Looper – Review

5/5 – Go see this movie now!

I want to see Looper again; it’s that good. If you haven’t seen Looper yet, do yourself a favor and see it before it leaves the theater. It is my new favorite movie of 2012.

I’m going to spoil major story points in this review, so don’t read any further until after you’ve seen Looper.

Seriously, don’t go any further if you haven’t seen the movie.

Part of what I loved about Looper was the fluidity of who was the hero in the story. Here, I’m considering it necessary to be selfless in order to be considered a hero. If a character acts in his own self-interest, he’s an antihero as best.

Young Joe does a heroic act early in the film when he hides Seth after Seth fails to close his loop. Young Joe is putting his life in danger here. But he quickly sells Seth when his own savings are threatened by his boss as the price for his silence. Seth comes to a gruesome end, largely to Joe’s fault.

When Old Joe returns to the past, he quickly appears to be more heroic than Young Joe. His heroic quest is to come back in time and kill the Rainmaker as a child. The Rainmaker, besides being the criminal kingpin of the future, was behind the killing of Old Joe’s wife and countless others, and sent Old Joe back to the past to be killed by his younger self. Remember the old “If you could go back in time and kill Hitler as a baby, would you do it?” question? That’s Old Joe’s quest in a nutshell. How could you be opposed to that? He is clearly the hero at this point in the movie.

I sometimes want to do this to my younger self.

But Old Joe falls from the heroic path with relative ease. When they’re sitting in the diner, Old Joe tells Young Joe that he wants to kill the Rainmaker in order to save his wife in the future. But Old Joe refuses to show Young Joe his wife’s photo when Young Joe says that if he see it, he’ll make sure he never talks to her when he sees her for the first time in Young Joe’s future/Old Joe’s past. If they never meet, they’ll never marry and she won’t be murdered. Sure, Young Joe isn’t doing this to be altruistic. Young Joe hates Old Joe. He sees his living as being a block to his future happiness. If he can kill his future self, maybe Young Joe can get back in good with his mob employers. Old Joe won’t let him see his wife’s photo. Old Joe wants it all. He wants to kill the Rainmaker as a child and change the future, but he also wants to hold onto his personal future with his wife. If he was truly selfless and concerned with his wife’s safety over his own, he would show Young Joe his wife’s picture. Old Joe does have a good motivation for this. He views his wife as his savior. With her help, he kicked the junk, mellowed out and found true happiness for the first time in his life. He can’t picture his life without his wife.

The far more damning act to Old Joe’s heroism is when Old Joe kills the first child. Director Rian Johnson used a much more interesting take on the “Would you kill Hitler as a baby?” question when he added in the twist that Old Joe has it narrowed down to three possible children that may grow up to become the Rainmaker. “Would you kill up to two innocent children if it meant also being able to kill Hitler as a child?” is a much harder question to answer. I liked that Old Joe was clearly pained by his killing of the first child. It stopped him from losing all sympathy and just coming across as a complete Terminator-esque monster. But he’s definitely on his way to being a monster.

The second child on Old Joe’s hit list turns out to be the daughter of Suzie, the stripper/prostitute that Young Joe is infatuated with at the beginning of the movie. Young Joe cares for Suzie. He offers Suzie enough money to take care of her and her kid. But Old Joe is perfectly willing to kill Suzie’s child if that prevents the Rainmaker from coming into being. Old Joe does pause at first when he realizes his next target is Suzie’s child, but decides to go through with it. At this point, he knows that Young Joe is guarding Cid, the final child, on the farm. If he still cared for Suzie, he could save Suzie’s child for last. If Cid is the one destined to be the Rainmaker, then Suzie’s child won’t have to die if he changed up the order of who he kills. But doing so could put his mission into jeopardy. Old Joe sees himself as having a much higher chance of success killing Suzie’s child here than he does succeeding at the farm. I think Old Joe realized there was a very good chance he wasn’t returning from the farm, and thatĀ infiltratingĀ the city a second time would be difficult, so he decides to kill Suzie’s child now to play it safe. It’s only Kid Blue setting of a trap for Old Joe in Suzie’s apartment that keeps Suzie’s child alive.

When Young Joe arrives at the farm, he hasn’t undergone his heroic transformation yet. He’s there to kill Old Joe when Old Joe shows up. He even tells Sara that he doesn’t care at all about her or Cid. His interactions with the two of them, and his viewing of Sara’s motherly love for her son does awaken something inside Young Joe. When Sara stands between Old Joe and Cid, willing to sacrifice herself for her son’s survival, something is awakened in Young Joe. Previously, Young Joe would help people as long as it didn’t cut into his well being. But Sara’s love for Cid inspires him to make the ultimate sacrifice. He shoots himself point blank through the chest in order to prevent his future self from killing an innocent woman.

In Old Joe’s defense, this kid is seriously creepy.

In that moment when he shoots himself, Young Joe explains that he realized Old Joe would be creating the Rainmaker instead of preventing him from existing. Cid would escape, embittered by the loss of two mothers and use his smarts and powers to become the Rainmaker. By killing himself, he’s both saving Sara’s life, and the hope that she can raise Cid right so that he doesn’t grow up to be the Rainmaker.

But did Young Joe really prevent the Rainmaker from coming into being by killing himself? Remember, in the original timeline, Young Joe grows up to become Old Joe after successfully closing his loop as originally intended. Old Joe is originally never given the chance to orphan Cid, so Joe isn’t integral in Cid becoming the Rainmaker. But, here is why I think Young Joe succeeded. At the end of the movie, when Sara and Cid reunite, he calls her mom. Before this, he’s always called her Sara, never acknowledged her as his mother, and told Young Joe that she’s a liar. But something changed when Sara stood between Old Joe and Cid, and Young Joe sacrificed himself. That change of calling her mom instead of Sara is tiny, but it’s huge. Sure, something could happen down the road that causes Cid to fall to the dark side, but at this moment, he has the best chance of growing up a hero instead of a villain. His powers and his outbursts make him a scary child, but he tells Young Joe he wants to protect people. I think Cid is now on the path to becoming more Superman and less Lex Luthor.

You know what would be really messed up? If it was Suzie’s child all along.

At some point before he becomes Old Joe, Young Joe apparently becomes Neo.

In a different (and I also think worse) movie, Young Joe and Old Joe would team up to take of the mob of the future down in Young Joe’s present. Instead, Rian Johnson has given us a much richer experience with his Looper.