I’m a few weeks behind, but I finally got to see latest effort from the incredibly talented Rian Johnson. It’s safe to say that I am downright gayballs for his collected works. Brick is a masterpiece, the episode The Fly from Breaking Bad is one of my favorite episodes and a shining example of bottle episodes, and Brothers Bloom was a very fun, slick film that I feel is a bit misunderstood by many people. It’s safe to say that I was excited for this film for a very long time, but then something strange happened. People saw it opening weekend and I started to get a plethora of comments.
“I am curious to see what you think of the time travel”, or, “There are time travel shenanigans, so I really want to know what you think”. Some of the most condemning revolve around a variation of “The basic premise doesn’t make any sense, and I just couldn’t get past it”, or “The ending breaks the in-world laws and ruined it for me”. These are all things that worry me when I hear them. See, here’s the thing. I’m a tough nut to crack when it comes to time travel. The problem really rests with the fact that I love physics, and that I took a lot of classes in college for it. A lot of classes. So it’s pretty fair to say that when it comes to time travel presentation, I’m a bit wary of the execution. People often relying on stating that time travel stories are hard to tell anyway, so don’t look too closely, but that’s not really true. Twelve Monkeys is an example of closed loop time travel told in an intriguing and mesmerizing way. In fact, a large part of this comes from the fact that you don’t know it’s a closed loop until the final moments. However, rewatching it doesn’t diminish this in any way, which proves that it’s more than a simple gimmick. Looper is an interesting case of storytelling and narrative through the use of the Novikov Self-Consistency Principle.
Here’s the biggest thing to keep in mind while I go into the specifics of this film: Looper is still a closed loop time travel movie.
What is Looper really? It’s a depression era moralistic tale that just so happens to be set in a dystopian future and feature time travel. It is about fate, decisions, and the realization that point of view isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Looper cares very much the future, but only briefly shows flashes of it, instead telling most of the story from the perspective of the “present”. To understand the film and why I strongly believe that the film is incredibly consistent while maintaining a closed loop, you must understand some fairly basic elements. The Novikov Self-Consistency Principle can be simply summed up as “a paradox can never occur because it has already been resolved from the point of the time travel”. What this practically means is, “the past can change in any number of meaningful ways, but only so much as it appears exactly the same from a point in the future where the time travel occurred”. Now, Novikov assumes that multiple worlds don’t exist. This is important because for all of its mind-bending future-outcome altering that Looper appears to do, it never actually breaks away from this.
Yes, it’s true. Despite the fact that we “witness” at least four potential timelines during the film, Looper doesn’t violate this law for one important reason. We never witness the original timeline in its entirety.
Think about that for a moment. Here’s what we know about the original timeline.
1) In the future, time travel is invented.
2) Crime syndicates begin to use this in order to solve their problems and solidify their powerbase in the past.
Things we can safely assume:
1) The Rainmaker takes over all crime syndicates.
2) Loops still get closed with great frequency
That’s it. That’s all we need to know about the original timeline. Now, we can infer many things about this timeline through Abe and context clues. For example, Joe was originally a giant fuck-up and is headed down a path that ultimately results in his death. He was robbing stores and committing crimes at a very young age, and we witness crimes resulting in murder without preamble more than once in the film. Abe mentions that he “saw the kid’s life stretching before him, and that it ended in him being a bad seed and his death”. We take this as fact, since we don’t actually witness the original timeline. Everything that takes place in the film is at LEAST one step removed from the primary timeline, in fact. Most of the film is more like two or three steps removed.
Novikov’s states that the primary timeline is the timeline that must always be the one resolved correctly. So let’s take a closer look at the known variables of the Rainmaker. The Rainmaker is stated as singlehandedly taking over everything. He is said to have a synthetic jaw, and have witnessed the death of his mother. Now, in the timeline we are viewing, we witness the incident that will result in the supposed Rainmaker having a synthetic jaw, and we are told the story of the Rainmaker witnessing the violent death of his “mother”. Further, we are given the additional information of the Rainmaker being driven by a need to prevent future violence and protect those that he loves. We are ALSO given an important context clue in that the Rainmaker is extremely skilled with electronics at the age of five or six. This level of technological sophistication is then coupled with the fact that the time travel seems to continually dump time travels into a series of fixed locations in rural Kansas. It’s not a single location, but there is never a destination written on the kill orders, so it’s safe to assume that the locations are in fact finite, and the visuals all seem to indicate that these locales are very, very close together. It is not a big leap to assume that these locations are a result of a fixed intent, and that the time period of these loops within the “present” isn’t that large of a period either, as the Rainmaker is mentioned as making a concerted effort to “cancel all contracts” in the future.
My theory here is that the Rainmaker is the one who invented the time travel methodology in the first place and he specifically allowed the crime syndicates to take control of it. This is pure supposition, but it’s not a huge leap and the following conclusions and ideas are not drawn from it, so even if this is incorrect, it bears no weight on the rest of the events and thus avoid being a Chain of Logical Fallacies.
Remember that the original timeline is actually the one in which time travel is first invented. This is the only timeline that matters here, everything else is revisionist history until it again meshes with the original in order to be self-consistent. So, there are many things that seem like they COULD have had a profound impact on the future, but let’s look closer what happens in the last loop. The things that should have had a big impact on the future are:
3) The Gat Men
4) Future Joe
I leave out other people, like Future Seth, because it’s again implied through context that no other instance of Letting Your Loop Run has really made an impact. In looking that above list, it does seem that every instance is resolved by the end of the film, doesn’t it? Abe is dead, there are no more Loopers by the end of the film, outside of those who have already taken retirement, the Gat Men, and subsequent control of Kansas City, don’t exist any longer, and Future Joe is removed from the equation entirely. It seems that everything that might otherwise have drastically altered history has been neatly resolved. Yes, we don’t know if there are other operations, but, again, no others are mentioned, so we make some rational assumptions. The drastic history-altering period only lasts for a short time and then disappears, more or less, without a trace at all. So what about the Rainmaker then? He’s the huge catalyst for all this, isn’t he?
Yes, he absolutely is, without a doubt. The Rainmaker exists, without a doubt. While Joe believes that he is breaking the cycle think about everything Cid has actually been through in the film. He still saw his “mother” die. He exploded someone. He was shot in the cheek. He witnessed Joe die in order to protect him and his mom. We know that in the original timeline the Rainmaker was left alone and he grew up to still be the Rainmaker. There is a particularly telling scene where Joe mentions this very thing, and even says, “Yeah, we know he doesn’t”, when Sara discusses the possibility of him growing up good with her influence. Yet, Joe doesn’t alter this outcome when he has a clear opportunity to do so. We are given to believe the possibility that Joe’s sacrifice, his influence and discussion with Sara, and Cid’s acceptance of Sara as his true mother have somehow altered the outcome of the future.
I hate to break it to everyone, but it hasn’t. What’s the last shot of the film? A close up of Cid’s face and a purposeful framed shot of his scarred cheek in the center of the frame. Cid has seen someone sacrifice their lives for him, been involved in two horrific acts of violence, and still wants to protect his mother more than ever. There is no question to me that this final shot is really meant to close the loop. Let it rain.