Monday, February 25, 2013

Thrown for a Loop

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.


  1. I'm not sure why you think young Joe dies when he falls off the ladder. It isn't a reset, it's a flashback of Bruce's (Old Joe's) original timeline, how he became who he is and why he came back to change things.

    In order for Bruce to have grown old (and bald) he must have lived a different life to the one we see JGL living now, starting with him having closed his loop. It's how we get Bruce's backstory.


  2. Agree with Moody - I never thought young Joe died when he fell off the ladder. They stopped there because that was the point where old Joe showed up. But he didn't die.
    I followed the story and the changing timeline fairly well. It does piece together once you really think about it, but like Memento, it requires a lot of thought.
    And between The Prestige and The Illusionist, I thought the latter was actually better. The lie did not bother me one bit.

  3. I didn't feel like it was a lie but more of a back story. Also, Bruce Willis explained he was a broken man, drug addict, when he met his wife and if it wasn't for her, he wouldn't be who he was today. She saved him and helped him become the man he was now.

    Is it me, or is Bruce Willis just getting better and better as he gets older?

  4. I'm a huge fan of Looper, an apologist if you will, and I think a few things about what you've said:

    I don't think the intent was for the audience to believe Joe died when he fell from the ladder. Or if it was, I didn't get it.

    We saw Old Joe's timeline, the one where he did kill his own loop, and the life he led after. In that, we see how he became such killer, after his money ran out in China he spent a few decades becoming that ruthless badass that traveled back in time.

    Not that it matters, but in the deleted scenes, Old Joe actually pulls out straws and salt and pepper shakers and starts diagramming time travel... it was better that they left it out, because sometimes too much explaining can decrease my buy in, and that scene sort of did.

    In all, I think it's a bit better thought out than you've given it credit for. And I know the directer trawls the internet and provides detailed explanations for continuity errors or gaps in logic that people point out online. It's kind of funny, but I know he spent several years working out all the details of the time travel and its repercussions within his story world.

    The thing that does get me though, is how little is said about how changing the timeline will only work one time... like -

    Young Seth is slowly dismembered (and other, icky things) in order bring back the loop that ran. So, once that happens, the crippled Old Seth is finally killed. But that means Young Seth will grow old and when he is finally sent back, he WON'T run, because he can't (he won't be able to sing well either, with his nose that way), so he'll get shot. Therefore, Young Seth doesn't let him get away and he kills Old Legless Seth. Then, Young Seth grows old and has all his limbs intact... in which case he DOES return back in time and tries to escape.

    So, actually, the loops are more like figure eights, one time through, you fix everything, but that fix just give folks the opportunity to screw them up the second time though the loop. Which means they have to go back through again.

    So I wonder if Young Joe killing himself somehow enables the events to repeat themselves in future loops, or did he really break it and it's a permanent change?

    I've thought about it in passing, and I think the loop (or figure 8) really is broken, but I lose the threads of concentration and move on to something else before I can convince myself that I've figured it all out.

  5. I don't remember the ladder thing at all. It sounds to me like you need to watch the movie again. I probably should at some point too.

  6. mood: Because, the first time through, when Young Joe falls off the ladder, that's when we break back to the field with him looking at his watch again. Then Old Joe shows up the second time, and he kills him. The clear implication is that the fall from the ladder killed him.

    Alex: The second time, yes, but not the first time. The movie actually works better the less you think about it.
    I'm surprised you like Illusionist better seeing that Nolan made The Prestige.

    Elsie: Bruce Willis does get better. Especially when he's allowed to act rather than just being put in a movie to be himself.
    See Moonrise Kingdom.

    Rusty: I'm pretty certain we were supposed to believe he died, because that's the only thing that makes the movie work. He falls and "dies" and everything starts over. Then we get back to the point the second time and the reaction is "oh, he didn't die," and we're meant to incorporate that knowledge into our new movie of the movie and forget the whole dying part so that we can follow the "new" narrative.

    The more you think about it, like the stuff with Seth, the less it works. Because paradoxes, as cool as they are to think about, don't work.

    And, I have to say, when the author has to step back in from outside the story to explain errors and logic gaps, it doesn't mean those things weren't there. It just means the author didn't do a good job with the story. You shouldn't need stuff from outside of the story to make it make sense.

    Joe didn't change anything. The suicide is the actual point that sends them back to the field where he kills Old Joe in the second exchange, so everything else just happens as it already did and the kid grows up to be the bad guy that he'd already grown up to be.

    Note: I rented the disc, so there were no features :(

    PT: Nah, I don't need to watch it again. The first time, I liked it, because I was working through it as I watched. The second time would just piss me off at all the points where shortcuts are taken.

  7. Think of it like this, in Old Joe's memory (when he was young) Bruce Willis didn't come back, he lived his life and only when his wife died did he decide to come back in time. what we see in what you call the reset is actually the original timeline.

    The first time round he must have killed himself in order to go on and live his life and become Bruce Willis.

    Only when he finds love does he decide to change things. What we're seeing now is the second timeline, the one where he's trying to change things. What we see in the flashback is how it was originally.

    On top of that, do you really think me, Alex and Rusty would all be unable to understand what you meant if it was the only way that made sense and as obvious as you seem to think?

    Not that we couldn't all be wrong, but you haven't really explained why him dying would send him back to the field. Death isn't a time machine.


  8. mood: He dies, which creates a paradox. If he was dead, he couldn't have come back, so none of that stuff would have happened. When we seem him kill himself early on, we're meant to believe that the reset there happened because of the initial fall from the ladder, because that's when we jump back to that. However, the reset was actually caused by the suicide, which we haven't seen yet. But it's the lie about the ladder that allows us to get to that part of the movie.

