Saturday, October 13, 2012

Looper: is there something a little wibbly-wobbly with this timey-wimey?

Tonight my husband and I had our first night out in a long time. Our plan was to go out for a nice meal, then see Looper and maybe fit Argo in afterwards. The restaurant was full, with a 40-minute wait. So we left and hit a Vietnamese restaurant we hadn't been to in a while so we could make the two movies. After 15 minutes we were still waiting and eventually asked someone if they could take our order. The girl went and grabbed a notepad and wrote down our order all wrong, so when the food came it was so crazy spicy and hot I couldn't actually eat it. But we didn't have time to order again, so I ate a few bites, gulped down a few pitchers of water, and my husband got down more of it but he couldn't manage much. We gave up, paid, and left.

Hit the first theatre, sold out. Had to head to the other side of town, and now our double movie was out of the question. We chose Looper and the mall parking lot was like Christmas, it was so busy. My husband looked at me and said, "I think this just isn't our night." I said no, we have to get SOMETHING to go right. He dropped me off and I ran in to grab tickets, and the mass of people in there was unbelievable. What the hell? I mean, I'm glad people are going to the movies, but... not if I can't. ;)

I jumped into a kiosk line and the brain trusts at the front of the line spent 8 minutes (I timed them) trying to get their cards to work in the automated teller, and those of us in line, being good Canadians, grumbled angrily under our breath while not uttering a word to them. They eventually turned and announced to all of us that the machine simply didn't work. The guy in front of me didn't believe them, and stepped up as they walked away. It worked just fine. I got our tickets, we went into an almost-full theatre, but nabbed two seats that were NOT in the front row, thank goodness. Things were looking up.

And Looper, by the way, is a fun, timey-wimey, wibbly-wobbly bit of time travel sci-fi about a group of people called Loopers: in 2044, they are assassins. But not of anyone in our timeline. A criminal element in 2074 finds people they need killed, send them in a time machine back to a spot in 2044, where the Looper is standing, and the Looper is given a time to be standing there. He waits, checks his watch, readies his gun, the hit suddenly appears, and bang, job done. Here's the catch: a Looper signs an agreement that in 30 years, he will be hunted down and sent back in time to HIMSELF, and that Looper will know he's just killed his future self when he turns the dead man over and finds gold strapped to his back. He will then take the gold, cash out of the game, and spend the next 30 years having a hell of a time, knowing that he'll be assassinated by himself. And that's called closing the loop, hence their name.

So when Joseph Gordon-Levitt's future self, Bruce Willis, suddenly shows up and immediately beats the crap out of him, things haven't gone as planned, and now Gordon-Levitt must hunt down Willis and kill him to close the loop and make it so the Looper head office, so to speak, doesn't torture him to get the future Looper back (the scene where we watch this happen to someone else is gruesomely amazing). Willis, on the other hand, has an agenda, which ends up changing the direction of the film.

We both enjoyed the movie a lot, and thought it was a great concept that was well executed. But I had a few gripes with the actual timelines that happened in the film (and I can thank Lost season 5 and Doctor Who for making me think about it so much), and so I will list them here.



You saw the film, right? You're not cheating?


OK, it's just us now. So here's my beef. They establish early on that there's a main timeline: Willis comes back, Levitt kills him. Levitt lives the next 30 years of his life the way we watch it unfold, but then he gets to the end of that 30 years and knows what will happen next, and wants things to be different. So when it's time to be killed, he immediately starts changing the timeline. He beats his younger self up, and so now we see the second timeline begin, which is essentially (unlike Lost and more like Back to the Future) the first timeline with things changing. Remember Hurley saying he was waiting for his hand to disappear and Miles telling him that was ridiculous? Well, in this one, hands disappear.

So. Willis's entire modus operandi is to find the Rainmaker, who he assumes is a child, and kill him. Why he doesn't assume the Rainmaker is in his sixties or is a woman (why does he assume children and not their mothers??) is quickly swept under the carpet with a couple of sentences, and off he goes to hunt down the three kids whose birth dates correspond to some numbers he found. As Levitt experiences things, Willis begins to change because his just being there is changing this timeline, and therefore changing his past and everything that has happened. If he'd just been killed, none of this would have happened.

We realize the Rainmaker is Cid, a little boy with telekinetic powers. His mother originally abandoned him but has come back and is raising him with all the love she has, and is beginning to teach him how to control his powers. But when Willis comes back, hunting Cid with a vengeance, Levitt finally figures out how the Rainmaker was made: he saw Willis gun down his mother, and he jumped on a train and got away, knowing he could have stopped him but didn't, and grows up, uses his power to kill every Looper out of revenge for what happened to his mother, and that's how Willis ended up being returned the way he did.

So here's my question: How was the Rainmaker actually created if he existed in the original timeline, BEFORE Willis actually went back and turned the little boy into the monster? It was Willis that made him bad. But he wouldn't have turned bad if Willis hadn't shown up, and in the original timeline, Willis didn't show up.

The same could actually be said for the torture scene, which although amazing, as mentioned above, didn't make sense. They needed their future Looper killed in this timeline and couldn't have him wandering around on the loose, so they torture his present self, chopping off body parts so the future Looper becomes less and less of a piece of flesh until they make him come to them so they can do away with him. Um... why not just kill the younger version, which would make the older version vanish?

I know it's likely I'm missing something in both instances, so I'd love to hear what some of you thought who are into time travel fiction and saw the movie. Did you find it inconsistent?

Don't get me wrong: I really did enjoy it, and would recommend it. Gordon-Levitt's prosthesis is worth the price of admission alone. I actually thought Kid Blue was Abe in the past (I thought that would have been pretty cool) or was the Rainmaker. But in the end he was just a jacked-up baddie. What I did like was the subtle message at the end that our past dictates our future, and I loved the image of the dead Young Joe in the field, with Sarah stroking his hair the way he'd remembered his mother stroking his. He grew up a deadbeat because she left him, but Sarah is the mother who stayed, and because of a mother's devotion and love, her son actually has a chance to be a good person.


Batcabbage said...

I haven't seen the movie, even though it sounds good. But this article was about time travel, so it was inevitable (ha!) that I was gonna read this, spoilers and all.

Time travel is awesome, but as you've just illustrated here, there's always problems with it, and trying to sort out all the inconsistencies and paradoxes can actually cause you to think yourself into having a stroke. (Note - the previous sentence is in no way whatsoever true).

I like the philosophy of Star Trek Time Police Dudes.- "Yeah, we know, nothing makes sense. Temporal mechanics, eh? Whaddaya gonna do? Just go with it and try not to break the universe."

Judy H said...

at the end, what also blew my mind was - - young Joe died, so therefore old Joe never fell in love with the Chinese lady, and she never died. But without old Joe's coming back, would he have still killed himself? Ohh, the butterfly effect / ripples. This is the kind of movie that makes your head hurt, yet it was very well done!

Unknown said...

Okay, I'll give it a shot.

We know from some of Willis' flashbacks to future past that he and some others have been trying to dig up info on the Rainmaker for some time, but with little luck. They apparently found his/her birth-date and place and were able to narrow things down enough so Willis knew that s/he was 1 of 3 kids. He also doesn't assume that the Rainmaker is male. Remember that the second kid he goes after is a little girl! Going after the moms would be useless as the Rainmaker has already been born by the time Willis arrives 30 years in his past.

Personal side note: I loved the way they handled Willis' gunning for the kids - his breakdown after murdering the first one. It's so easy to say "yes" when asked "Knowing what we know, if you had the chance to go back in time and kill Hitler when he was five, would you?" But even with prior knowledge, killing a kid is something so morally horrific that (hopefully) the human soul rebels, no matter how necessary that killing might be.

Anyway, as to the creation of the Rainmaker from he murder of Cid's mom by Willis. The temporal mechanics work, but barely. In Levitt's time, the murder of Cid's mom is in the future, i.e. not set, and therefore open to all of the various quantum theories of alternate histories and cats in unopened boxes. Since it hasn't happened in Levitt's time, anything can happen.

In Willis' time, the murder of Cid's mom has happened, and the events afterward occur because it happened, with the quantum states collapsing into one reality: the box is opened, the cat is dead. By going back to the past, Willis is entering the timeline at a point where the lid is still on the box, and the future is still composed of a myriad of theoretical possibilities, alternate histories, and living cats.

Keep in mind too that WE DON'T KNOW if Levitt's actions changed the future. We're just ASSUMING that there's a happy ending. What if Levitt's flash was completely wrong, and it is something else entirely that set Cid on the path to super-villian-hood? What if, in a spike of teenage rage, Cid accidentally kills his mom, and goes dark because of that?

As far as the torture/disappearing limbs bit, besides setting up that what is done in Levitt's present directly affects the future from which the older Loopers come from, I think the purpose in not just killing the younger version is exactly to avoid the disappearance of the older, potentially in a public place with lots of eyes. The gang uses the progressive loss of body-bits as a means to draw the older to an out of the way place where they can be killed out of the public eye and the fact of time-travel can be kept secret.

That's my take, on things, and I actually think Looper does a pretty great job with the mechanics of time-travel and the macro-effects of quantum mechanics. Of course, I don;t know all that much about quantum mechanics beyond reading a pile of hard SF, so I may be completely full of it.

Good flick, though!

Unknown said...

I would also be willing to bet that "looper" comes from the theory of loop quantum gravity which is also a theory of space and time. And which Sheldon Cooper thinks is idiotic.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

One thing I noticed - the little boy Willis kills is carrying a birthday present - even though it wasn't the Rainmaker's home anyway, he killed a little guy randomly going to a birthday party.

They used the prosthetics on JGL, but he didn't look at all like David Addison.

Nikki Stafford said...

Colleen: HAHA! I was thinking of Moonlighting, too. ;)

And I also noticed the birthday present, and wondered, Is it possible that kid isn't actually the kid who lives in the house? Could he be killing the wrong one?

Nikki Stafford said...

Ensley: As usual, you rock. So here's my question back. You say we don't know if they changed the future, and you're absolutely right: for all we know, something else happens and this kid will grow up to be the Rainmaker regardless.

But in the original timeline, Willis was killed when Levitt saw him. That wasn't a possible possibility, it's what actually happened in Willis's past: when Old Joe popped up, he shot him, and lived his life that ended up with the Old Joe that jumps up, pops Young Joe in the face, and gets away. So in that original timeline, Old Joe wouldn't have caused the Rainmaker to have turned bad. So you're suggesting perhaps something else did it, and the kid is pretty much predestined to be bad when he grows up and take out the Loopers? (Which, to be honest, doesn't necessarily make him BAD... he's as bad as the Loopers are, really.) So in the original timeline, something else tweaked him, but in this timeline, maybe, just maybe, he grew up and didn't kill the Loopers. However, Willis just took out most of the cartel so many of them don't exist anyway, and wouldn't be around to be caught 30 years from now.

As Judy H said above, my brain is hurtin'. ;) I LOVE this stuff.

Like you, by the way, I really enjoyed the movie. Having this conversation afterwards just makes me like it even more. I love Gordon-Levitt, and I think Willis was an inspired choice in this film. My favourite Willis outing since Pulp Fiction.

Unknown said...

Nikki, yeah this post-game analysis is always the fun part!

Okay, so in what you're calling the "original timeline," Levitt kills Willis as soon as the latter appears. Notice that, in that time-line, Willis appeared fully hooded and restrained. The first change in the time-line actually doesn't occur in Willis's past/Levitt's present, but in Willis's present/Levitt's future, when Willis fights and kills his kidnappers. It may have even happened before this, when Old Joe's wife was killed by the nervous Gat-Man. THAT may be the first event that changed. Happening in Old Joe's future-present, these events/choices/actions occur in the "traditional, linear" flow of time: collapsing quantum possibilities where the Gat-Man fired/didn't fire, where the wife returned/didn't, where Old Joe fought/didn't, and won/lost. There's no temporal paradox here. Just your standard future being created instant by instant.

In the original time-line we know that Old Joe didn't fight, or at least didn't win if he did, because he popped into Young Joe's gun sights bound and hooded, unlike the second time around.

This is interesting becaue it means that, story-wise, Young Joe isn't the real protagonist of the film, he's not the actor, but merely the acted upon. Old Joe is the one who is changing things, and he is making his personal future happen moment by moment, choice by choice, quantum collapse by quantum collapse, even though he is making those choices in his past/Young Joe's future. We carry our future with us, always, no matter our position in the space-time continuum or our external surroundings.

If we accept that the we create our future instant by instant from a multitude of possible futures, instants, actions, choices no matter our surroundings, then Looper works really well.

Colleen/redeem147 said...

We saw young Joe (who henceforth I shall call YJ) go to France as he wanted to do. The next time he followed the advice to go to China. Perhaps he should have tried Tahiti.

Efthymia said...

I don't think Cid is predestined to become the Rainmaker, neither that Old Joe killing his mother made him the Rainmaker.
His powers make him a very unstable kid, so there are a lot of bad things that could have happened to him or that he could have caused to himself because of them, which would lead him to become the Rainmaker. Young Joe has lived with him, even for this short amount of time, and knows how unstable he is and how easily he could turn dark, so there in the field he realises that Old Joe murdering Cid's mother would most definitely turn the kid into the Rainmaker, even if it isn't what happened originally. He doesn't know for a fact that Cid will grow up to be a lovely person completely unrelated to the underworld, but he hopes he will, and he is more optimistic about Cid's and his mother's future than he is of his own, he values their lives more than his own, so he goes for the uncertain hope rather than the certain grim future.

Anonymous said...

I'm guessing the reason they tortured people in the present to harm their future selves but didn't outright kill them was because effectively removing someone's entire existence was much more detrimental to the timeline than hacking off a few limbs. Of course this premise is pretty ridiculous too as even the smallest changes could have massive repercussions.. but such is the ridiculousness of time travel movies!