One cheat of an ending . . .

[SPOILERS: Don’t read this article if you haven’t seen the movie yet.]

Last year’s Looper got almost universal acclaim from critics (94% at Rotten Tomatoes) as an intelligent time travel story.

So it feels kinda wrong as a science fiction fan always complaining about how the genre is consistently short changed by the mainstream media to not actually like Looper.

My chief gripe is that Looper is someone who doesn’t actually know science fiction’s idea of the genre. For example, as if time travel isn’t enough, the story throws in telekinesis as well – what the?

When Daniel Kimmel said in his review of the movie on Sci-Fi Movie Page that they should have gotten someone who actually knows sci-fi to have handled the movie’s time travel paradoxes, he had a point.

I can nitpick about a lot of minor plot holes, but the biggie is this one:

When Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) kills himself at the end, he also kills Old Joe (Bruce Willis) in the process and thus saves the telekinetic kid and his mother.

The problem is that this negates the events of the entire movie. If Young Joe died, er, young then there wouldn’t have been any Old Joe to set in motion the events of the movie at all. The issue is not only would nothing have happened at all in the first place, but that Young Joe in effect also destroyed a particular time line from ever happening.

Having Young Joe commit suicide may have struck Hollywood screenwriters as a clever idea in which the hero redeems himself a la Shane, but it makes no damned sense at all.

The best time travel stories are the ones in which the time travelers inadvertently change the future (see Ray Bradbury’s short story A Sound of Thunder) and, paradoxically, the ones in which time travelers don’t. Like the mythic Cassandra they can see the future, but they cannot change it. The best examples include the first Terminator movie in which Skynet cannot kill John Connor and 12 Monkeys, in which Young Bruce Willis witnesses Old Bruce Willis’ shooting.

Looper falls under neither category. Its central time paradox isn’t clever or anything. It simply doesn’t make a lick of sense and should be filed under “muddled story-telling” instead; the same as the 2000 movie Frequency (starring Dennis Quaid and Jim Caviezel) about a son who receives radio transmissions from his dead dad from in the past, with which it shares several plot elements and illogicalities.

Looper isn’t quite the time travel story science fiction fans were hoping for, alas.

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Category: Movies, Reviews

About the Author

James has been running The Sci-Fi Movie Page since Before the Beginning of Time Itself (TM), i.e. since the site's inception in 1997. In addition to sci-fi James also likes 1970s motorbikes and chili dogs although he doesn't own the former and no longer eats the latter. He currently resides in Kiev, Ukraine for reasons best left unexplained.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bjoernhkristiansen Bjørn H Kristiansen

    Agreed. Looper looked very promising and in the beginning of the movie it felt very good and sci-fi ..but as you describe, its just became illogical in the end. It would have been a much better movie if it had ended without the “happy ending”. Or at least a twist that would made us go “ahh, so thats was it”. At least it would be wortwhile seeing again then.

  • Lauren N

    I agree too! The movie looked so good! But when I saw it I was disappointed because they brought in powers that some people have and then the random kid….. Why did they have to add that? The movie already had a cool plot.

    I thought the ending should have been: right when Bruce is about to kill the mom in the field, he should have pulled out his pocket watch and checked if his girl’s picture was still there and it should have switched to Emily Blunt’s character. Theeenn, Bruce wouldn’t kill her and the kid could grow up with a “dad(Joseph Gordon-Levitt)” and a “grandpa(Bruce Willis)” but I guess not.

    I guess I didn’t like the movie because it wasn’t what I wanted it to be. I had too high of expectations.

  • Kit

    Bang on the money with this review. I watched it on DVD last night and went to bed shaking my head in annoyance!

  • AdVitamAeternam

    I disagree. What we see, in this movie, is actually 2 story-lines in sequence.
    The first one ends when young Joe falls of the stairs and die(about an 70 minutes in the movie).
    Then the second story, or second loop, starts at the moment he waits for his old-self in the field.

