Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Great Looper Controversy!

I think I mentioned Looper as one of my favorite movies of 2012 on more than one occasion. It was a smart, dramatic, and managed to not back away from having likable, understandable leads do horrible things, and still make us understand them. No easy task in a time-travel movie.

Well, in his recent post, Andrew Leon dared to give my beloved movie a mixed review! Actually, that wasn't my problem with his post. He had a take on some of the events of the movie that I disagreed with. Very subjective stuff. I thought it might be fun to continue to discuss here, where I can do also let my comment to his blog also serve as a post on it's own.

Be warned, spoilers follow... and this may get a bit long, and bogged down with minutia, I won't be mad if you just go about your business and ignore. This really is just me trying to come to grips with Andrew's interpretation of the movie more than anything.

Okay, for those of us who haven't seen the movie, and don't care about spoilers, here is the gist of the controversy:

Loopers are hit men who have one job - kill people that are sent from 30 years in the future, bound and with their heads covered, at a predetermined spot and moment in time.

Now, at some point, part of the deal when you are hired is that, if you are still alive in the future, you will be sent the old version of yourself to kill. Once that deed is done, you get a huge payoff and you are 'retired,' until 30 years later when you are kidnapped, bound and have your head covered, and sent back in time to be killed by your younger self.

During his review, Andrew said this:

"The whole story of Looper hinges on  the belief by the audience that young Joe dies when he falls from the ladder."

In the comments, I (and others) disputed this interpretation of that scene of the film. I responded:

"I don't think the intent was for the audience to believe Joe died when he fell from the ladder. Or if it was, I didn't get it."

To which, Andrew said:

"I'm pretty certain we were supposed to believe he died, because that's the only thing that makes the movie work. He falls and "dies" and everything starts over. Then we get back to the point the second time and the reaction is "oh, he didn't die," and we're meant to incorporate that knowledge into our new movie of the movie and forget the whole dying part so that we can follow the "new" narrative."

I think my gut reaction to that was, "If what he's saying is true, I enjoyed this movie more than I should have because I made up a scenario in my head that is better than what the director actually intended for me to think." My response? Well, you're in luck - I've pasted that below as well:

"If the director killed Young Joe at the ladder it would be beyond stupid (logically), and would lessen the movie immensely... there is no way that is what happened. If you interpreted the fall from the ladder that way I can see why it frustrated you. 
And with that, I'll drop it. I think I've said my piece.
Unless you respond with something that opens up a can or worms."

Now, at this point, Andrew responded and I really misunderstood what he was actually saying - I'll blame the internet for ruining my attention span -  and went a long ways towards preparing today's post before I realized I'd gone way off on a tangent. But regardless of where I was at mentally, Andrew responded with:

But that's not what happened. There is no flashback. The FIRST time he's on the ladder and he falls, the screen goes black, and, then, we're back at the field and he's looking at his watch. old Joe shows up, and he kills him. The clear implication is that Young Joe dies in the fall. You only find out he didn't when we get back to the point from Old Joe's perspective. And, see, what you said makes my point. If Young Joe dies, the movie is over, and it was. Because, when he falls, we go back to field and he kills Old Joe. It was a lie that allows us to buy into the rest of the movie, because, then, we want to know what happened. Why he had the hood on the second time, which we never actually find out.

At this point, the conversation ended, so really, up until this point, I'm only covering ground that was covered yesterday. It's from here forward that new information is being given.

Now, I'm going to break down Andrew's comment into it's component parts, and discuss each one on it's own. That way I can, hopefully not forget anything important.

"But that's not what happened. There is no flashback. The FIRST time he's on the ladder and he falls, the screen goes black, and, then, we're back at the field and he's looking at his watch. old Joe shows up, and he kills him. The clear implication is that Young Joe dies in the fall."
 Ok, this happens a lot in disagreements, two people see exactly the same thing and both come away seeing something different.

That said, I think the actual indicator that Andrew mentioned that points to Young Joe dying is the the screen going black. I'm not convinced that is significant, especially if the lead actor falls from his third story window thirty minutes into the movie. My expectation, as a viewer, is that he will get up, be hurt, and continue on his way. It's from years of conditioning by Die Hard movies, Lethal Weapon movies, Rambo, whatever action movie comes out in any given week. Heck, even that Schwarzenegger movie I saw in January had him fall through the roof of a building while fist-fighting a gun toting madman. The joke was Arnold is old now, so it took him a moment before he could get up and go beat up the rest of the gang. That's a full generation of conditioning I have. So, seeing a man fall from a third story fire escape onto the hood of a car in a movie like this is the equivalent of me missing a step when stepping off my front porch. Yeah, I may twinge my knee a bit, but I'm probably going to be fine.

I'm being snarky there, but my point is that I didn't believe he died. Andrew didn't believe he died, my two teenage kids didn't think he'd died. No one else I spoke with about the movie in any detail believed he died.

So, I contend that the director did NOT intend to have the audience believe Young Joe was dead at that point. Having a scene where a lead actor has an accident and the scene goes black really makes me think he's been knocked out. That is very subjective ground though. I don't like playing there. I did find this youtube video with the director/writer where he discussed many things about the movie, but the significant portion -which I should have noted the time stamp so I could have linked directly to that part - is when he mentions that the movie is not being shown linearly.

