Loopers. Assassins hired to kill men “zapped” to them from a not-too-distant future in which technology has made murder virtually impossible. Assassins without futures of their own, living entirely in the present–for each Looper knows that his final contract will inevitably be himself, aged thirty years. And each Looper knows that, certain as the ticking of a pocket watch, he must execute this contract–thus “closing the Loop.”
One such killer, Joe Simmons (a chameleonic Joseph Gordon-Levitt), fills his borrowed time with hard drugs, fast cars, and meaningless sex, enjoying luxuries that few can afford in the near-apocalyptic hellhole that is Kansas City, 2044. But when he finally finds himself staring into a pair of all-too-familiar eyes, he hesitates, giving Old Joe (Bruce Willis, doing what he does best) the narrow window of opportunity he needs to escape. Now pursued by an army of trigger-happy gangsters, Young Joe vows to track down his older, wiser, more battle-hardened counterpart and finish the job once and for all.
What follows is a fascinating variation on (deconstruction of?) the Terminator formula. Old Joe intends to preemptively take out “The Rainmaker”–a bloodthirsty criminal mastermind who will eventually order hits on all former Loopers–while he’s still a child. After bonding with the boy’s mother, however, Young Joe–despite his initially-selfish motives–decides that she deserves a chance to raise him right, so that he might ultimately put his numerous innate talents to better use. After all, in Rian Johnson’s world, time is quite fluid; one tiny push can radically alter the course of history. Every minute Old Joe spends in the company of his past self irrevocably changes the person he will become; the happy future he fights so hard to protect may very well never come to pass.
As with all sci-fi films, it is these Big Ideas, these difficult moral questions–and not the spectacle–that make Looper a truly memorable cinematic experience.
[Originally written September 29, 2012.]