I have a draft post sitting here on this blog. I wrote it a couple weeks ago, but never really edited to a point I was happy with, so it languished. It was a post about how depressingly predictable Hollywood has become, how frustrated I was that I couldn’t find anything worth seeing in theaters because it was an unending sea of reboots and re-releases, of sequels and prequels. I hadn’t seen a movie in theaters since July, which is unusual for me, but there was simply nothing worth the money.
Until Looper. I didn’t know a whole lot about this sci fi flick, only that it had something to do with assassins, time travel, and that apparently Joseph Gordon Levitt grows up to look like Bruce Willis, which I considered unfortunate. But I heard rumblings that this was something special, that this was clever and new. Those rumblings were correct. Looper is not a perfect movie, but it’s perhaps one of the most interesting and unique films I’ve ever seen. From the script to the direction to the look of the movie, it was a movie experience that was visceral and thoughtful, that was action-packed and deeply character focused. It was a movie that proved how great Hollywood can be when it stops trying to reinvent the wheel and lets its beautiful imagination run wild.
Don’t believe me? Okay. It’s a sci fi movie, set in the future. In Kansas. IN KANSAS. Large swaths of the movie take place in cornfields and cane fields. We aren’t talking the orange and blue and gray you so often see in futuristic films–we’re talking browns and dirt and weary scenes that looks like the sun beat away all the color in the whole wide world. Looper’s future isn’t one of chrome and steel; it’s a future of desperation and hardship that’s both alien and frighteningly real. The tiny details that build a world are strong here, from the steampunkish blunderbusses and gats to the drugs you take by dripping onto your eyeball. It’s all rich and full without hammering you over the head.
It’s also a story about time travel without actually being about time travel at all. How does time travel work? Don’t know, don’t care. In the future (the film is split between 2044 and 2074), they have time travel. That’s all we know and all we need to know. I love that we don’t get into technobabble about how it works. It just does. The rules are simple, since it’s a linear sort of time travel–no alternate universes here. Just one timeline that loops endlessly back on itself in a way that’s meditative and terrifying. In one indelible scene, what happens in the present has immediate and terrifying effects on a character in the future. The scene, which I won’t spoil, is one of the most frightening things I’ve ever seen in a movie theater.
But even more than that, even outside of the vibrant sci fi world they’ve built, this is a story about, well, loops. It’s about cycles of violence, and how a single spark of hatred can set off a firestorm that lasts for generations. It’s about how our actions now, even the smallest thing, reverberates forever down the timeline. In a way, it’s even about how our future actions, our future possibilities, influence us right here and now, for better and for worse. And when you strip everything away, it’s about personal responsibility, and how we build futures, for better or worse.
If you’re as tired as I am of retreads, go see Looper. If we want Hollywood to make more of these kinds of movies, we have to reward creativity now. We can’t wait until a movie hits Netflix or Redbox–that doesn’t send a message about what we want. If we want original content, we have to break our own loop of recycle pablum and demand that Hollywood stretch itself, that it stops covering the same ground endlessly and looks for fresh voices and original thoughts. Hollywood is capable of greatness. Such greatness. But when we’re content with mediocre and mindless fare, we don’t force them to live up to their full potential. And we all lose.