Looper is directed by Rian Johnson. It stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt in the lead roles. This is a film that deals with time travel as a means for evil syndicates to assassinate people. While the plot is pretty interesting, the time travel does create unescapable paradoxes which are hard to ignore. Do give it a watch, it’s still a good movie. Here’s the film Looper explained, spoilers ahead.
Setting The Context
Let’s get some essential details out of the way.
The story is set in the year 2044. Time travel has not yet been invented but gets invented by the early 2070s. It is instantly outlawed, used only in secret by the largest criminal organizations. It’s nearly impossible to dispose of a body in the future (Tagging techniques, whatnot). So when these criminal organizations in the 2070s (the future) need someone gone, they use specialized assassins in 2044 (the present) called loopers. Young Joe is a looper in 2044.
Abe and the Gat Men
He was sent back from the 2070s to the 2040s by the mob, a one-way ticket, to run the loopers. Abe runs the city and has his muscle called the Gat Men. Joe is a looper recruited Abe.
And so Joe’s employers in the future nab the target, they zap him back to Joe – their looper. The target appears, hands tied and head sacked. Joe shoots him with his massive short-range gun – the blunderbuss and collects his silver. So, the target is vanished from the future, and Joe disposes of a body that technically does not exist. Clean.
Closing the Loop – Golden Earnings
When loopers sign up for this job of taking out the future’s garbage, they also agree to a very specific proviso. Time travel in the future is so illegal that when the employers want to close the looper’s contracts, they also want to erase any trace of their relationship with loopers ever existing. So, if they’re still alive 30 years hence, they find the older self, zap him back in time, and the looper will kill him like any other job. This is called closing your loop. The looper gets a golden payday.
This is the name of the gun, but we need to talk about the shootings. Loopers shoot their assignments the instant they appear. There is no time for anything. It’s almost as a reflex action, the loopers shoot the moment they see their targets; there is not thought. Which takes us to the blunder of …
Letting your loop run
Joe’s friend, Seth, is given a looper assignment. It turns out to be his older self. Seth identifies this because his target is singing a song that lets Seth know who is behind the sack mask. It is highly unbelievable that Old Seth somehow sneaked in an entire song verse in that split second he’d have gotten before Young Seth shot him. Anyway, Old Seth runs away. Abe takes in Young Joe for questioning, and he gives up Young Seth’s location for the sake of silver. They take away Young Seth and torture him, carving an address on his hand. This wound eventually becomes a scar, and Old Seth sees it on his hands. Then they start with Young Seth’s fingers, they chop them off, we see Old Seth’s fingers disappearing as a result. Old Seth hurries to the address. By then, they chop off the legs. Old Seth drags himself to the doors of the location and bangs on it. He is then shot, and we are shown a bloody Young Seth. I understand the dramatic effect but dismembering Young Seth to lure in Old Seth seems to be a roundabout way to do things. They could just kill Young Seth, and *poof* Old Seth would disappear. Easier? Too cataclysmic a change for the future? Like an armless, legless Seth wouldn’t change things? Moving along …
Who is the Rainmaker?
A new holy terror boss man in the future who has, in six months, taken total control of the five major syndicates, and he’s closing all the loops. There are stories he has a synthetic jaw, saw his mom shot, sh*t like that. The Rainmaker in 2044 is a young boy named Cid who lives with his mother, Sara. By 2044, 10% of the population has a telekinetic mutation. Telekinesis is the ability to move objects with your mind. While this is a mild mutation in the rest, Cid has an extreme condition and something he’s not able to control. Sara had Cid when she was 22 and left him with her sister because she was selfish and wanted the city life with no responsibilities. Cid grew up calling her sister “Mom”. Cid had an incident of a bookshelf falling back on him. He causes it to explode, and Sara’s sister gets killed as a result. Sara returns after this incident and realizes that she abandoned her baby and she begins to live in the farmhouse with Cid after that.