    This looks like time Looping in the context of only one timeline.
    Giving this premiss, the very first time young Joe kills his old-self, where does old-Joe comes from ?
    That is the biggest flaw in the story…

  • Cat

    This Was No doubt A Good Film But It Just Didn’t have a completed story line. It Almost Feels like they got 200 ideas and dumped them in a pile, Causing things to get complicated

  • Tom Jackson

    Ahem sorry to show up your glaring flaw of logic, after you went all guns blazing on Looper’s but… Old joe explains that things change as they happen, and young joe can change the future through free will. It’s obviously not a closed loop, and the explanation or lack there of in the diner allows the possibility for things to change on the fly, as in the change of memories and sudden appearance of scars and body parts missing etc. Could be a parallel dimension, some principle of time space we can’t comprehend, any number of things.

    So anyway the ‘rules’ of time travel haven’t been written in stone, it could be a singular continuum that is guided by the past but isn’t defined by it. Watch the whole movie again and try to play your logic out. Sheesh at least allow the possibility you don’t know the exact time travel play book and enjoy one of the best sci if films since blade runner (dir cut).

    Also re your Terminator reference the only two films that make any remote sense are the first two, and if you use your logic the end of T2 should of had the same effect and cancelled the whole chain of events.

    The close of any time travel loop, if you accept the premise, has to actually happen once in any time travel chain of events, this is that story!!

  • HaS

    Instead of analyzing this movie to death…..try using your creativity and this movie makes complete sense….and yes, it leaves you thinking at the end…which is just one sign of a good movie…I just bought it on bluray and will watch it again. It was an excellent movie. If you can’t figure out what’s going on then you should stick to PBS shows. This is a movie – it’s not based on fact. So watch it again….allow the creative portion of your brain to take over…and maybe you’ll finally understand everything like I did. This movie was incredibly well done so stop your whining.

  • Marcelo

    Actually according to modern science travel backwards in time is not possible but travel into the future is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Alluarefacebengtous Stephen Gomez

    “it leaves you thinking at the end…which is just one sign of a good movie..” You have to be a special kind of pretentious idiot to commit to that kind of logic.

  • Has

    Yes, the movie actually makes you think as opposed to typical Hollywood caca. Got it? Good! – Not the idiot

  • Revvy

    Late to this train, but, speaking as a sci-fi geek, there are no rules to time travel – BECAUSE IT DOESN’T EXIST. This is like being in the fantasy realm and claiming that there are genre-wide rules to magic use. Um… no. Maybe there is a specific way that YOU prefer to seem time travel plots resolved, but there are no rules to it as such.
    The take away I had from this movie was that the past was set and the future was malleable It could be argued that Old Joe came to the past from one POSSIBLE future, a future which became moot when Young Joe killed himself and THAT is why he disappeared.
    And that’s only one possible explanation. This is the nice thing about sci-fi; it’s speculative. THERE ARE NO RULES.

  • Defendor

    Time travel doesn’t exist. Making such movies more like Fantasy movies. In this Fantasy he gets to choose how the impossible mechanics are resolved.

    The mechanism he chose, was one of the worse and most cartoonish that I have seen. The time traveler is affected about 8 seconds of real time after the event occurs. This is absurdly nonsensical. But good enough for audiences weaned on fantasy fare.

    It leads to ridiculous things, like the first looper on the run watching surprised as his fingers start disappearing before is his eyes, or tripping when his legs get shortened.

    But even allowing for the silly time travel mechanics, the movie is poorly written. We are to believe that bad guys can’t dispose of bodies in the future, but they have time machines? It mentions something about tagging. So Indestructible tags? But they can’t survive a mere 30 years? Why send them back alive to create the potential problems of time travelers running amok? Why not have the outlet dump them directly in the disposal furnace? etc…. This basic setup is utterly and completely absurd.

    At the end, why does young Joe kill himself? When he could just blow off his own hand, Old Joe would then drop his gun when his hand disappeared. Too stupid to live?

    Silly mechanics, absurd premise (even when ignore the silly mechanics) and stupid ending either from a character too stupid too live, or writer too stupid to see obvious better solution.

