What works and what doesn’t – what resonates and what doesn’t?

“Well yes, but that again is a critical perspective to which I guess I would just respond that – and this may get to the exact same end that you’re talking about – but from a storytelling perspective, I’m just trying to not be boring. I am obviously very aware of…you’re right there are specific call outs in the movie saying ‘we’re not going to do this and we’re not going to do that.’ But for the most part those don’t come from any desire to purposefully subvert those other films. It’s more a desire to make our story vibrant and alive and make the choice that seems more interesting in a given situation. So it comes around to the same end that you’re talking about, but I don’t sit down to write it thinking, ‘oh, all these boring movies do this, so lets do that.’ I’m just writing moment to moment and trying to make choices that keep me engaged and keep me interested in the characters and make the choices that feel the most alive to me.”

Jeff Daniels and Noah Segan in Looper 570x400 Looper Director Interview: Ending Explained & Questions Answered

You are a filmmaker, but you’re also a member of the cinema-going public, so do you feel that there is some kind of responsibility to maintain some sense of integrity, for lack of a better word, to create something that is either more reflective or feeling, versus something that’s more manipulative?

“Well I think so yes, absolutely. For me it’s just impossible to imagine sitting down to spend three to four years of your life on something without it having that at the heart of it, you know what I mean? It’s not so much a sense of responsibility – although I guess you could frame it as that – it’s more a sense of necessity. If I’m going to spend all my time and my thoughts and put all of the things that I’m feeling and my personal experiences into this thing I’m creating, it’s hard to imagine doing that if there wasn’t something at the heart of it that I thought was really worthwhile. And something at the heart of it that I thought was really vital and something that I needed. And then you put all your chips on that and hope that it’s going to be there and that there are people out there like you and that audiences will find it and respond to it as well. So it’s less a sense of responsibility, it’s more where the whole thing starts from, at least for me. It has to start from a place of passion and usually the thing I’m passionate and exited about is doing something that has something to say. Something to say makes it sound like a message film, I mean something worthwhile on its mind, I guess.”


NEXT PAGE: Time Travel Philosophy…

« 1 2 3»

TAGS: Looper
Get our free email alerts on the topics and author of this article:


Post a Comment

GravatarWant to change your avatar?
Go to Gravatar.com and upload your own (we'll wait)!

 Rules: No profanity or personal attacks.
 Use a valid email address or risk being banned from commenting.

If your comment doesn't show up immediately, it may have been flagged for moderation. Please try refreshing the page first, then drop us a note and we'll retrieve it. Keep in mind that we do not allow external links in the comments.

  1. Wow felt sorry for Johnson trying to answer all those suedo B.S meta level hold MIrrior up to a violent society ramblings by the interviewer , I think the interviewer should of just took the hint when Johnson said ” I just try not to be boring ” that was his intention he wasn’t trying to micro anylize this generations obsession with violent movies he was trying to make a new violent movie for this generation to obsess over ( meaning his film is successfull and he gets to make more ) wich obviously worked big time on Roth Cornet how ironic !

    • I thought Quantum of Solace was pretty good too.

    • Hm, well I feel like you could have framed your criticisms in a different way. But I will say a couple of things: First, Johnson, by his own admission, was indeed looking at violence in the world with this film. It was meant to be a fun movie to watch and it is! Every time I talk about Looper I say how much I enjoyed it. But, again, there are other things there to dig into if you want to. As to violence in film, well I’m not sure how that relates to the real world violence we see all around us other than it is a safe expression of a human drive. I don’t know, I don’t really have an answer to that which is why I asked him about it. I admire that he was able to find a way to take a tough subject and make it entertaining. I’d love to be able to do that myself. That’s in part why I wanted to talk to him about it.

      I will also say that I had some hesitations about running this transcript in full. A) I felt a little vulnerable having so much of myself in it and worried that it was or is self-indulgent. B) It’s pretty lengthy.

      But, ultimately, I decided to let it stand on its own.

      I have spoken with several people who I respect who had questions about making a violent film that had to do with the negative effects of violence in our world (which film is a reflection of) so I wanted to let him speak for himself on that.

      Finally, those were my real questions, whether you like them or not, they weren’t bs.

      But you’re free to dislike them if you want.


      • I too thought gees…move past the violence, but your response here made me go back and re-read what is actually a fascinating line of thought.
        Fantastic interview and great decision to let it stand as is. Bravo.

        • Thank you! And thank you for taking the time to give it a second look! Much appreciated :).


      • Errr I feel kind of bad now , I didn’t know you were opening yourself up so much and to be honest this shouldn’t make a difference but I didn’t know you were female I would of been more polite if I had of known so I apologise , to explain my frame of mind I am hold up with the flew heavily medicated watching movies ( I just watched PROMTHEUS , ALIEN and ALIENS back to back ) in other words I am bored delirious with an IPAD not a good combination LOL so I again apologise for the tone of my comment it was uncalled for as it it is clear you put a lot of thought and effort into this piece : )

        • Hey,

          Thanks for writing back with this. Again, you’re totally welcome to disagree with and/or dislike the line of questioning (so to speak :)). I do really love his films, though and find them very enjoyable to watch. Thanks for your nice reply. I do hope you feel better and enjoy your movie watching day.


