There is little original in Rian Johnsons time-travel film ‘Looper’. Time travel is, as usual, a question of repetition (both in cultural as well as conceptual terms). The film itself repeats the familiar preoccupations and the grey science-fiction polish in the representation of a time (2044) that is always-already a mix of past and future. The only change is here that the past of the future is around the 1980s or 1990s, but this is also a consequence of the relative youth of the director (born 1973). The element of the ‘past’ in the ‘future’ is usually constituted of a recollection of childhood (or an imaginary idea of childhood as in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s flirtations with the 1950s). Yet another time-travel, the never-ending and never-dying trauma of growing up. Apart from this both the set designs and the cinematography have a disconcerting air of déjà vu. The future has already happened. The only visually surprising event is, as quite a few have pointed out, that Jeff Daniels as a mobster from the future uncannily resembles the Slovenian firebrand philosopher Slavoj Žižek.
The thematic and conceptual issues of the film cry out for being addressed, but the tired repetition of near-future aesthetics, a decidedly sub-par performance by Bruce Willis and staggering logical fallacies bar any attempts. Why should the audience even try to look seriously if the makers of the film do not even aim at something resembling logical consistency. True, this might be a bit of a challenge in a time-travel film, but ‘Looper’ manages to bungle the issue even before reaching that point. Again, these fallacies have been commented on elsewhere. It is enough to mention the major ones. In the case of one escaped ‘looper” (Seth, played by Paul Dano) who fails to close (kill) his ‘loop’ (the elder version of himself transported back in time) the mob goes through an elaborate torture of the younger Seth in order to make the older Seth report to an address (where he is killed). In another case, the young version merely kills himself thus erasing the older self. The mob could just have killed Seth, after capturing him, and gotten rid of the problem. Another issue is the premise that it is so difficult to dispose of bodies in the future so that they have to be sent back in time to be assassinated. Not only do the mobsters in the future kill a person when apprehending Bruce Willis who is to be sent back (creating more work, evidently) but if the mobsters practically run the world how come they can’t dispose of bodies in some less round-about fashion than time-travel?
That ‘Looper’ does not even reach the standard complexities of time-travel before unravelling in logical fallacies and inconsistencies is quite a feat. This raises the larger question of to what extent inconsistencies can be overcome with a suspension of disbelief or erect insurmountable walls. It might be the case that the details are much more challenging than the big picture. Time-travel, alongside atomic war, overnight climate change or whatever it might be, is more easily acceptable than those, often quotidian, things from which we expect logical consistency. As to all the potential issues of interest in ‘Looper’, better they come back (from the future) in some other film, some other repetition a little more accomplished. As for example how the killing of the father is the slaying of a later self, at the same time as a liberation and a masochistic act. And how redemptive love equals an overcoming of drug addiction, and in this step an entering of an ‘eternity’ that is not guided by the chronic time-centred drive for the next hit). For this, and so much more, the future will need to save us.