Looper (USA, 2012)
Directed by Rian Johnson
Starring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Emily Blunt, Paul Dano
The key when making time travel films is to balance the cerebral and the visceral. Stories about time travel need to be entertaining, but they also have to work on an intellectual level, to make the most of an interesting concept. If you can't get them to be totally seamless, the next best thing is to make the film so fast-paced and entertaining that we can overlook any small inconsistencies and enjoy it as a series of ideas. Into this box we can now add Looper, which confirms Rian Johnson's status as one to watch.
Twelve Monkeys, Terry Gilliam's seminal sci-fi thriller which set the bar extremely high for time travel stories in the post-Back to the Future age. The comparison doesn't stop with the presence of Bruce Willis (who was at his career-best in Gilliam's film), since the films pitch the relationship between the main character's past and future self on similar levels. Both films play on the idea of changing memories within a time-loop structure, and both are essentially fatalistic, acknowledging that time travel stories are largely cautionary tales, filled with despair, loneliness and self-annihilation.
The Omen and The Fury, with Johnson drawing on the 'demon child' archetype presented in the former and referencing the final scene of the latter in the death of Jesse.
Timecrimes with multiple versions of the same protagonist wandering around, just missing each other's movements. Looper is visually the most mainstream-looking film that Johnson has directed thus far, having the same glossy sheen as Source Code or any Christopher Nolan film. You could even argue that Nolan is a narrative influence: the film contains elements of both Memento and Inception in how one version of the protagonist creates or destroys the memories of the other.
We Need To Talk About Kevin down to the words "parents, discipline your children". Johnson contrasts Cid's careful upbringing by Sara with that of Joe, who was sold to gangsters at a very young age; he presents both parties as having some degree of dysfunction, contrasting their different methods of protection and prevention. There is also, on the sidelines, an interesting surrogate father-son relationship between Jeff Daniels' character and Joe's gun-toting rival.
The Adjustment Bureau and has great screen presence. Unfortunately, the film also confirms how annoying Paul Dano is an actor. He seems incapable of playing anything other than mopey teenagers or whingers, and Johnson is very wise to kill him off early.
Back in May I wrote an article for WhatCulture! setting out my Top 10 films involving time travel. You can read the article in full here.
NEXT REVIEW: Wild at Heart (1990)