Based firstly, on my thoughts, and secondly, on what the director mentions in the video above (and I'm serious about that, as I actually think the more the director talks about the events of the movie, the more opportunity he has to undermine what I think is a pretty well conceived time-travel story), I think the events of the movie go like this:

  • POV is Young Joe. He's a looper. The events unfold until he falls from ladder.
  • POV shifts to Old Joe. We see what are, essentially, his memories of when he was a young man and he killed his own loop (who was hooded), we follow his path up until he arrives to meet Young Joe (without his hood, because he decided to change things, which is why he was so late when he arrived).
Now, part of Andrew's original post (which I recommend you read, because I think I've demonstrated I can quite easily spend some time misinterpreting what he says) mentions that the entire movie is invalidated by the death of Old Joe during the scene immediately following the fall from the ladder. Here is that passage:

"The other thing that really bothers me is that the movie didn't happen, and I hate stories that didn't happen. I hate getting to the end and finding out that it was all a dream or a vision or a whatever. I mean, this was as bad as Next with Nicolas Cage. You get to the end and find out that, really, the movie ended right there when Young Joe kills Old Joe at the beginning of the movie. That's it. End of story. Everything else is just "closing the loop" and doesn't actually exist. I really felt cheated."

So, I know I was supposed to get to the second part of the paragraph I quoted earlier, but I've already spent waaayyy too long on this, and I do have a job to go to in the morning, so I can't stay up all night writing this post. 

Based on my interpretation of the movie, the loop was broken. Old Joe that was killed in the field after the scene where Young Joe fell from his apartment wasn't Old Joe, it was a third version of Joe, REALLY Old Joe. His only appearance in the movie was when he was shot and killed. Because Old Joe wasn't the character that died there, he was the man pulling the trigger, the person that looks just like Young Joe, but isn't, because he's from the previous loop, it's actually Old Joe.

I know what I just wrote was convoluted - but I'm pretty sure I'm right about this. I believe that was the writer/director's intent, and that's the way I believe it happened when I saw it. If I understand Andrew correctly here - never a given - and his interpretation is correct, then this is not a very good movie. It falls apart for all the reasons he says it does. 

But why would anyone make that movie? I don't believe it.


mooderino said...

I'm saying nothing.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I actually followed that.
It was one of my favorite movies and won a Critic's Choice Award, wo we're not alone.
Young Joe didn't die in the fall. Never got that either.
You also have to take timelines into consideration. The first time, Joe did kill himself, and went on to live thirty more years. But when he's sent back, he isn't killed, thus disrupting the timeline and changing things - or rather, creating a new timeline. Everything did happen, just not all in the same timeline.
Like The Man Who Folded Himself - ever read that book?

Brinda said...

I enjoyed the movie, but the "logic flaws" drive me insane if I try to reason with the plot.

PT Dilloway, Grumpy Bulldog said...

I really need to watch that again now. I don't remember anything about a ladder at all.

Matthew MacNish said...

I haven't seen it, but this is the constant trouble with time travel: too much potential for paradoxes.

M.J. Fifield said...

I liked the movie. I had no idea what was going on half the time, but I tried not to worry about it and just enjoyed the ride. Seemed easier.

Andrew Leon said...

I don't think there is a third iteration of Joe. There's no evidence of that within the context of the film.

Instead of re-stating my point, I'm just going to say, again, that any movie/book/whatever where the author has to step back in and explain what he was thinking so that his work makes sense was not successful. If it takes outside explanation to make it work, it doesn't work.
If I have to stand and fold the TV antenna to get the picture to be clear, and I can't see the TV while I'm holding the antenna, it's not working.

And, you know, in that video, every time the director says, "in my head," he punches a hole in the movie, because it doesn't do us any good how brilliant the story is while it's in his head.

The Golden Eagle said...

I haven't seemed this movie, but now I want to just to understand better what you're talking about. Sounds complicated.

Annalisa Crawford said...

I haven't seen the film, but I really really want to now!

Vanessa Morgan said...

Looper was one of my favorite movies from last year.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I really liked Looper. I wouldn't let my kids watch it, but wow.

I didn't think Joe died when he fell from the ladder, I think the new-old Joe died in the field, and it made sense to me, although I still wondered if the kid would grow up to be some kind of crazy mental monster even with his mom to help him.

I didn't think it needed any kind of directorial explanation. The questions I had after the movie were thought-provoking questions, not irritated at the movie questions.

The bit of mystery left was meant to remain a mystery - as in, what does the future hold now that the extremely talented kid grows up in a loving environment, and apparently all or most of the Looper system has been killed off by Old Joe? I'm ok with not having the answer to that, because that's the whole point - a change in the future events that leaves us with the possibility of hope.

And then there's the whole self-sacrifice for the love of others . . .I think that's one of the most chilling, and yet best part, of Looper.

Tony Laplume said...

Looper is a movie about time travel where you don't really need to follow the strict logic of time travel so much as the rules established in the story, and the only rule you really need to know is that if the younger self is hurt and killed, the older self vanishes. Pretty straightforward. And so the ending makes perfect sense in that regard, and is half the reason the movie is so enjoyable, because it ties everything together.

Cindy said...

I haven't seen Looper yet, but other people have recommended it to me. It sounds complicated. Maybe this weekend!

Michael Offutt, S.F.A. said...

Looper was a one timer. I'll never watch that sorry film again.