“I don’t want to talk about time travel.” — Joe (Bruce Willis), in the film Looper
“I kinda do.” — Me, in the audience of the film Looper
(Note: There will be no spoilers here, the only real information I’ll be talking about are things evident in the movie trailers.)
There were two things I knew about Looper before I saw it. Both of those things were revealed in the trailer for the film, and both of them worried me, because both of them seemed pretty stupid. I’ll get to both of those things in a minute. First, some praise!
Looper is a GOOD MOVIE. Go see it. It’s interesting, entertaining, funny, exciting, violent, cool, thought-provoking, and best of all, completely surprising, and you should definitely go and see it, despite all the paragraphs of whining you’re about to endure. Or, don’t endure them! You don’t really need to keep reading, because if you just go and see Looper, you’ll probably enjoy it. I don’t want to say much else about it, other than the two things I will go on to say, because it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible.
Now, the two things I knew about Looper before seeing it. The first thing that worried me was the general premise: in the future, the mob controls time travel, and uses it to send people back in time to be killed by hitmen. Before I saw the movie, this just seemed patently absurd. And, having seen the movie, it is still patently absurd.
Look, I can see the mob controlling, say, gambling, prostitution, drugs, weapons, maybe even politicians. Maybe even secretly controlling some sort of science, like a pharmaceutical lab or maybe some kind of high-tech gadget firm or something. But time travel? Which would be the biggest and most important scientific discovery ever? That seems about as plausible as the mob controlling space travel. I just can’t envision a future where a bunch of mafioso types walk into NASA and say, “Yeah, you gotta nice space program here, but we’re gonna be making some changes, capice? Dis is Big Vinnie. From now on, you wanna go to da moon, you wanna go into space, you wanna, I dunno, do da thing where you send a rocket to look at space rocks on Mars, badda bing, badda boom… you talk to Big Vinnie foist.” *straightens tie, walks out*
You do get a little explanation of how it works, and why the mob uses it the way it does, but the explanation is brief and, from a logical standpoint, pretty unsatisfying. But, that’s kind of okay. Sometimes, in science-fiction movies, the fiction is more thought-out than the science, like in Back to the Future, where the focus is on the journey of Marty and his parents, and the science is just a magic car and a photograph that people disappear from a bit at a time. We accept that, or at least it doesn’t bother us too much at the time because we’re enjoying the story (though it’s definitely fun to pick it apart later). Other sci-fi films focus on the science, such as in the time travel film Primer. In Primer, the science was definitely nailed down, but the fiction, in my opinion, was crap (and here fiction includes things like storytelling and acting and making the audience give a shit about anyone on the screen).
I always want both sides of the equation to have equal heft. I want some good science, and I want some good story, and while it’s pretty rare to get both, films can work just fine with just one. Overall, I don’t think Primer is a good film but the makers really did an amazing job of logically portraying time travel, probably the best anyone has done to date, and that part of the film really works. Meanwhile, the time travel in Back to the Future is silly garbage, but the film is fun as hell and has a fantastic script.
Looper basically falls into the Back to the Future camp. The science of their time-travel is redonk, and doesn’t really try to be anything else. The quote at the top of this entry, said by Bruce Willis to his younger self, is more or less the attitude of the film. Another character says roughly the same thing, and these comments are really directed at us, the audience. The mob controls time travel, they send people back 30 years to get whacked, don’t worry about the reasons or how it works because it doesn’t, really, and even if we sort of wish it did, the story Looper tells is entertaining enough without it.
Now. The second thing from the trailer that concerned me: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is covered with facial prosthetics (see disturbing image above) to make him look like a young version of Bruce Willis, since they play the same character at different ages. Even in just a few seconds of trailer footage, I found this kind of distracting.
In the two-hour movie, I found it immensely distracting. The contact lenses, the eyeliner, whatever the hell is going on with his stupid fake eyebrows, the curved nose they stuck on him, the giant oil painting of a bottom lip they glued to his real bottom lip… all of these things just kept me staring at parts of his face for the entire movie through squinted eyes thinking, jeez, I am so distracted right now. Is that a lip or a throw-rug? EYEBROWS! EYEBROWS! Lip. Liiiiiip. Contacts. LIP! Nose. Fake nose. Eyebrows eyebrows LIIIIIIIIP.
But it’s not JUST the make-up. It’s also the constant facial contortion he’s undergoing, rigidly holding a lemon face to approximate Bruce Willis’ sour mug, and the raspy muttering Bruce Willis voice impression, and the attempt at the famous Bruce Willis smirk, and the worst part of ALL OF THESE DISTRACTING DISTRACTIONS that he STILL DOESN’T FUCKING LOOK OR SOUND ANYTHING LIKE BRUCE WILLIS.
THUSLY, there is NO POINT. We would have easily accepted the idea that they were the same person at different ages if the film just told us that. We may have thought initially, well, they don’t really look anything alike, but we wouldn’t be obsessed with it for the entire movie. (LIP. LIIIIIIIP.) We would probably just accept it. Suspending disbelief isn’t always easy, but it’s especially hard when you’re staring at an actor who you like and who you are familiar with while he does a shitty Bruce Willis impression for two hours with a face covered in plastic noses and fake eyebrows and lip-murals. AND, if you insist on covering JGL with weird, distracting make-up, why not have him play dual roles, so the young JGL is just JGL, and the old JGL is JGL covered with old-person make-up? At least that way, while one JGL is covered in stupid, unconvincing make-up, you still have one that isn’t.
Anyway. Those were my two concerns going in, and they remain my two concerns coming out, but they are both ultimately overshadowed greatly by the quality of everything else. There’s a great story to Looper, and the film has plenty of excitement, several WTF moments, some great character development, and if you can let the science go, and do your best to forget JGL is wearing a Bruce Willis mask that doesn’t look anything like Bruce Willis, I think there’s a lot to enjoy. Go see it!