Movies have played with the idea of time travel in many ways. Most famous is probably the trio of "Back to the Future" movies. In them, we see how changes in the past, wrought by one from the future, can create huge ripples in time.
In "Looper," writer and director Rian Johnson uses time travel in a unique manner. This is a time-travel movie with a mob foundation.
In the future, time travel is discovered but soon outlawed. Only organized crime uses it. They don't use it to make money by betting on sports or horses; they use it to eliminate troublemakers.
It works like this: People living in the past called Loopers – like Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) – are hired by the mob. The Looper waits at a specific time and place for a person (i.e., the mob target) to appear, and then the Looper kills the person.
The targets that appear do so already bound, with hoods over their heads. On their backs are bars of silver as payment to the Looper for the hit.
Joe and his friends all live the high life. They're hooked on drugs. They spend their days killing people, their nights partying hard.
Abe (Jeff Daniels) is the Loopers' "handler," so to speak. He was sent back in time to oversee the hits. Creating his own mob in the present time, Abe is in charge of every aspect of the city.
The central problem of the movie is that a new boss in the future, called the Rainmaker, acts to close all the loops. "Closing the loop" means that a Looper's future self comes back in time.
Not realizing who the target that appears is, the Looper kills his future self. This payment is in gold, and the Looper learns he has only 30 years left to live.
One day, Joe is sent on a hit. Appearing before him is his future self (Bruce Willis), without a hood and hands free.
Future Joe has returned to kill the child that will become the Rainmaker. He quickly escapes and is loose in the world. Joe must find and kill his future self; not doing so jeopardizes his life in the present.
"Looper" is one twisty ride. Johnson creates a universe that owes much to so many other stories.
Yes, this is a story about time travel and the mob, but the real story here is tied to an episode of "The Twilight Zone."
The possible Rainmaker is a little boy like Anthony Fremont of "It's a Good Life." The boy has extraordinary powers of telekinesis.
Joe finds himself drawn to the boy (Pierce Gagnon) and the boy's mother (Emily Blunt), and Joe goes to extreme lengths to protect him.
I came away from "Looper" with the feeling that Johnson was speaking to our current culture and trying to hold up the need of giving of self for the larger good. Our culture is so concerned with self, the glorifying of self, the strategy of doing as little as possible for the common good.
"Looper" reminds us that we are our brother's keeper. And if we fail to keep our brother, we may create consequences that will ruin not just our own future, but all futures.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language, some sexuality/nudity and drug content.
Director: Rian Johnson
Writer: Rian Johnson
Cast: Joseph Gordon-Levitt: Joe; Bruce Willis: Future Joe; Jeff Daniels: Abe; Emily Blunt: Sara; Pierce Gagnon: Cid.