Firstly, the time travel. On the first pass through, everything makes sense. Should you need some help sorting any issues, Bruce Willis has a scene, in a diner, where he lays everything out for you: (I’m paraphrasing) shut the fuck up about the time travel shit. It’s crazy. Deal with it.
Is it possible to do clean time travel? Have it all make sense? Be clear? Or is that the “thing” with time travel, even if you could that’s not the point?
If the movie is about anything else besides, time travel becomes a distraction. Morality and questions of possibilities are drowned out by a debate on the feasibility or physics. What’s Joe’s motivation? Who cares, why didn’t he X instead of Y to circumvent this whole problem!? If nothing else it invites audiences to poke holes in everything, rather than roll with movie logic. Nobody is thinking about what’s currently going on, they’re still obsessing over what the character should have done ten minutes ago.
Besides vexing chronal paradoxes, Looper is beautiful setup with zero follow through. The current standard of dystopian future is employed. Trash everywhere, rich are partying to the end of the world while the poor slowly become mutants. Which is fine since it’s either this or white plastic and glow lights. Joe(our Hero, Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has a thing for “retro” cloths and cars. If there is a sure way to mark the protagonist in a future setting… His narration delineates him an observant, charming man, though his actions are (as he admits) selfish and simple. His friends are the type that, no matter what, are constantly losing their shit about something. The only antagonist Joe needs to worry about degrades every concept and theme in the film. He’s a dumb hick working for a fairly classy mafia that can’t do anything right. You don’t hate him so much as you will hate that he wastes screen time. And wish that somebody, somewhere, sometime, had shot the fidgety asshole for being a fidgety asshole.
What’s beautiful about Looper is the ease it speaks to the audience without resorting to high-minded monologues. The ideas you take away from here are going to, necessarily, depend on you, and what connections you’re making, but there’s ample grist to get you churning. Take my favorite moment, when Abe (the mafia boss from the future) is talking to Joe (the not future) about Joe’s plans. Actually, lemme stop myself for a quick sec to say that Jeff Daniels (Abe) is perfection. There are moments in a movie where you wiggle your butt a little bit, really get comfy in that chair, and begin the process of loving the film. Jeff Daniels instigates that. So he’s talking to Joe about Joe’s future. Not reciting What Cometh like he’s a fancy oracle but just talking like two regular guys would. They’re going back and forth, with Abe saying how it makes sense for Joe to go to Shanghai. Joe is having none of it and is adamant he’s going to France. A few rounds of this and Abe sighs, frustrated, glaring at Joe, who is sitting with an “I know I’m right” look about him. It dawned on me then, in this silence, that Joe is arguing with a man from the future. Joe (the everyman) will not accept any notion of destiny. How beautifully stubborn and short-sighted! I love the feeling of seeing humanity’s defects as the most noble virtues.
Then Joe from the future (Bruce Willis) comes in to herald an end of everything fun and thoughtful in the film. The Future needs to be personified by one boy and there needs to be a shootout (everyone here is a hitman, plus humanity is violent) to decide the fate of all mankind. Yeah, on a farm in Kansas. Of all places… Because Kansas is the place of deep morals! That’s where Superman learned ‘em! Instead of a handful of balls of intellectual thought being juggled, we have one or two. Despite the pondering of how a man becomes the man he will become, as the film had us ponder, our heroes become singular opposing forces. Again, cue audience second-guessing of these being the optimal routes to victory. Will you see the conclusion coming? Probably. It makes sense. It satisfies character development. It’s not pleasing in the slightest. I mean, shit! Bruce Willis AND Joseph Gordon-Levitt are in this movie! Go for broke! Or at least stick to genre conventions! Dystopian futures don’t get Happy Endings, where “happy” is the type from an Absolute Morality viewpoint. I don’t care if Joe’s a drug-addicted, hitman, he’s good people. As far as people being selfish, short-sighted, and relying on violence as the tool of change and progress.
Here’s a better ending: Both Joe’s kill the weird kid because dumping all hopes on how one person grows up is dumb.