I walked into the new science fiction movie Looper knowing only two pieces of plot information: The first was that it was about time travel. The second is one that I wouldn’t dream of telling you because, though it is technically a relatively minor part of the plot, it is still more information than you should know before the film begins. Looper is a movie that throws off startling nuggets of exposition and action like a downed electric wire throws off sparks and the fewer of those sparks you see coming at you in advance, the more shocking, powerful and emotionally affecting they will be when they hit you in the theater. If you haven’t seen a trailer for the film yet, count yourself lucky and avoid any that may be available to you. If you haven’t read a review, don’t. You only need to know that it gets an 84 on Metacritic, which is extraordinarily high for a science fiction film. And if someone tries to tell you anything about it, tell them to shut up. If they don’t cooperate, strike them. Forcibly.
I had the good fortune to see Looper nearly cold, with only those two aforementioned pieces of information. (You’ll learn the second one about a third of the way into the film.) Amy, who I talked into seeing it with me even though she’s fundamentally allergic to both science fiction movies and action-oriented films, knew even less. Both of us watched the movie with our mouths agape as it executed one of the most sophisticated and successfully deployed science fiction premises I’ve ever seen outside the pages of a Hugo- or Nebula-winning novel. Here, with no spoilers whatsoever, are the things I loved about it:
- The usual stuff: brilliant casting, skilled directing, gorgeous cinematography, perfectly timed editing.
- The trust that the film puts in its audience’s ability to understand a premise so complex and steeped in the possibilities and paradoxes of time travel that it would normally only be found in written sf.
- Its willingness to use this premise to generate almost continuous movement throughout the film that never feels like action for the sake of action but always feels like action for the sake of plot and character.
- Its willingness to follow that premise to a conclusion that is ingenious, moving and structurally, self-referentially perfect.
Looper is that rare action film that will leave tears in your eyes at the end without making you feel the slightest bit manipulated. The tears will come both from your feelings about the characters and from the sheer aesthetic joy of seeing a movie where every decision made by writer/director Rian Johnson feels right on the deepest level. And, if you’re like me, the tears will also come from the odd but dependable thrill of seeing a drama in which two characters are in conflict and yet you feel compassion for both of them, not because they are necessarily good people (though they are not bad people) but because you understand why each is attempting to do the thing they feel they need to do. It’s a situation with no obvious satisfactory resolution and yet Johnson finds one that in retrospect feels inevitable. Essentially, Johnson ends the movie by closing the loop. That phrase will mean nothing to you until you see the film, and then it will mean everything.
Amy, the non-sf, non-action-movie fan, loved it as much as I did. You will too. Go see it. Before anybody tells you anything about it.