I finally got around to seeing Looper. Hmm...
I'm not actually sure what I think about it. There are parts of it, like the acting, that are pretty great, although I'm not the big fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt that everyone seems to be. I'm just not seeing what the big deal is. Bruce Willis, on the other hand... Well, I like Bruce.
Time travel stories are... difficult. Star Trek is proof of that. I think two things play into it: 1. No one can agree on how time travel would actually work if it's possible. Or if it's possible. 2. Because of that, writers like to use it as a magic wand. It's one of those things I kind of hate in science fiction, when the writer uses some bit of science like it's magic just because no one knows how it works. If you want to write magic, go write fantasy.
Still, all in all, I don't think the time travel was handled too poorly in Looper other than the constant paradoxes that were never addressed. What I have a problem with is being lied to, and, in essence, the movie hinges on a lie, and that really bothers me.
Now, I don't have a problem with being deceived through sleight-of-hand and trickery. The Sixth Sense is so great because Shyamalan never lied to the audience. He laid everything out there for us to see and allowed us not to see it. A couple of movies that are very similar except that one lies and one doesn't are The Prestige and The Illusionist (which I talk about for a bit here). The Illusionist achieves its climax by lying to the audience (through omission) all the way through, which is the only reason we are unable to piece the plot together. I really have no respect for that.
Now, if you haven't seen Looper, there will be spoilers.
The whole story of Looper hinges on the belief by the audience that young Joe dies when he falls from the ladder. At that point, the movie jumps back as if that is the moment that causes the reset. When it starts over, we accept that we are seeing a different time line because of the presentation, and it's not true. It's not like in The Sixth Sense when Crowe gets shot. Afterward, the audience just assumes that Crowe didn't die even though Shyamalan tells us several times, "look, this guy's dead." We just can't see it. In Looper, the truth is never offered until the end, when the lie is revealed, and that's just a cheap way of doing it.
To make matters worse, the director or the writer or someone comes out and tells us that the movie isn't going to make any sense and not to think about it. Young Joe and Old Joe are sitting in a diner together, and Young Joe asks Old Joe about time travel, and Old Joe says, "I don't want to talk about time travel because, if we start talking about it, then, we're going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws." Rough translation: "Don't think about it; just watch the movie. We can't explain it either." On the one hand, I'm glad they're honest about it. "Look, we just want to tell our story, so don't go trying to logic it, because it won't make any sense." [And it doesn't.] On the other hand, I'm kind of insulted. It says to me that they didn't want to bother with telling a story that makes sense, which devalues me as the audience. And, then, they lie to make it work.
The other thing that really bothers me is that the movie didn't happen, and I hate stories that didn't happen. I hate getting to the end and finding out that it was all a dream or a vision or a whatever. I mean, this was as bad as Next with Nicolas Cage. You get to the end and find out that, really, the movie ended right there when Young Joe kills Old Joe at the beginning of the movie. That's it. End of story. Everything else is just "closing the loop" and doesn't actually exist. I really felt cheated.
Even so, there are some good moments in the film. When Old Seth is trying to get to Young Seth and losing body parts all along the way... man, that's just freaky. It doesn't make any sense from a paradox perspective, but it's creepy enough that you don't care. The horror of that moment as his fingers start disappearing is gut wrenching. Also, I really liked Paul Dano as Young Seth.
There's a lot of humor, dark humor, in the fact that Old Joe keeps beating the crap out of his younger self. There's the urge to slap Young Joe for not listening to his older self, but, then, that's how all kids are, right? And there's the fact that the good guys don't win. How could they? There are no good guys. But there aren't a lot of movies these days where the protagonist (hero or anti-hero) fails, and that's almost enough to make Looper worth watching all by itself.
If you're willing to just turn your brain off and watch and if you don't mind being lied to, Looper is definitely worth your time, just don't ever say, "But why...?"
Oh, also, a big part of why Looper works is the inherent belief of the audience (and that includes me) in the badassness of Bruce Willis. There is nothing in the movie to support Joe being any kind of badass. In fact, he's more of a loser, drug addict than anything else. However, because our image of Willis is that he's a badass, we don't question him single-handedly taking down a criminal organization even though there is nothing in the movie to support this.