I’m curious, as a sci-fi nerd, what do you imagine that people are pulling out? What were you wringing your hands about, going, ‘Oh, I bet they’re going to question this or that?’
“There are two big things that I can think of. The first specific thing is kind of: why this system is set up specifically in terms of how the body technology works in the future. And I had a whole system where it was like, okay, so in the future there is this nanotechnology that everyone is implanted with at birth. And it’s not like the government is constantly tracking everybody. But in the event of your death a location tag is instantly sent to the authority saying you died and you died in exactly this spot. And then even if your body is incinerated or you’re melted in a vat of acid the police will still show up an hour later to find where that was done to find your ashes basically, or the soup that was you. So it’s kind of this indestructible technology that makes it very hard to have someone totally disappear. So the people that the mob is getting rid of are not just shnukcs that they want to dump on the side of the road, they are people that they really need to totally disappear.”
So older Joe’s wife was expendable in that way? As in they could afford to have her found?
“Yeah and if you see the way that scene is shot it’s obviously a fuck-up. It’s a big mistake that some guy accidentally shoots her and they kind of panic and do a shitty job of trying to cover their tracks by burning the house down. But the truth is that they’re all in a lot of trouble because of that. But typically the way that they do it is because of the tracking thing. And then the tracking thing kind of feeds off the person’s energy so once the person dies the tracking device dies after a couple of years. It’s got kind of a half life of a year or so, 30 years from then it would be totally untraceable.
But again, this is the kind of stuff…[that is] interesting to me as a sci-fi nerd, and part of me wants to explain it all just to show that I’ve thought of it all and that I’m clever enough to think of this stuff, but does it have anything to really do with the story? No. If you can be mature enough and make the leap that there is a reason that this stuff is this way, as opposed to saying that this makes no sense. I just thought that sort of what I was hoping is that if we say ‘look, there is this tracking technology in the future that necessitates this,’ then the audience will kind of hop on board and go with that and not need the full thirty second explanation of why. And for some people they might really miss that thirty second explanation of why and that’s perfectly fine. But that’s just the train I chose to hop on.”
I’m curious, what for you would be the second major thing?
“Oh, a really good question, and one I almost did a scene with Jeff Daniels to explain, is why do the younger Loopers have to kill themselves? Why aren’t they sent back to someone else? And the answer is kind of twofold. The answer is that even the people in the future don’t really know how time travel works, they just know that it’s really dangerous to mess with this stuff so having the Loopers kill themselves is a way of keeping it a contained, causal loop. So it’s completely closed and you’re not bringing anyone else into the equation. But I also thought of doing a scene where he (Daniels) says that he’s been complaining to his bosses that this is a stupid system and that they need to find another way. But at the end of the day, it didn’t end up making the cut. The one other thing, and we actually had a line that we cut out in the diner scene, is the fact that the time travel device is not adjustable. That fact that it is set to an exact time and you can’t change when or where it sends you back to. And maybe I should have left that piece of information in the diner scene. But it was part of this longer discussion that Bruce and Joe had that we ended up snipping out to get to the heart of that scene.”
As a viewer, I didn’t need a lot of those explanations – though like you I understand the fun of getting into those finer points as a sci-fi nerd. But I do have two character questions. One is about Bruce Willis, older Joe. I had a friend that said, ‘doesn’t he know that even if he does kill The Rainmaker, he’s not just going to pop back into his previous existence?’ And my answer to that was: why would a man who had spent the majority of his life as a drug addict/hitman know that? You are assuming he has omniscient information about how time travel works. In his mind he absolutely would have been zapped into the future because everything that happened there would be changed, it would have happened better, and he would be happier. Which is really the fantasy most of us have when we imagine what would happen if we could go back and change our past.
“Yeah, absolutely. That’s kind of the idea he has from his limited knowledge of how this works. Which is the only knowledge that we’re presented with as well. And it’s not a dumb assumption. It’s not like he has this information from a time-travel handbook. He’s kind of seen the mechanics of how this works and he figures ‘this is my one shot for doing this and for fixing this.’ The other thing to remember is that young Joe is the one that makes that logical leap. You never hear old Joe think that he’s going to be back with his wife. Which I guess is just a small point.”
