‘Looper’ Director Interview: Ending Explained & Questions Answered

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

Looper starring Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon Levitt Looper Director Interview: Ending Explained & Questions Answered

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.”

looper featurette Looper Director Interview: Ending Explained & Questions Answered

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.”

Joseph Gordon Levitt as Young Joe in Looper1 Looper Director Interview: Ending Explained & Questions Answered

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.”

Jeff Daniels in Looper Looper Director Interview: Ending Explained & Questions Answered

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.”

Looper Time Travel Old Joes Future 570x380 Looper Director Interview: Ending Explained & Questions Answered

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.”

Bruce Willis in Looper Looper Director Interview: Ending Explained & Questions Answered

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.”


Looper Trailer Previews Looper Director Interview: Ending Explained & Questions Answered

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.

Follow me on twitter @JrothC

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  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.