Saturday, 8 December 2012

Looper Roundup: Spoilers

I know what you're thinking - this guy's a little late to the party, isn't he? The movie "Looper" has been out for over two months. No one's really talking about it anymore.

Okay, first of all, I'm not expecting much traffic, this is (as is so often the case) a way to download thoughts out of my head so I can stop thinking about them. Secondly, I would have posted it earlier but I received a text message from my future self telling me not to see the movie until today. It seemed legit. Or possibly I'm kidding about that last one.

Anyway, at this point, lest you question my credentials as far as time travel goes, I will point you at my page where I catalogue Time Loops, my earlier blog post where I go off on the Amy/Rory farewell episode of Doctor Who, and mention that I wrote something like 300,000 words about a group of teenagers finding a time machine. I grant "Time Trippers" is not published, in part because I made it a tad too date specific, and it needs more re-edits... and in part because I don't have time to see about publishing. Suffice to say, I am perfectly well versed in the two main temporal theories:
(A) Unchangeable Past (the "Frank" theory)
(B) Multiple Time Tracks (the "Carrie" theory)

Contrary to popular belief, I do not see them as mutually exclusive. I see incursions as leaning more towards theory (A), until a tipping point is reached, at which point you have (B) - which itself can collapse down into a changed history. All of this temporal babbling also serving to act as buffer space because obviously there will be MASSIVE SPOILERS for the movie Looper. It's in the title of the blog, so don't say you weren't warned!

There will also be a large number of links below for those of you who want to see the opinions of others. Yes, I do my research.

Looper? I don't even know 'er. ....yet


First, let's start the roundup with a few review sites that I've been to:
 WIRED: Looper's Time Traveling Hitmen Kill Boredom Dead
 DORK ADORE: Lower Your Expectations and You'll Love It
 SCREENRANT: Looper Review

The gist of these and most other review sites is, it's not really a time travel movie - time travel is the vehicle to generate the situation - don't overthink things. Oh, but I'm all about overthinking... and I find that for the most part, the movie holds up. Part of it's power (as with all time travel) is to allow the viewer to fill in the gaps. For instance:
 - Why don't they kill them in the future and send back bodies? Because death triggers something that disappearance doesn't, or there needs to be a live body involved - we can hand wave that stuff.
 - Why do they have Loopers kill their own selves, not each other, since the latter avoids the time paradox in the first place? I'm thinking mobsters have a sick sense of humour.
 - Why doesn't the protagonist shoot off his hand or something at the end? Because that would BLOODY HURT? Not to mention there's no hundred percent chance of success there. (I really don't see how this is a complaint, particularly when something like this YouTube 'How Looper Should Have Ended' is more a more obvious flaw.)
...and so on.

But I'll get to that "flaw" in a moment.  Let me address the timeline problem first. There are two (main) such infographics floating around out there on the internet:
1) WIRED: Looper, Visualized: Spoiler-ific Timeline Shows How Film Defies Time Travel Genre

2) FILM.COM: Looper Infographic Explains It All

There is also a third one here at Back to the Feature and a fourth one here (more texty), both of which come closer to nailing it (IMHO), that I stumbled across. Yet none of these address what I thought was a rather key scene, to the point where I'm almost wondering if the film itself looped only in the theatre where I was watching it. Almost.

Recall the sequence of events:
- The FIRST time Young Joe has a chance to kill Old Joe, he DOESN'T. He then goes back to his apartment, falls out of a window, and
- The SECOND time Young Joe has a chance to kill Old Joe, he DOES. He then lives his life until being sent back, and
- The THIRD time Young Joe has a chance to kill Old Joe, he DOESN'T, and we get the majority of the movie.

That FIRST time is (in my opinion), really, really important. Yet it's being consistently missed in all the top hits I get in my Google searches. (Meaning my post here is liable to be buried with the others who've spotted it, that I also haven't come across yet, but whatever.) That FIRST scene tells us two things:
1) Suicide is not a way out. Because that's effectively what happened. Young Joe fell out of a window, and died, meaning he was not alive in 30 years, thus was not sent back, thus... had no reason to be falling out of a window, thus it didn't happen, thus... time effectively resets itself back to the chance of killing Old Joe. I was nodding at that point. We're already stuck in a time loop. Something has to give. Something does. Old Joe isn't able to avoid getting sacked, and so he dies.
2) There's an element of quantum uncertainty involved in breaking time loops. Given that "something has to give", when events play out, they won't necessarily lead to exactly the same outcome 100% of the time. (Perhaps 99.9% of the time?)

I already hear you protesting, since you've seen the movie, but no, suicide is not a way out. This may please some who consider it a rather Awful Time Travel Trope. (Which I kind of agree with.) Now stick with me here. Or alternatively, try to follow the logic from these other analysts, then come back:
Nick Hurwitch: A Time Traveler's Analysis of Looper
  "So was Joe's sacrifice for nothing? Uh... yeah. Kinda."

Ken Flagg: Looper and the Problem With Time Travel
 "The only way for the plot to make sense would be for time to be linear for those who have been sent back in time and non-linear for those who have not..."


