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Looper brings on the plot twists

Chris Allen | Sunday, September 30, 2012

 

Suspension of disbelief. It’s a state of mind in the arsenal of any tested and experienced filmgoer. Sure, the events on the screen are not reality, and may not hold any plausible connection to our lives outside the walls of the theater, but suspension of disbelief carries us through. It gets us through logical inconsistencies and scientific implausibilities and keeps us engaged in the film. Never is suspension of disbelief more crucial to enjoying a film than in Rian Johnson’s “Looper,” starring a mature Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis.

Any filmgoer headed to “Looper” must bring his or her suspension of disbelief in tow. Without it, the mental gymnastics of navigating Johnson’s complicated time travel logic will be more frustrating than fruitful. 

Putting the logic of time travel on the back burner is the key to seeing the true magic in “Looper.” As is the case with any successful science fiction, the science and fantasy frame an intense and masterful character study.

Few will be able to piece together the time-travel element of Johnson’s work, but as Gordon-Levitt’s Young Joe himself struggles with the logistics, Willis’ Old Joe responds with a baseline assumption of the film: It doesn’t matter.

“Looper” tells the story of a dystopian future society. It is 2044, and the United States has declined to the point it has been replaced by China as the world’s dominant power, as evidenced by the film’s characters preference to use Chinese yuan instead of the dollar. 

The scientific advances further into this future – in 2074 – have led to the creation – and instantaneous outlawing – of time travel. This taboo leads us to the crux of “Looper.” It is a complicated tangle of space and time, but basics are as follows: time travel is controlled and used by the Mob in 2074 to kill adversaries by sending them back to 2044 and having them extinguished by a hired gun called a “looper,” like Gordon-Levitt’s character. 

When a mysterious character in 2074 called The Rainmaker begins to do away with the service, he seeks to “close the loops” by sending the future version of the loopers back in time to kill their past selves. Gordon-Levitt’s future self is played by Willis. When Willis’ character reveals his lead on the 2044 version of The Rainmaker, the plot takes a left turn that brings the film to a climax that will be discussed, debated and nitpicked the same way “Inception” was a few years ago.

“Looper” may send viewers looking for clear-cut, principle-based time travel into fits – many filmmakers have tried to make sense of the space-time continuum arising in a time travel situation and few have provided concrete answers. “Looper” is the latest in a line that includes “Terminator” and “12 Monkeys.” 

Just as was the case in “Inception,” when Christopher Nolan laid out an entirely new concept with confusing and sometimes incongruent rules, what was important was not the logic of the concept, but rather the ability of the director and writer to lay out a premise and confidently present it as a storytelling device. 

With a slam of his fist in the film’s diner scene, Willis speaks for the director. Don’t overthink the time travel, the resulting conflict is more important. Once Johnson gets the audience past this, the film shines.

The film represents a star turn for Gordon-Levitt, who is almost unrecognizable after being fitted with prosthetics to look more like Willis. Here, the bubbly, likable young lead from “(500) Days of Summer” and “50/50” is brooding, mature and edgy. His performance will make waves as award season rolls around and, combined with his performance in “The Dark Knight Rises,” should catapult him to A-list status in future blockbusters.

The maturation of one of Hollywood’s baby-faced stars into a true dramatic lead is a treat for audiences – and so is “Looper.”

Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu