Brian Cox always says that time is the one constant in the universe. It predictably marches forwards always and forever. So a film about time travel demands our trust so we enter into a world of make believe where the laws of physics are a little (time) wharped. You shrug your shoulders and accept with a casual 'okay' anything that is shown to you, so long as it makes some kind of linear sense. But in essence, by it's very name, Looper doesn't seem to.

Writer and director Rian Johnson said "For me it's a trope of time travel movies and there's a slight about of magic logic that you have to apply in order for a story like this to make sense."

So here goes... (SPOILERS!)

In the future, time travel is invented, but is immediately outlawed and only available on a dark, criminal black market. When the mafia want to get rid of someone they send their victim 30 years into the past where a hired assassin called a 'Looper' is waiting to kill and dispose of the body. Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been doing a good job working for the Gat men leader Abe (Jeff Daniels) as a Looper, killing accurately and sensibly saving his cash, until one day, a mysterious mob boss called the 'Rainmaker' starts to close the loops and sends Joe's future self (Bruce Willish) back in time to be killed. Naturally, it's Bruce Willis, so he escape his younger self to hunt down and eliminate the infant Cid (Pierce Gagnon) who will become 'the Rainmaker'. Hiding on Sara's (Emily Blunt) farm, Joe waits to finally close the loop, so he can live out the next thirty years on his own terms.

Loops and Layers

Get it? I didn't the first time. There's a scene in the TV show Community where Troy breaks down and cries because he didn't get Inception. "So many layers!" I laughed. Smugly. I did. I even worked out that the start of In The Night Garden is inception. But, now, I'm Troy, blubbering "I don't get it" to my husband, who explained several times in a manner befitting CBeebies. Clearly, I am a film toddler.

Avoiding sock puppets as a visual aid, I eventually reasoned in my head that the young Looper (Joe) has a set of futures like light going through a prism. One action (like killing his older self) then spurts out different future time lines. The ending is tricky as who's sacrifice makes them the hero? Joe's death or Sara's mothering? More on that later...

There's LOADS of questions and riddles about this film. Let's start with...


Oh yeah. Mind control, that favourite of sci-fi movies. This is a strange one, as the film is a bit flippant, embarrassed almost, about the fact that some characters are 'TK'. For these telekenetic weirdos it seems their power is limited to flipping coins in the air. Not for the Rainmaker, who as a two year old can make a grown man fly up into the air and explode, just by having a screaming fit. It certainly has made me take a sideways suspicious glance at my toddler when he's gearing up for a tantrum. But this just seems a bit convenient. Why him? He appears to be the only one, and it's not really explained why, other than 'Sara' his mother can spin a lighter.

Why the loopers have to kill themselves

The whole narrative is based on the Rainmaker closing all the loops, one at a time. The Loopers accept this as their fate, and when they day comes they get a a tonne of gold strapped to the body to take back and blow on drugs for the next thirty years.

There's a fabulously imaginative and gruesome scene after Joe's friend Seth (Paul Dano) escapes his younger assassin self and is brutally maimed in order for him to return and have the loop closed. He starts to miss fingers, his nose, a hand - all appearing on the older Seth as historic scars. It's a very effectively grim scene. It makes no sense. To wipe out the old Seth (now in the past) they only have to kill young Seth - so why bother with the torture? Why doesn't the Rainmaker send one guy back to wipe out all the Loopers in one go and save himself some cash?

Old Joe is late... twice

Both times that Bruce Willis comes back to the present, he's running late on Goron-Levitt's watch. One time he breaks free from a future fight, which explains the delay. The time he dies (so Young Joe can grow up to become him) why would he also be late?

Cid the Rainmaker

Old Joe (Bruce) killing Sara, eventually make Cid into the Rainmaker. Bruce can't exist without letting Young Joe grow up, get married, and return for revenge at his wife's death. That means, at the same time, Cid would grow up normal because no-one killed his mother. How does Cid the Rainmaker exist in a timeline where Old Joe didn't kill his mother?

Mothers' love

This is the idea that's been going around in my head after watching this movie. What is is saying about Mums?

I've just read a very interesting article about 'theories of motherhood' and it's got me thinking. For a film with very few women, there is a strong sense of the lasting power of women. The only reason Young Joe can save Cid is because he sees himself in the little boy. Ostensibly, an abused orphan who watched others kill his mother.

In terms of representation theory, the 'mother' in film is usually a good way to establish what the film maker thinks is 'normal' or 'good' in society. What are the characters' experiences of the 'mother'.

  • Haunted by this experience, young Joe clings to the memory of the soothing touch of his mother's hand on his hair. It's a motif mentioned a few times; once when he speaks to Cid in the bunker, once with his stripper girlfriend Suzie (Piper Perabo) and again, once he's dead, Sara offers him this gesture for comfort.
  • Old Joe (Bruce) marries a 'pure' woman (Qu Xing) who is desperate to be a mother.
  • Cid becomes/ doesn't become the Rainmaker because of his mother.
  • Sara lives with the guilt of initially rejecting motherhood.

The way the film ends suggests the future for Cid is to grow up with the love and support of his mother Sara. It's for the audience to believe Sara's hope, that so long as he has her, he can use his TK for good and not become 'the Rainmaker'. It's certainly a compelling idea.

Is Rian Johnson suggesting that society needs and must protect and respect the role of mothers?

I've just finished reading The Handmaid's Tale, a great novel by Margaret Atwood which shows a dystopian future where women are reduced down to their biological function as mothers. While Atwood is concerned with the subordination of women into this role, I think Johnson is making a sociological point: without mothers, men grow violent. Well, it's not quite that reductive, but he's kind of making a point about valuing love, and specifically that from mothers.

In the post war period, influential child psychologist John Bowlby had a theory of 'maternal deprivation' which stated a child could be mentally damaged by its removal from its mother in the first three years of life. (It's worth pointing out his theories were based on the already 'damaged' children who arrived in his practice for help and he was partially discredited). His view is shown through the infants Joe and Cid (in one version of his life) who take this trauma to fuel an adult life of drugs and violence.

New wave feminist theories protested against societies' view that 'good' mothers were devoted and pure and 'bad' mothers were sexualised and selfish. This theory is shown through Joe's girlfriend - a stripper. She doesn't die as such, but Old Joe takes away her reason for living, by killing her son, believing he's a potential Cid. Young Joe's mother was a prostitute, who, yup, you guessed it, dies. Then there's Sara. She escapes death, but renounces her party dress days and atones for her liberal lifestyle by mindlessly chopping at a tree stump for several scenes in the film.

So which 'mother' is represented as 'good' in Looper? All of them. However, the film does essentially end on a positive. For all the blunderbusting and TK mayhem at the end of the film, ultimately, it's Sara, the single mum, who will actively shape the future, not passively become a victim of it.

This film can become a mental rubix cube to wrestle with. Answers on a postcard please.

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