(WARNING: This post contains major spoilers for the movie Looper. As in, I’m going to be discussing the ending of the movie. So if you haven’t seen it and don’t want to be spoiled, don’t keep reading. Actually, go see the movie and then come back and read the rest. I need all the hits I can get.)
It also contains one of the most literal examples of a biblical principle I’ve ever seen on film.
Here’s the plot in a nutshell: Time travel is possible in the year 2074, and apparently life in that year ain’t so great. See, the mafia is using this new technology to send people back in time 30 years so they can be shot by guys known as “loopers.” The time continuum implications of this make my head hurt, so I’m not even going to try to figure out how this works. Anyway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (My, how little Tommy Solomon has grown up…) is a looper named Joe. One day, the mob sends the old version of Joe (Bruce Willis) back for the young version of Joe (Gordon-Levitt) to kill, and…
Well, this is the problem with trying to describe a time-travel movie. I left something out already. Loopers can eventually retire and cash in the gold they are paid to dispose of their targets, and they are given 30 years to enjoy retirement. The only catch is at the end of those 30 years, they will die … because the mob will send them back in time to be killed by their younger selves. This is known in the movie as “closing the loop.”
So young Joe is supposed to kill old Joe … but old Joe escapes! (Sorry for the exclamation point. I got excited there.) This is, obviously, not good for young Joe, because now his 30-year-older self is running around in the present, which means … well, I’m not exactly sure what this means, but it’s really bad. The only thing I know for sure is that Doc Brown was wrong when he told Marty McFly he couldn’t interact with his younger self in Back To The Future, because young Joe and old Joe share quite a bit of screen time together.
It’s the interaction between these two that sets up the biblical illustration at the end of the movie. Old Joe gets married at some point, but his wife gets taken out when the mob shows up to send him back in time to close his loop. As a result, old Joe is bent on changing the past so his wife can live in the future. Young Joe could care less about his future wife in the present day, however, and just wants to kill old Joe so he can get his life back. So, essentially, you have two different version of Joe wanting to preserve their status quos.
The movie throws the viewer a neat curve ball early on, as the two Joes have a conversation in a roadside diner. Old Joe is attempting to describe to young Joe how his future wife will save his life, turning him away from a meaningless existence to a life of true love shared. When young Joe says he doesn’t care what old Joe wants, old Joe proceeds to tell him what a selfish individual he is (in R-rated descriptive language, of course) and how he needs to think of someone other than himself.
A kink in the notion of the noble older Joe is also introduced in this scene. Apparently, there is an individual in the future known only as “The Rainmaker” who is closing loops left and right. Old Joe presumes The Rainmaker must have ordered his loop to be closed, resulting in the death of his wife. So old Joe’s one driving motivation in the past is to do one thing and one thing only: Kill The Rainmaker so he can never order the hit in the future.
Old Joe is armed with an identification number of who The Rainmaker might be, but the number matches up with three different individuals, who – because this is 30 years in the past – are all children. The fact that his targets are little kids doesn’t deter old Joe, though. If anything, it gives him more incentive to carry out his task. If he can put The Rainmaker down as a child, he (or she, since he doesn’t the gender of his nemesis) can never grow up and cause all the chaos of the future. He feels bad about it, but old Joe still manages to kill one of his marks and would have taken down a second if not for some outside intervention.
It’s his third mark that young Joe runs into. While old Joe is roaming the city, young Joe has somehow wound up on a farm whose only residents are a single mom and her young son, Cid. Young Joe discovers Cid has overwhelming telekinetic powers and eventually manages to figure out that this is The Rainmaker old Joe is looking for. He also forms enough of a bond with the boy that he doesn’t want old Joe to murder him, no matter what that means for his future.
This sets up a climactic scene with the mother, Cid, and old and young Joe. It becomes readily evident to everyone that Cid could rip them all apart if he wanted to, but his mother (played by Emily Blunt) manages to calm him down enough that he relents. In fact, the mother has been working for years to try to harness her son’s powers so he wouldn’t use them in destructive ways – exactly the ways old Joe says he’s going to use them in the future. It is at this point young Joe has the following thought:
“Then I saw it. I saw a mom who would die for her son. A man who would kill for his wife. A boy, angry and alone. Laid out in front of him, the bad path. I saw it. And the path was a circle. Round and round. So I changed it.”
And then young Joe shoots himself in the chest, ending his own life and erasing old Joe from existence altogether.
Mark 8:35 state that “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my (Jesus) sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Now, Looper is a movie totally devoid of any religious presence at all, and young Joe’s decision at the end is based more on a belief in free will and chance than on any type of faith in a higher power. But his actions illustrate this scripture perfectly: Seeing how selfish and ugly he would eventually become, Joe decided to give up his own life for the sake of another, providing a sort of mirror image of what Christ did for sinners on the cross.
Before he went to work for Dave Ramsey and became some kind of self-help guru, I used to enjoy reading Jon Acuff’s blog “Stuff Christians Like.” In one post, he described how the movie Man On Fire (starring Denzel Washington) actually spoke to him more about Jesus’ salvation than The Passion of the Christ. I had that same thought after watching Looper. I’m selfish, sometimes even when I think I’m not. I’m eternally wrapped up in what I want, and I overlook what getting my needs fulfilled can cost others.
In short, I need a shotgun blast to the chest. Well, figuratively anyway.
Because of some of the stuff I mentioned earlier, I’m not sure I can recommend Looper in good conscience to all my Christian friends. I know I’m glad I gave it a chance, though. Sometimes God can pop up in the most unlikely places.