Joe and the Rainmaker
- Cid, if he grows up with Sara, would live a life that is not centered around revenge. He might eventually be able to control his telekinesis and probably even do good for the world. No Rainmaker.
- However, the other possibility involves Old Joe traveling back in time to kill Cid but ends up killing Sara instead; old Joe also shoots Cid’s jaw (has a synthetic jaw, saw his mom shot, sh*t like that).
Why is Rainmaker closing all the loops?
Well, Cid grows up with hatred for loopers. It’s because Sara was killed by one. When Cid is able to get a hold of his powers, he takes over all the syndicates and starts shutting down loopers as revenge. Old Joe’s wife ends up being shot by one of the Rainmaker’s men. Old Joe, as a result, goes back in time to kill the Rainmaker. Instead, he shoots Sara and wounds Cid’s jaw, causing Cid to grow up hating loopers, becoming the Rainmaker.
About Joe’s Time Travel – Possible Timelines:
Before we proceed further, we need to take a break and go over the timelines that are shown in the film and address an important issue. Now, it appears that three distinct timelines are mentioned in the movie.
Timeline 1: Dead Old Joe
We are shown Old Joe who has been captured and sent back in time with a sack over his head and gold tied to this back. Young Joe shoots him dead, sees the gold and realizes that he has just closed his loop. After this, Young Joe moves to China and lives his life as a wealthy junky. He runs out of money eventually and becomes a hitman. He ultimately falls in love and gets married. One day he would be caught and sent back in time only to be shot by his younger self. Note that in this timeline, Old Joe is shot dead by Young Joe. So Cid is safe with Sara, and there is no Rainmaker as a result.
Timeline 2: Old Joe with a Vengeance
Old Joe is caught by the Rainmaker’s men. They also kill his wife. They take Old Joe to the time machine, but he’s able to overpower the men. He plans to go back in time and take out the Rainmaker to avoid the death of his wife. He doesn’t wear the sack over his head and goes back in time. Old Joe lands in front of Young Joe who recognizes his older self. By the time he shoots, Old Joe turns around to shield himself with the gold tied to his back and knocks Young Joe unconscious. Old Joe heads out to find the Rainmaker and kill him. The movie predominantly follows this timeline. However, in this timeline, Old Joe kills Sara, wounds Cid and this leads to the creation of the Rainmaker. This leads to an endless circle of events, a predestination paradox.
Timeline 3: No More Joe
Imagine if Young Joe stopped existing in 2044. This would also mean that Cid and Sara are safe and there would be no Rainmaker. We’ll get back to this in the end.
Further Plot Explanation
The movie shows Timeline 1 slipping into Timeline 2 which leads to consistency issues. We are first shown these sequence of events – Young Joe kills Old Joe. This Young Joe has no knowledge of Cid or Sara. Young Joe grows old in China. In spite of him never having met Cid or Sara, the Rainmaker still somehow exists. Even the rumors about the Rainmaker state that he has a synthetic jaw and saw his mother being shot. Remember, Old Joe appears and is shot instantly. So some other looper needs to have killed Sara and wounded Cid. There is no one such, even if there were, we aren’t shown. This happens to be the unfortunate inconsistency that exists in the movie. We are going to assume that Timeline 1 “somehow” slips into Timeline 2.
We start with Young Joe killing his older self and slips into a timeline where the Rainmaker exists anyway. In this timeline, Young Joe grows old, is captured, his wife is shot, overpowers the Rainmaker’s men and travels back in time without a sack on his head. Going back to 2044, he escapes being shot by Young Joe and makes a run for it. We can now follow the events of the movie from here.
Young Joe gains consciousness and heads back to his apartment. The Gat Men are there looking for him. He uses the fire escape to make a run for it, slips and falls, losing consciousness. Old Joe who’s there needs to protect his younger self. He dumps Young Joe at a train station so he can run away as he prints a map with 3 possible targets that could be the Rainmaker. Young Joe carves BEATRIX on his hand which Old Joe sees as a scar. It’s the name of the waitress at the diner he frequents. Both Joes meet at the diner.