      • A great interview, and a very intelligent discussion of the movie. Thank You

  2. Nice interview! I liked hearing Rian’s take on why they have loopers kill themselves. A similar question I answered for myself was “why even tell the loopers that they are going to be killed in the future? Why not let them believe that they could live full lives?” to which I answered that if you’re honest and upfront with them, then there’s an understanding. You’re showing them the respect of letting them know how this system works and you’re not trying to trick them. Thus, you don’t have to worry about someone finding out that they’ve all got this limited lifespan and exacting revenge on the organization.

  3. Outstanding interview. Got a bit deep in the beginning lol but I still enjoyed.

    • Thank you :)!

  4. WOW!!
    I have to say that once again you knocked it out of the park Roth. Fantastic, fantastic interview that I’m now going to email to everyone who I saw the film with.
    I have a question though.
    On a scale of 1-10 how hard was it to not ask any Breaking Bad questions? ;)

    • Lol :) I actually really wanted to ask about him possibly directing a Doctor Who episode as well! Both were a ten.



  5. Excellent interview JRoth!

    My sticking point with the film is not the timey-wimey stuff but character based.

    In the case of the young version of Joe – he displays a moment of lucidity and insight his character has never demonstrated before – in fact the opposite of what we have seen, upon which he makes a decision that is in direct opposition to what both Joes has been trying to preserve over the entire course of the movie watching.

    It’s a big hand wave moment and when people said they had no idea where the movie was going – this, to me, is the moment why.

    Out of character behaviour.

    In the end, the Internet hype built my expectations of this too high. I enjoyed it a lot and it is a solid flick.

    • Thank you sir! That’s one of the main questions I has as well and we did talk about it. I do think it’s in there, though. I touch upon it what I see as the answer for me. I feel like his contact with the kid, with Cid, changed him. But yeah, I understand where you are coming from. I love that there is so much to talk about with this film.

      That’s always so exciting as a viewer!

      Thanks so much again!


      • My pleasure JRoth! Thanks for your response and being open to my main issue with the movie.

        It is the discussion point of the movie. I hear what you are saying about Joe’s time with the kid but there was not enough of it to build up a bond so strong that young Joe would do what he did.

        Plus his ‘insight’ is restricted to one view. Who is to say that the kid’s future will not remain the same. The reference to The Twilight Zone episode about Cid whose wishes came true mars Joe’s vision. Whose is to say that such power the boy has will not corrupt him still?

        But as you say, it is exciting there is so much to talk about with Looper.

  6. grrr, need an edit function – line should read:

    upon which he makes a decision that is in direct opposition to what both Joes have been trying to preserve over the entire course of the movie.

  7. Quite a change from the standard, “So, how was it working with Bruce Willis? Did you get intimidated working with Bruce Willis? How Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis in real life?”…

    And so forth…

    Which is meant as a compliment of course. If only all interviews had these kind of questions. It would stop me tuning out which each generic, “Oh, everyone was great!” response.

    10/10 for the movie (my movie of the year. Well, until I see The Master), 10/10 for this interview.

    • Thank you! I really appreciate that!


  8. Damn, too bad he didn’t simply answer the question about how young Joe changed from his typical selfish nature to making that sacrifice at the end of the movie… Although from watching it, I don’t think I can pinpoint the exact moment, but I do kind of see that being with them was changing him throughout the movie, and kind of bringing out the “soft side” of him…

    Good interview though. But you really should have asked him to put the discussion to rest about Cid being some crazy alternate reality version of Joe…

    • Oh wow, I hadn’t heard that. Wait…how would that be possible?

      • @Roth

        It’s not, but everyone is so caught up with the whole time travel paradoxes that some people are thinking WAY too much into it and have come up with some crazy ideas of how that’s true in the movie… I was hoping for you to ask him about it, he would laugh and say straight up “no” and just put that to rest once and for all… It’s pretty ridiculous. If you go to the Looper spoilers discussion or the time travel explanation article, you see so many people commenting on how Joe slept with his mom since he is Cid and how Sara is also really from the future, and all kinds of stuff…

  9. Wow, fantastic interview! Really makes you see the movie in a different light when the director and others talk and dig deeper and dissect the movie for added meanings. My simple brain didn’t pick up on that when I first watched, ha.

  10. If you cannot understand why the boy wasn’t killed, or if you’re not sure Joe did the right thing, it might because you don’t have kids.

    As a new parent (4 years) with two sons, torment of that magnitude can influence such innocent, kind-hearted beings into harsh, mean and calous individuals.

    He did the right thing to shoot himself, because his younger self, witnessing a slight alteration to viewing the present scenario (perhaps a new thought to the already played out scenario), was smart enough to realize that the harm that comes to the young boy is done by his actions, or inaction. Thus, given distance away from his target (his older self) and lack of time to take other action, ensuring the boy was not harmed was his only method of ensuring the loop was broken.

    There really is nothing more precious and fragile in this world than a child. People without children should not be able to own a gun.



    • Killing the boy would ensure in a much more definite way that he never comes to be the rainmaker. The act of joe is both selfless , which is great personal development ,and very risky : as others said considering the outrageous level of power he yield, Cyd might be corrupted nevertheless. A mother is not immoratl and her love iis not a cure all. No matter how horrific the deed might be, and old joe collapse after killing the first boy shows what kind of toll it takes even on the most hardened criminals, it would have been the best course of action for mankind sake. You don’t play a hunch when there s so much at stake for so many people and there a a safe course of action.