Ten years ago, when Rian Johnson’s Looper was released, it was pretty universally loved. This site loved it, fans loved it, I loved it, and that adoration hasn’t really gone away. However, while I liked the film when I saw it, it’s never one I felt the need to rewatch. And so, for its 10-year anniversary, I did just that, and discovered time has only made this time-travel movie better.
Things that were once confusing are no longer so; themes that were a little unrelatable then hit home now. Characters once thought to be black and white are now beautifully gray. It’s no surprise Johnson has gone on to such incredible things in the years since Looper. He’s been crushing it for a long, long time.
Before we get to all of that, though, I think the best thing about rewatching Looper for its 10th anniversary was just the simple discovery of it again. I remembered it was about time travel, and that Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis were in it, but that was about it. So watching the film again, Johnson’s impressively original blend of time-travel logic with crime thriller was hugely exciting to rediscover. For those who may have forgotten, the very simple gist is that Joe (Gordon-Levitt and Willis) is a looper, a killer in the present who murders people from the future. Eventually though, they’re forced to kill themselves, closing the loop, and can then live the remaining decades waiting for death.
This takes a turn though when the older Joe escapes younger Joe, and suddenly the film turns on its head. After following young Joe at the start, suddenly we follow old Joe. Obviously the Bruce Willis version of the character lived a life before being sent back through time so Johnson tells that story in a revealing, emotional montage. Once things loop back around (there’s a lot of loops in the film, another realization that hit home this time) both Joes are on the run from a crime boss Abe (Jeff Daniels) and his “Gat Men” lead by Kidblue (Noah Segan).
Those two actors lead a supporting cast that was well ahead of its time, including Paul Dano, Piper Perabo, Garret Dillahunt, and even Emily Blunt. Blunt plays Sara, a crucial character in the film, but I literally forgot she was in the movie, which speaks to just how long it had been since I’d seen it. (Note: Emily Blunt seemingly showing up in a movie out of nowhere? Always a very good thing.) When young Joe meets Sara, the film takes yet another turn and—in much slower, more plot related fashion—we see young Joe’s life story beginning in a new way. Things start tense, but soon turn tender and ultimately get intense once everything comes to a head.
The film’s circular time travel rules are used to incredible effect, including a truly terrifying scene where Dano’s character is mutilated off screen and his older version begins losing body parts. There’s also this half-logical thing that as young Joe does things, old Joe’s memories shift, and his old memories become blurry. It’s a scary situation for old Joe, especially since every move young Joe makes, he gets further and further away from the love of his life.
And while all of that is great, so much of what makes Looper feel timeless is wrapped up in the care Johnson has put into writing his characters, and that the actors put in portraying them. For example, neither version of Joe is a good guy. Neither is a bad guy. They’re two halves of a full person, one acting bad because he wants to be good, one acting good to stop being bad. Watching the film you really don’t know which one to cheer for, if either, and the experience of having two half heroes/half villains at odds makes the content rewardingly dense. The film exhibits that same complexity with Kidblue, who at first is portrayed as this menacing presence but, as the film goes along, we see all these other levels in the character—uncertainty, eagerness to please, genius but also incompetence. Emily Blunt’s Sara isn’t cut and dry either. She exhibits strength and confidence, but is actually scared, lonely, and very willing to throw everything away for the right reason.
Even the film’s final reveal, where young Joe realizes the only way to free the future from the terrors of the Rainmaker is to kill himself, seems much clearer and simple now than I remember it being. Back when Looper came out, I sat down and interviewed Johnson for 10 minutes just breaking down all of the time travel stuff. You can watch it here. But after this latest viewing, while some of the hypotheticals we discuss remain interesting, and Johnson really knew every little in and out, I now find most of it superfluous. Do the exact how and whys matter when the ending is so clear? Of course young Joe made that decision. It doesn’t matter what happens next. He closed his own loop and, in doing so, completed old Joe’s mission. It’s such a perfect ending, one that feels wholly inevitable. The question is, is the ending clearer and more powerful after a decade of shoving time travel, multiverse, sci-fi, superheroes down my throat? Maybe. But it’s wonderful nevertheless.
In the next 10 years, I vow not to let Looper languish. It’s a film that deserves to be watched and appreciated more than I, personally, have in the past decade. And yet, the joy of rediscovering its magic and enjoying it on a whole new level was also extremely pleasing rewarding. We’ll see where the loop takes me.
Looper is currently streaming on Hulu.
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