  9. mood: And I understand that that is the original time line. That is the loop.

  10. But what if he didn't die? Then showing us him shooting Bruce with a bag on his head just explains how Bruce became Bruce and why he came back in the first place.

    It's just that he's not showing it in sequence, he's showing it as flashback.

    Put the 'reset' scenes at the beginning of the movie and it will be much clearer what happened. And it require no lies and no paradoxes (well, fewer paradoxes).

  11. Man, I love Bruce Willis. Still, thanks for saving me a couple of hours. This is at my local library and I've nearly brought it home before. I think I'll scratch it off my list. Any opinion on The Iron Lady? I love Meryl Streep in pretty much anything and it's available at the library as well, but part of me thinks I might be bored (then again, I LOVED The King's Speech and that doesn't have any action elements, so maybe I'd enjoy it). I hate to say it, but with two little ones, I feel like I want to either be super entertained by a movie (i.e., action/comedy) OR truly moved (e.g.,my hubby has a slight stutter, so we really connected to The King's Speech). Okay, now I'm rambling a bit...

  12. I'll only ad this. The moment Young Joe dies, the movie is over. If he died at any point around the ladder, the movie is over, Bruce Willis goes poof into the ether and the world goes on.

    I think you're supposed to be worried about Young Joe as he falls, and while you are worrying the director takes you on a flashback to catch you up on Old Joe's life - but it's Old Joe's life, not Young Joe's.

    If the director killed Young Joe at the ladder it would be beyond stupid (logically), and would lessen the movie immensely... there is no way that is what happened. If you interpreted the fall from the ladder that way I can see why it frustrated you.

    And with that, I'll drop it. I think I've said my piece.

    Unless you respond with something that opens up a can or worms.

  13. I can explain why I like Joseph Gordon Levitt, and it is for a very shallow reason. I think he's extremely handsome. I could stare at him all day long. It may be another subconscious reason that I don't like Looper. I think that he doesn't look good in that movie, and I like staring at his pretty face. So yeah...that's my reason for liking JGL.

    I thought Looper got rather grotesque in places too. The amputations really got to me and I almost walked out of the theater. I don't like seeing attractive boys being hurt. I'd rather see them prevail against all odds and live a full life.

  14. mood: Put the reset scene at the end of the movie after the suicide, and there is no lie. I think the jolt of going back and having him, then, kill Old Joe would make a much better movie.

    Jess: We didn't like The Iron Lady very much. It's told as a series of flashbacks and ended up being unsatisfying. In trying to tell her whole life, really, they told none of it.
    Get Moonrise Kingdom instead. It's moving, and it has Bruce.

    Rusty: But that's not what happened. There is no flashback. The FIRST time he's on the ladder and he falls, the screen goes black, and, then, we're back at the field and he's looking at his watch. old Joe shows up, and he kills him. The clear implication is that Young Joe dies in the fall. You only find out he didn't when we get back to the point from Old Joe's perspective. And, see, what you said makes my point. If Young Joe dies, the movie is over, and it was. Because, when he falls, we go back to field and he kills Old Joe. It was a lie that allows us to buy into the rest of the movie, because, then, we want to know what happened. Why he had the hood on the second time, which we never actually find out.

    Really, think back to the first time you saw it (in the theater) and YJ falls and the screen goes black and you go back to the field. Are you really telling me that on your first viewing you didn't think he died and time reset because OJ couldn't have initiated the events?

    I'm hoping that works as a can of worms, because I want to open one. Then, I want to throw them in the water like the kid in the Wimpy Kid movie did (which my kids watched over the weekend).

    Michael: You probably didn't like how he looked in Looper because of the stuff they did to him to make him look like Bruce. The nose looked really odd from some angles.

  15. Haven't seen this one yet, but I've seen the clips and was sort of intrigued. But the whole idea of time travel and people being able to be in the same time and space as their younger self just ties my brain up in knots. I could never write a time travel novel. No way I could keep track of all the moving parts. Gah!

  16. L.G.: Generally speaking, I don't recommend time travel stories at all because of all the handwavium involved.

  17. Hmmm, I was planning to see it one day, on DVD or something, but now I'm not so sure. I told you Andrew, you spend too much time analysing and not enough time just kicking back and enjoying. Hubby would say I believe everything, I kind of do whilst I am watching, I enjoy it more that way.


  18. Jo: You would not be the only person to tell me that; however, when I find something really good, the analyzing reveals a depth to it that makes it even more enjoyable. It doesn't turn off, anyway, so I just have to go along with it.

    Matthew: It is, which is why I'm not a fan of time travel stories.

  19. Andrew with all due respect; you're the only person the world over that thinks that Joe dies from the ladder. The scene where he falls is exactly the same as the second scene that plays. No difference. There are no resets anywhere in this movie. At all. When Joe kills himself that's the end of it. You have totally misinterpretted the movie and in doing so have detered people that might've enjoyed watching this in the process. The fact that you refuse to let go of your erroneous point of view is the only thing that urks me because clearly you are well off the mark. Watch the movie again. To prove my point old Joe is unhooded in both scenes where he throws the golden brick at his younger self. 

  20. Kaelo: Well, no, you'd be wrong about that. Completely.
    Before I said the thing about the ladder, I checked with a number of people, and they ALL said that when they were watching it the first time, they thought he died at the ladder. Except for the ones that couldn't remember their reaction because they had already incorporated what they knew after having seen the whole movie. And that's a normal thing and probably what you're suffering from.
    I'm able to disassociate myself from the experience and look at the parts.
    So, well, my point of view is not erroneous.
    That thing with the ladder is what makes the movie "work" for people. It gives them a false idea of what is going on so that, at the end of the movie, they have that "Oh!" moment. It's too bad he based it on a lie.