From La jetée to Back to the Future to even Hot Tub Time Machine, films on the nature of time travel succeed on how bogged down they get in the mechanics of their theories. For Rian Johnson’s Looper, much of the first act focuses on explaining the how and why of it all – it also happens to be the least appealing aspect of Johnson’s film. But as the picture leaves its time-traveling aspects to the past and embraces the intrinsic emotional aspect of its narrative, much of Johnson’s efforts come together into shaping a film of exceptional emotional impact. As characters dwell on their memories, Johnson’s interests are less vested in time-travel and more in the intimacy and immediacy of time itself.
In an opening act that includes drug-induced hazes and mutilation in the midst of a quasi-apocalyptic future, the most striking immediate aspect to Johnson’s picture is the mise en scène that he develops and almost immediately abandons. The cityscape of the world he introduces in the first act of Looper has a certain dingy complexity– rarely do we see the film’s urban environment in the light of day. But as the narrative finds itself allocating to a rural setting, the picture becomes drenched in the sun. The juxtaposition is quite jarring, as one world possesses such illuminating hope while the other succumbs to overwhelming downtrodden poverty. Regardless, the subsequent shift in environment works in conjunction to the overall quality of the picture – as Johnson takes his narrative outside of its city dwelling and introduces Sara (Emily Blunt); the picture illuminates.
Perhaps a result of the somewhat overbearing masculine posturing of the film, Sara’s introduction to the picture provides far more emotional depth. Her character, as a mother and a guardian, gives Looper a dynamic resurgence. Whereas the first act instills a great deal of gloom and doom to its framework, the middle act benefits from shaking its preoccupations with the concept of time travel and ascribes to a far more grounded reality. What then preoccupies Looper’s structure is a sense of how memories are shaped and the importance of human connection. Whether it be a mother’s conviction to her child or a man’s loyalty to a woman who saved him, the picture succeeds in conveying how, within the confines of its time-traveling device, love and loyalty remain virtues through time. So as the picture unites its dark and drab urban setting with its sun-soaked vista, Looper benefits from establishing such a deep-rooted sense of humanism to its thematic repertoire. Even as the picture’s hyper-violence reaches its peak by the final act, the rich detail in each character’s interaction with one another still remains prevalent. Those who came to the film looking for a complex analysis on time-traveling jargon are likely the same people who nitpick some of the narrative decisions the picture takes in its final act (like, “why didn’t he shoot his hand off?”). But those who can appreciate the rich human narrative on display will certainly be rewarded.