The cinematic realm of Science-Fiction is one that finds itself stuck on a loop every few years. For every Moon there are several hundred Cowboys & Aliens, while a film like District 9 will fall in to multiplexes and inform the genre for the immediate future. It takes a very special film to occupy that inspiration space, and Looper looks set to take the mantle of being the key science-fiction movie for the next couple of years. By employing a little foresight ourselves, it’s achingly obvious that lesser filmmakers will pillage Rian Johnson’s film, attaching the films bold and exciting identity to their own lesser works, much in the same way that the horror genre mines a once interesting work (Saw, The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity) and regurgitates poor imitations until the next breakthrough work appears.
Having previously tackled the heist caper with 2008’s The Brothers Bloom and placed the Film Noir detective drama in a highschool with his debut work Brick, time-travel is Johnson’s focus this time around. The story of a hit-man employed to handle targets from the future, Looper sees said hitman faced with the task of killing his future self. As his future self flees, our hit-man finds himself embroiled in a situation far greater, and far more complex than a simple summary would pay credit too.
Somewhat unusually for a futuristic paen Looper is actually set in the recent past. Johnson’s film is based in 2004, albeit not the 2004 that a contemporary audience would recognise. Tinged with a technology far ahead of our own years, no doubt thanks to the effects of time travel, the 2004 of Looper is never explained on-screen, with the audience instead left to surmise as to how and why the world was rebuilt in this way (if it was at all…). Recalling the Iowa of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 iteration of Star Trek, the Kansas of Johnson’s conceptualisation blurs the rural with the technical, the futuristic city skyline in the background informing a world recognisable to the now. Adding further wit, several sequences take place in a diner straight out of the 1950’s, albeit one quite literally on the fringes of a world moving forwards. The same could be said of the unlikely setting for much of the film’s second act. As chaos reigns, time unravels and worlds collide, our protagonist Joe retreats to the safety of the kind of farmhouse that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1850’s, or any time in-between then and now. By subverting the audiences understanding of place within time, Johnson injects a further sense of confusion to proceedings.
While Looper might recall Abrams’ Star Trek aesthetically, it also resembles that particular film in terms of its approach to the act of time travel itself. While it remains largely unexplored from a theoretical perspective, the narrative lines towed share a number of similarities, in so much that parallel worlds and slightly off-kilter paths are created when a diversion in the line occurs. (Nor is it just Star *Trek* that comes to mind, given that Looper features a farm boy destined for a monumental fate). Not only satisfied with simply creating a tale revolving around a thesis as complex as time travel, Johnson also introduces elements of telekinesis in to the world of Looper, with it’s children-as-all-powerful-vessels bringing to mind Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, although one couldn’t help but surmise that it was Britain’s own 2000AD that might just be the greatest kindred spirit of Looper. The self-contained story of time travelling assassination gone awry, with a socio-political bent, could have been ripped straight from the pages of Tharg’s Future Shocks.
Johnson never resorts to patronising his audience when it comes to portraying the strucutually complex work, and even goes as far as to actually push the work in a direction perilously close to its limit. A wordless montage covering a 30-year cycle in the life of our protagonist could cause the whole structure to falter in to confusion in the hands of a lesser filmmaker yet under Johnson’s tutelage such a sequence remains a charm, with the manner in which the section ends (with a 0ne-take redux of a previously seen sequence) bringing everything full circle admirably. The film also serves as the great contemporary reminder of Bruce Willis’ action cinema capabilities, yet also incorporates the talents honed in his latter day turns towards more serious fare (a section involving an anti-Biblical Massacre Of The Innocents sees the actor straddle both lines like never before). Meanwhile Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues on his path to impress, cementing his position as one of 2012’s greatest talents.
Subversive and playful with the concept, Johnson has created an immensely satisfying piece of work. Solid (if not infallible towards scrutiny) storytelling, coupled with a remarkable visual pattern ensures that Looper is set to inform the genre for some time to come.