We're getting closer to the situation, but we're not quite there yet. I refer you back to my theory (A) above, unchangeable past. The Wired video Observation Deck makes the point that "It's not the big arcs that can kill time travel, it's the details". I'm going to argue the flip side, "It's not the details that kill timelines, it's the big arcs."  The confusion comes from the fact that WE don't know which details constitute big arcs.
I prefer this personification
 to the old man and hourglass

Consider going to work. You have two possible routes, and vary them up day by day. One day, there happens to be an accident, so you take route two. This may have no consequence whatsoever. Or you may have just run into the episode "Turn Left" from Doctor Who (where this one action kills thousands). You have no way of knowing. But the time streams (or the personifications of time, if you will) do know. Moreover, if you decide to "Turn Left" time can manipulate the situation so that it would be as if you turned right.  It won't bother to do this in all cases. You have free will.  But it will for the important ones.

Return to Looper.

The natural state of things is actually that Young Joe does NOT kill Old Joe, and Old Joe escapes. (We saw this the FIRST time.) But this leads to the window fall, and a temporal loop - so it's resolved by having Old Joe die. Interestingly, whatever is going on with the Rainmaker is happening completely independent of this. Something else acts as the trigger for him. Again, the details don't matter - only the big arc. (It's sort of like the Terminator movies, where Skynet is going to happen no matter what, it's only a question of when. I think it's also telling that director Rian Johnson made a passing reference to those movies in an interview back in July.) So Young Joe lives out his life.

But then, as Old Joe, he is sent back in time. The natural state of things is that he is NOT masked and killed by Young Joe, and he's got his rage issues to help. But if he IS going to survive, he has to save his younger self from killing himself later by falling out a window. Thanks to a "random" flashback memory, and some doctoring offscreen, this occurs.

And now we have something seriously interesting.

Or seriously messed up
If Young Joe dies, Old Joe can't have saved him at the window, so he would actually be dead there. Yet he simultaneously WOULDN'T be dead there, because he was only IN that position because of Old Joe's trip. There's a serious amount of quantum entanglement going on here (I am probably misusing the term terribly - temporal entanglement?) to the extent that either:
#1 - Young Joe lives on, becoming Old Joe with the same major life events occurring in order to close his own loop as the rest of the world continues on it's merry way.  (Represented by Old Joe's memories.)  This is why simply deciding "never to leave the farm" for instance, won't work... events will conspire to turn him into Old Joe, no question about that.
#2 - Young Joe dies, and (by necessity) he ends up back at the point before Old Joe arrives... where both killing him and not killing him result in temporal loops, so effectively Young Joe has to have a heart attack and die on the spot.  (This reset obviously didn't happen.)
#3 - The third option, being what the movie did.

Let me now look at that, and clear up the remaining loose ends.


The movie effectively says that Young Joe can kill himself (duh), which not only wipes Old Joe out of existence (okay), but maintains all of their interactions to that point.  That's the bit that has me thinking the most. (Even Star Trek usually has the sense to punch the reset button at that point instead.  I'm not saying a reset button is GOOD, but it is tidy. Now, for some Trek both good AND tidy, highly recommend the DS9 Millennium Trilogy by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, they wrap a time loop on itself like nobody's business.) Anyway.

The last scene with Sara, where she actually sees Joe's body, that's the REAL poser and paradox for me. If Old Joe never existed, what sequence of events brought Young Joe out to that field? (With all that money?) And how does Sara obviously remember them? I suspect there's a link here to the fact that the whole Looper organization got shot up to pieces, but I can't quite make the connection. So my best answer for this is that since Joe already existed in a state of temporal entanglement, interactions by all Joes got a "get out of physics free" card. (I've seen another theory that Joe is actually the father of the Rainmaker, who is Cid's BROTHER, but that didn't quite seem to work out timewise.) If you've been able to follow the logic to this point and see something, by all means comment.

A more useful comment, perhaps?

A couple other loose ends:
1) People are claiming that "Joe created the Rainmaker". Not initially, no. Bear in mind we have no idea WHY all the Loopers loops were closing - it IS a criminal organization, maybe Rainmaker was once a good guy*. I buy that a new Loop was created as soon as Old Joe and Young Joe were both alive in the same timeline, and that he could have come about as a result of their actions, but I don't think that's the case in the original timeline.
*One theory out there is that Cid would ALWAYS grow up twisted, until Joe helped him accept Sara as a mother; I think I buy that theory the most.

2) The whole mutilation thing with Seth, that can still fit my theories. Gruesome as it is, severed appendages can be reattached, and memories wiped, and bodies placed in cold storage. I also think that whole bit was simultaneously necessary (so we know why Joe can't be teaming up with these guys) and unnecessary (because REALLY, you couldn't just use a hypnosis trigger phrase, or some sort of poison pill with a thirty year capsule dissolve or something??).

In conclusion, did Joe's suicide actually solve anything?  Well, it destroyed the cycle of loops.  It apparently didn't wipe him from existence, which along with failure of anyone to learn a lesson, is my usual argument against this sort of thing (people are better off in this world because YOU are here, dear reader, whether that be because you're a great comfort in times of need... or a thorn in someone's side prompting them to greater things). So he got lucky. But we don't know the fate of the Rainmaker, and now Joe's not in a position to help one way or the other.

Did he have an alternative at that point? Narratively speaking, no. It was an interesting movie, and I think the time travel holds up better than others might think.

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