[WARNING - This Article Contains Looper SPOILERS]
Rian Johnson created quite the sci-fi story with Looper (read our review), and like a lot of good sci-fi stories, there's plenty left to chew on after the end credits roll. Some people may be confused about the ending of Looper, others about the general premise of the story - while more hardcore sci-fi fans are undoubtedly deep into discussing, charting or perhaps even working on infographics that explain the many time travel logistics (and paradoxes) that must be untangled.
To aid in comprehension and discussion, we've created a quick easy-to-read breakdown of what Looper is all about. It's only our analysis, and film is always open to wide interpretation, but we have a feeling Looper will keep people thinking for a while (like good cinema should). Read on for our explanation of Looper's premise, story - and yes, those bothersome time travel paradoxes.
In Kansas of 2074, a mob syndicate utilizes a kill system whereby they send victims back in time to Kansas 2044 to be eliminated by hitmen called "loopers," who are trained and instructed by a future mobster (Jeff Daniels). The anonymous victims pop back in time hooded and gagged, and are promptly shot by the waiting hitman, who then disposes of the body and collects bars of silver strapped to the victim's back as payment. This goes on until the day a looper finds gold strapped to his victim's back instead of silver, signifying that the anonymous victim is actually the looper himself - or at least who he will be in 30 years. This is known as "closing a loop"; the looper promptly retires after collecting his gold, and is free to live a life of luxury for those 30 years until he will be captured and sent back to the predetermined moment when his younger self kills him.
This is seen as a perfect kill system because:
- Law Enforcement in 2074 has no corpse to pin on the mob. No corpse, no crime.
- No one in 2044 but the looper is ever aware of the murder - and the looper doesn't know a single detail about the victim (until it is his older self).
- The looper, whose only kernel of knowledge is that he briefly killed strangers for a future mob, ultimately offs the only person in 2074 to witness these killings (himself), leaving NO ONE who can tie the future mob to a crime (no body, no killer, no crime).
Young Joe is a Looper. He's had a messed up past, no real parents, and had his lessons on life given to him by a man from the future who handed him a gun and taught him to kill. Needless to say, Joe has issues. He drops designer drugs in his eyes all day, frequents prostitutes, etc. But Young Joe also has heart, studies French, dreams of traveling to "better, more sophisticated" places than Kansas, and gets all vulnerable about childhood and parenting with his prostitute lady friend (Piper Perabo)... Somewhere in that stoic hitman there's a heart - though often it gets buried beneath the selfish ambition to "get his" in life, no matter what the cost.
When Old Joe (Bruce Willis) arrives, Young Joe is confronted by a possible version of himself that understands the world much differently; Old Joe (as seen in montage) has been down the path Young Joe is fighting so fiercely to travel - Old Joe knows how empty it ultimately is until you find love. Real love. Old Joe had it for a brief stint of time until his past came back to haunt him (Loopers' deaths are predetermined, remember?) and cost him the love of his life, as well. Old Joe is fighting for love - and he too wants to "get his," no matter what the cost.
To Old Joe, the person responsible for taking what was his is someone named the Rainmaker, who is basically the all-powerful telekinetic Hitler of 2074, controlling everything in society from the government to the citizenry to the mobs and their operations. Old Joe's intel (flimsy as it is) states that it was the Rainmaker who called for the retired loopers to start having their loops closed wholesale - and therefore was responsible for shattering Old Joe's happiness. Old Joe's plan, then, is to infiltrate the past, locate the Rainmaker (based on hospital records) when he is a young boy, kill him, spare himself (and, you know, maybe the world) a lot of darkness and heartache. Only, Old Joe has three names on a list (flimsy intel) - three children - who could be telekinetic Hitler, and therefore he must kill all three. Old Joe's ambition for personal satisfaction is exponentially worse than Young Joe's - as Young Joe eventually comes to see.
Young Joe lands on a farm owned by Sara (Emily Blunt), a low-level telekinetic who is mother to a genius-level (and frighteningly powerful) telekinetic child named Cid (Pierce Gagnon), who will CLEARLY one day be the Rainmaker. Young Joe has that vulnerable side and heart opened up by the hard-luck story of Cid and Sara - especially Cid, whose story of violence and loss at a young age is so much like Young Joe's own story. Even when Cid inadvertently blows up a gatman (Garrett Dillahunt), and Young Joe knows this kid is telekinetic Hitler, the compassion he sees Sara showing her son, and the effect it has, marks for Young Joe the difference between becoming men like him (and baby-killing future him), and possibly becoming what Young Joe secretly always wanted to be: a better kind of man.
However, murder-spree Old Joe is too far gone to turn back. When he finally tracks Young Joe to Sara's farm, it becomes clear that Old Joe's selfish ambition is the exact incident that ironically enough creates The Rainmaker; in Old Joe's timeline (more on that later), rumor has it that as a boy, the Rainmaker saw his mother murdered by a looper and had part of his jaw shot off: horrific acts Old Joe nearly commits.
But Old Joe's alteration of time means that there's a possibility for more than one path - so when Young Joe finds himself in a moment where his violent ways can't save the day, he makes a choice to not be like Old Joe and actually give up his all-important ambition to hold on to "what's his." He removes himself (and all the bad Old Joe's done) from the equation by killing himself, thereby possibly sparing a lot more people times of pain and darkness under the Rainmaker's reign (presuming Cid grows up to be a healthier, nicer, all-powerful guy).