I don’t enjoy writing negative reviews. Often, when I don’t think a film has anything of worth to offer, I opt to remain silent instead of negatively criticizing it. Granted, criticism of any kind necessitates negativity from time to time, but tearing things down isn’t really our purpose here at Reel Spirituality. We want to help people enjoy cinema in all its forms, to think more deeply about it, and to potentially be transformed by it.
I do occasionally write negative reviews when a film is either a profound disappointment and I believe the filmmakers are capable of so much more or when a movie is odious both cinematically and thematically. When a movie is simply narratively frustrating, and especially when that movie also seems so well-intentioned, I most often prefer to remain silent rather than risk coming across more negative than I intend.
Looper is that final kind of movie. To me, Looper is as narratively frustrating as it is cinematically and thematically compelling.
Looper is a high concept indictment of violence, one of the best I’ve seen in a mainstream Hollywood blockbuster, actually, and I’d love for more people to see, enjoy, and thoughtfully consider the message of this film. In fact, I heartily encourage you to read either of these two treatments of the film – one which we are featuring on our website from Dr. Gareth Higgins and this one in Fuller’s student publication, The Semi. Both are packed with spoilers, but both explicate well the film’s undergirding philosophy of non-violence.
Looper is about a hit man, “Joe,” who is trying to kill his future self, “Old Joe,” thereby closing his “loop.” Old Joe has been sent back in time by a future crime boss, the Rainmaker, who is systematically executing all the old loopers in the future by sending them back in time so that their younger selves kill them. Old Joe escapes his execution, and Joe has to hunt him(self) down. Meanwhile, Old Joe is trying to kill the future crime boss in the past when he’s a child so that the Rainmaker never grows up to try to kill him in the future. (It’s really not that confusing when you’re watching the movie.)
At least, that’s the most basic structure of the plot, and if the movie had stuck to that structure and allowed the intricacies and complexities of time travel, the tension between old men and young men and our current and future selves, and the themes of cynicism and love to drive the resolution of the story, I would have nothing but praise for Looper. The first half of Looper is all of the above, and it is fantastic.
But then, in the movie’s second half, another plot element (telekinesis) is added and a whole host of other genre (horror) conventions are shoehorned into this already packed film. Ostensibly, this raises the stakes of the story and pushes the story toward its conclusion, but really it only muddy the narrative waters and distracts from what’s great about this film. The resolution is also terribly coincidental without any narrative antecedents. (SPOILER: Joe “knows” something when before this moment he has exhibited no ability for foresight.)
I wish Looper were a little more streamlined and a little less coincidental. TIme travel stories are unwieldy, because time travel doesn’t ever really make sense, but it is a weakness to introduce other genres simply to distract from everything a movie is not taking seriously in its structure. The first half and ending of Looper are thoughtful and well-intentioned. I just wish it was a little more thoughtful in its entirety.