    The thing that galls me so much is when people call bad fantasy, masquerading as SciFi, intelligently written. This was not intelligently written by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Kid

    Why isn’t the old Joe in love with Sara in the end then? and why does he not realise what he is doing is wrong? The young Joe does, so therefore, by your logic, the old Joe would have not tried to kill the boy and disappeared as the time line would have been altered.

  • http://twitter.com/poolpog POOL-POG

    The single best sci-fi movie I’ve seen about time travel is Primer. It is low budget, has nearly zero action, and one single special effect, but man does it get the sci-fi part right. It is not perfect, but it deals with the paradoxes of time travel and presents the single best realistic sci-fi treatement of time travel I’ve ever seen in any storytelling medium. I saw it around 8 years ago and I still think about it from time to time. The only thing I will be able to think about Looper in 8 years is, “man, that was a dumb movie. hot chick though.”

  • Susan

    Indeed, late to this, but the ridiculous notion of time travel NEEDS the insertion of some other silliness, like TK. If, indeed, 10% of the population exhibits TK genetics, then why not the scientific leap to time travel? They’re equally unimaginable within the near future, so to explain the mechanical leap in the time-space continuum, please do insert an undeniable genetic mutation allowing for the negation of all reasonable laws of physics. As a film goer, I’m with you, as long as the nonsense remains logically nonsensical. In this case, it truly does.

  • Katie Collins

    Why would he be in love with Sara? I don’t understand this question at all.

    Old Joe still has his memories, still thinks if he kills the Rainmaker he’ll be back on his timeline with his wife who wouldn’t have died because Rainmaker wouldn’t have lived. As Old Joe said in the diner, memories don’t change until Young Joe actually takes action to change things that have already happened – i.e. Old Joe remembers Sara as the one who got him sober instead of his wife as it happens to Young Joe.

  • Nathan Hostetler

    Another late response here. I completely disagree. First of all, do you want to tell me exactly how time travel into the past works in a scientific sense? Can you do that?

    I just watched this movie and it is indeed a series of loops over and over again (go figure). The thing is that they aren’t set in stone and there is room for variations every time. One thing that is clear is that the characters have to actually *do* the things that set the changes in motion; he doesn’t just come back and remember that the boy is at the third house on his list because he’s already done it before.

    It begins and ends with his suicide. That is the ‘hinge point’.

    He kills himself, so there is no future him to come back, negating basically everything and allowing the first loop to commence.

    The first time everything happens, the future self that is sent back had either never met the wife, or decides not to fight back for whatever reason. He was easy to pick up and send back because, by that time, he didn’t have much to live for. So he is killed and the contract is closed.

    Then it happens again, only this time something changes. It could be that probabilities play out slightly differently. This time he goes to Asia and meets his wife and decides to fight back. As he flashes back and forth, you can SEE the things he changes with his presence. Things play out differently again (a third time) because of what he does. For example, after he kills the first child, you are shown that he and his wife now have a baby of their own in the future.

    Finally, in one timeline he makes the decision to kill himself, so there is no future him to come back, and it reverts to the original timeline again etc. etc. etc.

    Each loop is fully played out to its conclusion and the effects are cumulative; they ‘feed back’ into one another. Just think of it as a number of intersecting alternate universes if you must.

    There are only two things that aren’t made implicitly clear; how the Rain Man turned out bad if the protagonist never came back to kill his mother, but it is easy to assume that he went bad some other way; and why the future instances of people stay in the present and experience effects that would otherwise leave them unable to have been sent back in the first place. As for the latter there are a number of explanations. Maybe, unless killed in the past, the future person is stuck there as almost a side effect. Maybe they purposefully sustained the life of and sent back the maimed looper so they could kill him in the past and he just experiences the changes in real time.

    Ultimately, though, this is all pointless. That’s why they specifically covered it with the line from the diner:

    “I don’t want to talk about time travel shit. If we start talking about it we’re going to be here all day drawing diagrams with straws. It doesn’t matter.”

    Which is, really, the smartest approach to time travel that a movie can have.

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