Old Joe explains this – “My memory is cloudy. It’s a cloud. Because my memories aren’t really memories. They’re just one possible eventuality now. And they grow clearer or cloudier as they become more or less likely. But then they get to the present moment, and they’re instantly clear again. I can remember what you do after you do it”. Basically, what Young Joe will do from now on will become memories for Old Joe. Old Joe also explains why he came back in time, about his wife, about the Rainmaker.
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Old Joe is carrying a number on his hand which will help him locate the Rainmaker in 2044. It’s basically a combination of a birthdate and a hospital code. Old Joe has printed out a map which has the current location of three kids born on that date and in that hospital. He plans to kill all three, because he doesn’t know which one becomes the Rainmaker. The Gat Men show up at the diner and attack. Both Joe’s separate and escape. A part of the map, which has one location on it, ends up with Young Joe.
Sara, Cid, Young Joe
Young Joe follows the address on his portion of the map and meets Sara and Cid. She helps him with his wounds. Next day, Young Joe shows her the map to verify that it is her house marked on it. She also recognizes the number. He explains that Cid is in danger because one of these three kids on the map could be the Rainmaker and Old Joe is going to kill them all. We see Old Joe killing one of the kids. Sara asks Young Joe to help protect Cid. Next day, Cid displays a powerful episode of telekinesis as Sara hides in a safe. Cid still believes that Sara is not his real mother.
Jesse is a Gat Man who’s scouting the area looking for both Joes. He chances upon Sara’s place and comes asking questions. Cid helps Young Joe escape using an underground tunnel. They watch Jesse leave. At night, Sara feels like a booty call. Young Joe and she get it on. She also discloses that she’s telekinetic, who can move a heavy lighter, not just a light coin. This also shows us that the mutation is much stronger in Sara, which causes Cid to be born with the much-amplified powers. Next morning Jesse returns to the house and is holding Sara at gunpoint. As they talk, Cid walks down the stairs. As Jesse looks at Cid, Cid trips and falls. Sara knows whats coming next. She grabs Young Joe leaps out of the house. Cid telekinetically hoists and kills Jesse, and there is a mini explosion.
Old Joe Knows
The event that Young Joe has just witnessed with Cid becomes a clear memory in Old Joe’s mind. He knows that Cid is the Rainmaker, but get’s taken in by one of the Gat Men. Young Joe tells Sara that both the Gat Men and Old Joe will be on their way to the farmhouse. Old Joe makes his action-packed escape by killing most of the Gat Men and Abe. He heads to the farm.
Ending Explained: Timeline 3: No More Joe
Old Joe brings with him all of Young Joe’s silver and gold and asks him to leave with it. Young Joe disagrees with the idea of killing Cid. As Sara and Cid run for the field, Old Joe shoots and wounds Cid’s jaw. Cid gets pretty pissed and levitates both Sara and Old Joe telekinetically. As he’s about to tear Old Joe apart, Sara is able to calm him down. She asks Cid to run into the fields and stands in the way of Old Joe. Young Joe is at a distance, and his blunderbuss doesn’t have the rage to shoot Old Joe.
At this point, Young Joe remembers his own past. About how he was an abandoned child filled with anger and hate for the men who had sold drugs to his mother, who had bought him. Young Joe sees how Old Joe will kill Sara and Cid is also going to go through the same. Angry and lone on a train, grow up with hate for the world and loopers, go down the path of evil. Young Joe realizes his older-self triggers this circular path of events. He can’t shoot Old Joe, so he puts the blunderbuss to his chest and shoots himself. This causes Old Joe to disappear. A new timeline is born in which Young Joe dies in 2044. Cid and Sara are alive. There will be no Rainmaker.