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And it's almost impossible to talk about the movie, mostly because sci-fi plots always sound so stupid when you don't have two hours to set everything up and make it feel completely plausible.
Also, I can hardly tell you anything about the story without giving things away.
What I can tell you without spoiling anything is that this is one of Bruce Willis' best performances ever.
Because Willis does such a good job of portraying wise-cracking, too-cool-to-live characters, he often isn't taken seriously as an actor. But he has the full range, and he always has.
This isn't a too-cool part. Willis plays the part of an aging hit man who has killed and killed and killed. But in the last five years of his life, he found love and a kind of redemption, and then suddenly an old debt came due and he loses everything.
It's not that he wants it back. He knows he can't actually get it back. He just wants to undo a terrible harm that was done to a good, innocent person in the process of the debt collection.
Which brings us to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is one of the best young actors working. Gordon-Levitt plays the same character as Willis – only 30 years younger. Old Joe and Young Joe.
Gordon-Levitt is generous enough as an actor that he is willing to hide his face – he wears several prosthetics to make him believable as a younger version of Bruce Willis. Doesn't matter – it does not interfere with his brilliant performance.
Never have two actors played the same character with such perfect equality. Both of them face terrible moral choices; both of them get to explore a wide range of emotions and responses; we completely understand both of them and yet dread the terrible things we know they're going to do.
There are also wonderful performances by Emily Blunt, Paul Dano, Piper Perabo, and above all Jeff Daniels as a world-weary old criminal boss.
It is impossible not to mention the best performance by an actor under the age of 10, perhaps ever. Pierce Gagnon doesn't enter the movie until quite late, but the entire emotional truth of the movie rests on his performance. He is up to the task.
Writer-director Rian Johnson did everything right. It's his vision from beginning to end. Not only is the script exceptionally clear and powerful, but also Johnson works with actors and draws superb performances from them.
When you can work with a child actor and get the results Johnson got from Gagnon, you really are the kind of actor's director that Woody Allen and Martin Scorcese are only purported to be.
Time travel stories are usually full of contradictions and paradoxes. The rule set chosen for this one has a couple of logical weak spots, but nothing as laughable as the "fading photograph" from Back to the Future.
My wife and I talked it through afterward, and no, there are no internal contradictions. They live by the rules they chose.
If there's a flaw, it's a small one: Looper suffers from Delaware Syndrome. That is, there's an entire future world with all the variety of the state of Delaware. We have to buy the premise that the only people using time travel are criminals, and they only use it for one purpose, and everybody who matters lives in one city within an easy car ride of everyone else.
But it's OK – movies are short stories, and they take place in compressed universes. We don't miss the wider world because it's not relevant to the tale being told.
Also, there's some pointless nudity and completely unnecessary F-words. But they don't last long. The movie would have had an R rating anyway, because of the casual brutality and really savage things that happen. This movie is not light-hearted. I can't even say it's "fun." It's just powerful and brilliant.
That's all I can tell you without committing a semi-spoiler. But there is a seeming contradiction that may be confusing, and I want to clear it up for you now, so you don't wonder about what's real and not-real when you watch the movie.
If you hate it when people give away anything vital about a plot, stop reading this column now. But if you like it when people warn you about confusing bits so you can sail right through them, then keep reading. I won't give away any actual surprises.
There are a couple of times in the movie when we're shown the consequences of a choice Joe is about to make. That is, we flash forward to what he believes will happen, so we can understand why he makes the choice he makes.
One such flash-forward happens very near the end. It's quite clear that this is what would happen, but hasn't yet, so we absolutely understand what he does next.
But early on in the movie, there's a time when we seem to see the same event twice. In this one case, however, it really happened twice.
It's not a flash-forward, it's just that because of time travel, we come to the same moment twice, only the second time, one character behaves differently, which changes everything.
Specifically: Young Joe works as a hit man – a looper. When a victim is sent back in time by future criminals, for a looper to murder him and dispose of the body, a load of silver bars is attached to the victim. The looper keeps the silver and spends it (or saves it, or gives it away).
But when a looper "closes his loop," they send back his own future self. This time, when he kills the person – himself as an old coot – the young looper is paid off in gold bars.
Then he's done. That was his last job.
He then has 30 years or so to live on that gold, until his time runs out and he is forced to go back in time and be murdered by his younger self.
The first time around, Young Joe kills his future self, closes his loop, and then lives for 30 years. He did it without hesitation – but it also makes him miserably unhappy, as you might imagine.
So when, as Old Joe (Bruce Willis), he is sent back, he changes his behavior and doesn't get killed. Thus he diverges from the timeline that created the version of himself that made this choice.
Under one set of time travel rules, this would simply not be possible. Any change you make changes everything; Old Joe, by changing what Young Joe does, makes it so Old Joe could never exist as the person that he is.
But Looper is working under the rule set in which causality has inertia.
If your older self kills your younger self, then of course, you're dead, so you couldn't exist and you couldn't kill yourself so it didn't happen – the rule against that paradox is preserved.
Any injury your young body sustains does show up as a scar or maiming of your old body.
Other, lesser changes, though, don't change everything. Causality "wants" to flow in the old channel, so your memories of events aren't immediately erased as long as there remains a chance that they might still happen.
Your memories start to get foggy as things change, but you can still hold on.
As a movie-goer, though, all that matters is that both versions of that scene are real within the movie. They both happened. The first one, where Young Joe kills his old self, results in Young Joe getting all that gold and then leading a life of continuing crime and addiction, turning Young Joe into Old Joe....continued on page 3