Review of Looper, Directed by Rian Johnson
By ALEXIS NEAL
It’s 2042, thirty years before time travel is finally invented (or do I mean discovered?) and immediately outlawed. But as with most illegal technologies, prohibition does not equal eradication, and the crooks of the future still make use of time travel—most notably in the disposal of individuals who’ve overstayed their welcome. But rather than commit murder on their own time-soil, they ship the live targets back in time to particular places where ‘Loopers’ are waiting to execute them and dispose of the bodies. Joseph Simmons, age 25, is one of these assassins, and he’s pretty satisfied with his lot. After all, he’s good at what he does, and he’s got plenty of cash. Sure, his girl’s a hooker, and he’s got a nasty drug habit, but all in all, things aren’t bad. Until, that is, he finds himself face to face with the future version of himself—who’s got a story to tell and a serious vendetta. Joe is tasked with killing this future self; if he doesn’t his bosses have some seriously grisly plans for him. But as he learns more about Future Joe’s mission, he just might learn something that changes him—and the future—forever.
The movie itself is excellent—a great blend of action, grit, and comedy. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, made-up (CGI’d?) to look like someone who just might grow up to be Bruce Willis, carries the bulk of the acting load, though Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels turn in stellar performances, and Bruce himself is always a joy to watch. There are definitely some disturbing ideas here (most notably the mob boss’s method of convincing escaped future fugitives to turn themselves in for execution), and there’s some nudity as well, courtesy of Current Joe’s hooker girlfriend.
But enough about that. Let’s talk a little bit about Future Joe’s mission. [WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS] Apparently, it’s an inversion of The Terminator mythos—a really bad dude rises to power in the future. Among his many crimes against humanity, this bad dude (saddled with the rather unfortunate moniker ‘the Rainmaker’) causes the death of Future Joe’s wife. And since Future Joe is played by the beloved (by me, anyway) Bruce Willis, the bad dude must pay. So Future Joe is back from the future and determined to kill the bad dude and thereby save his wife, even though said bad dude is only, like, 4 years old in the ‘present.’
Current Joe is pretty much uninterested in this quest—he hasn’t met his future wife yet and thus isn’t terribly invested in her untimely death. What he is invested in is his own well-being, and that can only be preserved by eliminating Future Joe. So Current Joe camps out at the home of one of the three children who are potentially the John Connor-esque “Rainmaker” and waits for Future Joe to come a-calling. And, because that’s how movies work, it just so happens that this particular John Connor is the ‘real’ John Connor (ok, fine, the kid—who is ridiculously adorable, by the way—is actually named Sid, but you get the idea). It turns out that little Sid, though otherwise darling and endearingly precocious, is possessed of some serious telekinetic mojo that enables him to pretty much eviscerate anyone who happens to be in the vicinity when he gets mad. And, being 4 years old, he gets mad kind of a lot. This ‘issue’ notwithstanding, Current Joe starts to actually care about Sid and Sarah (John Connor’sSid’s mom), and is determined to stop himself from murdering them.
Ah, time travel plots. So deliciously crazy.
At the heart of this highly enjoyable film is the idea that Love Conquers All. Future Joe waxes eloquent about his wonderful-but-now-dead (then-dead?) wife and how by her love she saved him from his awful life of drugs and crime. Similarly, Sarah is determined to love Sid unconditionally, and is convinced that her love will shape him and will enable him to control his temper and use his considerable powers for good. In this world, love is the greatest agent of change. How sweet.
But difficulties arise. (Don’t they always?) Future Joe’s wife is murdered, and he is determined to avenge/save her, no matter the cost. He is perfectly willing to gun down all the little John Connors, even though he knows only one of them will become the man responsible for his wife’s death. And we learn that watching Sarah’s death will be the major factor contributing to Sid’s ‘bad dude’ future. This love, the love that was supposed to save both Sid and Future Joe, turns out to have the power to corrupt and destroy.
The reason love cannot save Future Joe or Sid is, I think, fairly simple: It’s the wrong kind of love. Both characters put all their hope in human love—either that of a wife or that of a mother. And when the wife or mother is removed, the love vanishes, and the ‘change’ it wrought disappears. When Future Joe’s wife is killed, we discover that love didn’t change him all that much after all—he’s still selfish and violent. And even though Sarah loves Sid selflessly (and at great risk to herself), and wants to make sure Sid feels secure in her love, the moment that love is removed, its positive influence disappears, and Sid is on his way to the Dark Side. They thought human love would save them, but it didn’t.
This elevation of human love above all is a subversion of God’s design. We are created to love Him first and foremost; all other loves are subordinate to our love for God. (Matthew 22:36-39) And that love is a direct result of His love for us. (I John 4:19) Because He loved us first, we can now love Him, and can—and should—love others as well. (I John 4:10-11) God’s love is to be the root; other loves are the branches. They spring out of His love.
This root love makes a lot of practical sense. Unlike us, God cannot die (and even Christ didn’t stay dead) (Romans 6:9), and, for those of us in Christ, His love never goes away (Lamentations 3:22), never changes (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). This love—the love of an immortal, immutable God—really can save. And rather than merely ‘saving’ us in a temporal sense by enabling us to live a better life, His love works our eternal salvation, sanctification, and transformation. It is secure, reliable, and effective in a way that human love simply cannot be. (Romans 8:35-39) And nothing can undo what He has done. Not even time travel.
Alexis Neal is an attorney in the Washington, D.C., area. She regularly reviews young adult literature at www.childrensbooksandreviews.com and everything else at quantum-meruit.blogspot.com.