That sort of leads into my second character question: I really believed that Joe was a selfish man and that he had spent his life that way. Not a bad person, fundamentally, but very damaged. But then he makes this choice at the end of the film and I did wonder how he was able to find a way to let go of his selfish nature.
“Well I’m excited if you watch the movie again with that question in mind. Because I have an answer, what I think is a very strong answer for that, but I would rather it be something that you think about and chew on, I guess. And maybe dig into a bit with that. I actually feel kind of bad just plopping my answer for that on the table. I know that sounds like a dodge. I will just say that was the crux of the movie for me. And that is something that, at least from my perspective as a storyteller, is definitely in there to be found and discovered. And whether you believe it or not is one thing, but that for me was the whole thing. Seeing this character’s arc from being essentially in a place where he is selfish to a place where he comes around to a truly selfless act.”
I guess the idea I had was that older Joe had this love for his wife, which saved him, and yet sent his younger self on a path where he could make another pure connection with the Rainmaker, the kid. And that connection between Joe and Cid actually became the primal, driving force of the film, the plot and all of their lives.
“And in many ways Joe – I mean there is a purity in old Joe’s love for his wife – but if you take a hard cold look at what he’s doing and why he’s doing it, it’s still selfish. I mean there’s the line in the diner between the two of them where young Joe says, ‘look, if your pure motivations are actually just to save your wife we can do that right here. Show me her picture and I’ll never meet her.’ And you kind of get a glimpse there of older Joe’s true motivation, which is not really a selfless or love motivation. It’s the same kind of selfishness that is driving Joe at the beginning. Wanting to hold onto this thing that’s his.”
I guess the irony is that older Joe’s motivations to hold on to his future lead younger Joe on the path that literally annihilates him. Older Joe ceases to exist entirely. And it was through young Joe’s contact with this very special child that he realized that as much as he (Cid) could be a destroyer he could also be a creator, if he (Joe) made a different choice. And in that way Joe goes from being a destroyer to a creator. A creator of possibility I guess. I think he saw the enormity of the decision to save or destroy this child. That’s what it felt like to me.
Bringing it full circle to Hitler, I’d heard that Mother Teresa was on a train, before she was a nun, and had a sudden realization that she had a Hitler in her, that she had that capacity for evil in her. So she chose a different path. And that’s what that moment felt like to me, creating the space for Cid to choose something other than becoming the Rainmaker.
“I like that. I like that a lot.”
Well closing out I just have to ask: what genre are you going to take on next?
“I’m figuring that out now. I like sci-fi. I’ve got a couple of other sci-fi projects that are very, very different than ‘Looper’. But I don’t know, I’m still kind of fishing.”
I think we’re all interested to see what Rian Johnson will bring to the table next. I’ve personally engaged in multiple conversations with a sharp-minded colleague who has as fascinating a take on this film – and the aspects that do or do not work for him – as anyone I’ve heard. What this has illustrated to me, is whether you would call yourself a fan or not, Looper opens the door to interesting dialogue. It is rich with opportunities to engage with both the broader and finer points of the screenplay and final film.
The idea of facing one’s past, reconciling oneself to a grim (or not) future of our own making and the opportunity to radically alter the course of said destiny are all in play. The film dances with standard cinematic tropes, pokes self-reflexive fun at the world of moviemaking by making reference to Joe’s outfits being “copies of copies” (as so much of modern cinema is a copy of a copy). It tells the audience that it is going to forgo the smaller details in favor of nailing the thematic core by having Bruce Willis openly acknowledging that if we get into the fundamentals of time travel we will “be here all day making diagrams with straws”. There are any number of debates and discussions that the film invites you into.
Looper is in theatres now and we really hope you have, or will, see it so you can join in the conversation.
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