Peter M Howard ::

wintermute.com.au

Looper

03October2012 [movies]
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While watching Looper, I thought, They don’t make movies like this anymore. But now I understand, There’s a good reason they don’t make movies like this anymore.

The plot lines are exhausted. (Their loops are closed.)

Looper is a couple of different movies mixed in together: a combination of classic time travel scifi, of a family drama, and a crime thriller. As a crime-movie-with-heart it’s great. The family angle gives it substance, while the crime angle gives it style. It’s all beautifully shot, has a solid cast (excellent leads, good-enough support), and is well scored, and lit.

But the scifi doesn’t actually work. It’s way too simplistic, packed full of plot holes, accidental paradoxes, coincidences, and weird moments of import that don’t pay off. Its most recent influence is probably 12 Monkeys, and certainly while watching it (and with Bruce Willis in it) I noticed some strong similarities, and Looper seemed fuller. But looking back, 12 Monkeys has a much better pay-off. The way the plot plays out in Looper is predictable to the point of inevitability, which is just tiring. There are bumps in the journey, but it’s really obvious where the road is leading, and there’s just no way it can end any differently.

Someone on Twitter called Looper, “this year’s Moon”, and the comparison made me nervous. Moon was brilliant, except for its final five minutes. It played out a spectacularly dismal vision, and should have descended into futility in the style of Cold War scifi. But it just couldn’t avoid a “happy” ending, and that completely let down the film’s narrative.

Looper suffers similarly. But I realise now that it’s not a problem of the film itself, but of the whole time travel sub-genre. Between the literature and the films that have mined the possibilities, there’s just no way to legitimately avoid despair. Anything that attempts otherwise just seems trite, or lacking in vision.

It’s curious now, Looper having got a great reception from mainstream audiences, and a great initial reception from scifi audiences, that it’s seeing some backlash. Part of it’s just the nature of the scifi community, reacting to mainstream acceptance — this is, of course, why we don’t get nice things. But deeper than that, it’s a reflection of the great divide between scifi literature and film. In writing, the tropes of time travel were exhausted long ago. It’s only now that film is digging through that material and finding its own limits.

And there’s a weird sort of time travel just in that.

If we’re lucky, film makers will shortly discover cyberpunk. Or maybe that’ll be unlucky.

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