Film Review of ‘Looper’: Chuck Norris & The Tinkling of the Ivories


I do love a good sci fi time travel movie. Not the ones that are about travelling back to, say, medieval times. No, I like the ones that make you think about time travel itself. Suppose someone went back and killed you when you were a child – or your mother before you were born – as in eg The Terminator – would you suddenly pop out of existence now? Suppose a man goes back in time and meets his own mother and they fall for each other, as in Back to the Future? Could you be your own father? How about a man having a sex change, with an implanted womb and ovaries (assume this is possible in the future), and he goes back in time to have a child with himself as a man. Wouldn’t that be illegal? If it isn’t it ought to be, along with Scottish country dancing. Not to mention being against the laws of physics and nature. These are clear. You can go forward in time but not back. There were two items in the news recently. In the thirties, Einstein disagreed with the ‘spooky action at a distance’ that occurs in quantum mechanics. With entangled particles, measurement of one is instantly ‘known’ by the others, breaking the law that nothing can go faster than the speed of light. Well, researchers have just shown that this in fact occurs and that Einstein was wrong. The second piece of news concerns the astronaut who has just blasted off for a year long stay on the International Space Station. He is one of a pair of identical twins – the other is staying on the ground. The idea is to compare the effects of being subject to gravity and weightlessness. However, the twin in orbit will come back younger than his brother, only by a small and not noticeable amount, but measurable, in accordance with Einstein’s laws of general relativity – he is travelling eighteen thousand miles an hour faster relative to his twin brother on the ground. If he went to a nearby star at close to the speed of light, when he came back he would be much younger – in fact his twin would most likely have died of old age. All these spooky things really happen. Except that going by what we know now there is no way of going back in time. Right? Not in this film.

‘Looper’ is set in the future, in 2044, and also 30 years further ahead than that. In 2074, time travel is invented, and at once made illegal by a nervous government. At the same time, surveillance technology and CSI-style forensic skills make killing people very difficult, so crime syndicates manage to get hold of a time-travel device and use this to get rid of troublesome people. Victims are sent back in time to 2044 where lowly paid assassins blast them with shotguns and get paid in silver bars strapped to the victim’s body. But there’s a catch. The killers are known as ‘loopers’, because one day they must close the loop. Their future middle-aged selves must be liquidated, because they have amassed too much information about their employer, so are sent back in time for assassination with the special retirement payoff of gold bars strapped on. The younger self must then pull the trigger, and accept, with as much zen calm as possible, his fate in 30 year’s time. One of these loopers is Joe, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt  – but when his older self, played by Bruce Willis, comes back, he somehow evades the execution and Joe has to hunt himself down. Best to leave the rest of the complex plot there if you’ve not seen the film yet.

The film is well-paced and constantly interesting. There are obvious nods to The Terminator, The Matrix, Memento and even Shane – the mother/love interest is shown attacking a massive tree stump outside her farmhouse with an axe. I found the sound quality poor in the quieter scenes and there was a typical Chuck Norris bit when the older Joe, guarded by three armed thugs, breaks free from his bindings, grabs a weapon and kills all three. ‘With one leap I was free.’ And then there’s the ‘tinkling of the ivories’. Have you ever noticed that in the better movies/TV dramas the emotional scenes are attended by silence (The Fall and Wolf Hall are recent examples) while in others you are ‘told’ what to feel by the pianist in the background? I can work it out for myself, thanks. Reminds me of that advert on the box where someone is walking in the hills to the sound of a choir. He stops and turns to a real choir massed on the hillside and orders them to stop.

So, in conclusion, despite the unbelievable Chuck Norris bit and the tinkling of the ivories, a great film. Well worth watching.