'Looper': The ending explained
'Looper' has a lot of sci-fi twists. Here's a walk-through of how the time travel in the film worked.
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In a climatic moment, Young Joe (via voiceover) describes seeing an unending cycle of time travel violence that creates monsters like the Rainmaker and Old Joe – and the only way to break it is suicide. A noble speech, noble idea, good plot twist and intriguing thematic arc… but it doesn’t hide the fact that there is a big gaping paradox at the center of the movie.Skip to next paragraph
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Young & Old Seth
This tangential subplot to the film actually raises quite a few paradoxal issues. Similar to Young Joe, Young Seth (Paul Dano) fails to kill his older self. Old Seth goes on the run until Kid Blue (Noah Segan) and the gatmen capture Young Seth and surgically amputate him as a means of incapacitating Old Seth.
Here again, we get a muddled version of timeline mechanics: If history is one timeline, then Old Seth should have instantly seen the amputated changes to his body the moment he escaped from Young Seth; the fact that limbs disappeared one at a time suggests multiverse possibility (Young Seth loses one finger, but there’s still alternate possibilities wherein he keeps the other nine, etc.). But if we’re talking multiverse theory, the Old Seth we see shouldn’t be affected by the amputations – it should be some alternate Old Seth of an alternate timeline who suffers that fate.
That’s not to mention the sheer number of future events that would have been altered when Young Seth is left incapacitated; start thinking about the Butterfly Effect and your head is liable to explode.
The Two Joes
Like the Seths, the paradoxal nature of Looper’s time travel story is seen in the two Joes. Simply put: it’s impossible for these two Joe’s to both exist and have a connection whereby Young Joe can leave scar messages in Old Joe’s skin, or Old Joe is clouded with Young Joe’s memories. Again, the movie shows us that Old Joe comes from a particular timeline, and that the Young Joe we meet is living in a now alternate timeline, where Old Joe’s actions steer him down a very different path.
In single timeline theory, Old Joe should’ve suffered a Back to the Future vanishing act the moment that Young Joe turns any one of the emotional corners he does in that second act of the film on the farm (bonding with Cid, falling for Sara, realizing he could one day become a baby-killer, etc.). Young Joe had already started down a path of emotional growth and change, meaning he could never become the Old Joe we meet – yet when Young Joe kills himself, poof! Old Joe is gone as if they are directly tied to one another. Either Old Joe should’ve reflected the emotional changes in Young Joe (which would’ve prevented him from baby killing ) – OR, Young Joe’s suicidal act shouldn’t have affected Old Joe, sinceOld Joe would’ve been from an alternate timeline.-
We could go on and on like this, but we would inevitably find ourselves arriving back at the same conumdrum: time travel theory: you just can’t have it both ways. Looper crafts a very good story out of a wild sci-fi premise, and while it dodges a lot of its own potholes scene-to-scene, when viewed from a distance its clear that Rian Johnson has not yet cracked the time travel movie conundrum.
Kofi Outlaw blogs at Screen Rant.
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