Believe me, I’m not trying to start a fight here with the internet or anything by saying this, but director Rian Johnson is a great filmmaker. He’s a great writer, a great director, and overall one of my favorite film auteurs to admire and follow. (Plus, he's apparently a wiz when it comes to shooting travel videos with an iPhone 11?)
When I found out he was making a time travel movie, I was excited. When I heard it had a future-self Bruce Willis as a hired gun, I was all in.
I get it, though—he might not be everyone’s favorite, which is fine. But you have to admit that the man knows how to weave a cinematic tale. From his very first indie breakout with Brick, to his critically acclaimed but perhaps commercial miss with The Brothers Bloom, to—you know—that Star Wars film he helmed, to his surprise smash-hitKnives Out, Johnson has certainly proven that he deserves a seat at the great directors’ table.
And while Johnson dabbled in documentary and television with a few stints behind the camera with shows like Terriers and Breaking Bad, Johnson might have actually been at his very best with the often-forgotten, but quite successful science-fiction thriller Looper.
Released all the way back in 2012, but the blu ray is available now. Looper was only Johnson’s third feature, yet he pulled an impressive cast featuring Bruce Willis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and Emily Blunt. The film is set between 30 years in the future and the past, which blends action thriller beats with some high-concept sci-fi worldbuilding, was met with rave reviews, a strong box office pull, and inclusion on several best-of-the-year lists.
However, even almost 10 years later, much of its plot, meaning, and even ending remains a mystery to many. So, for all those Rian Johnson stans, or those who might have just checked out Looper for the first time, let’s explore what makes Looper tick as we try to answer as many of the questions presented by the film’s cryptic ending.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
Alright, before we dive in, we’re going to have to give the obvious SPOILER WARNINGfor the rest of this article. We’ll be discussing a few Looper plot points along with the ending and meaning behind Looper, which means we’ll be giving away plenty of the turns and surprises.
That being said, to say that Looper is any sort of straightforward narrative would be a lie. As its title suggests, the film is filled with many time-traveling loops that require a lot of attention and thinking to keep up with all the moving variables.
There’s plenty of aspects of the film which you can enjoy without focusing on the writing, but for this article, we’ll be exploring the plot and cinematic storytelling of Looper. So… consider yourself warned!
Looper Plot Summary
Let’s start with the basic structure of Looper’s plot. The year is 2044 and 25-year-old Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) works as a “looper” which is a type of time-traveling hitman for a futuristic crime syndicate.
We’re fittingly introduced to Joe as he’s carrying out another routine hit. As a looper, he primarily disposes of victims who have been sent back in time by the same crime syndicate from 2074. Joe is very good at his job and has built up quite a stockpile of silver bars which he spends on women and drugs.
Eventually, Joe knows that he will one day have to “close his loop” and kill his future self whenever he is sent back for one final job. We see an example of this going wrong as one of Joe’s fellow looper friends fails to dispose of his future self and meets a harrowing end at the hands of the mob.
The crux of the story begins when Joe’s future self is sent back for young Joe to kill. This old Joe (played by Bruce Willis) attacks young Joe and escapes. The two eventually meet, and old Joe tells young Joe about a future mob kingpin called the Rainmaker. He also tells Young Joe that he’ll eventually fall in love and not want to be retired.
'Looper'Credit: TriStar PicturesOld Joe means to kill a young version of this Rainmaker and has coordinates on a map to find him. Young Joe and old Joe tussle, and young Joe ends up with the map which he eventually uses to find his way to a farmhouse, where he meets Sara and her young son Cid.
Sara reveals that Cid has extremely strong telekinetic powers, and young Joe deduces that he will one day ultimately become the Rainmaker. Meanwhile, old Joe is captured by the mob but breaks free and meets young Joe at the farm.
In the climactic finale, old Joe confronts Sara and the young Cid, meaning to kill the boy. Sara stands in his way as young Joe watches from afar. Young Joe realizes that if old Joe kills Cid, it will put the steps into place for Cid to become the Rainmaker, so he decides to shoot himself as a way to stop old Joe.
Looper Ending Explained
That’s the basic gist of the plot, although there are many different subplots which this Looper explanation is going to explore with young Joe and his initial love interest with Suzie (Piper Perabo), his friendship with Seth (Paul Dano), his mentorship with mob boss Abe (Jeff Daniels), and a host of Gat Men and other characters.
But the question remains: what does the Looper film ending actually mean? And how can the Looper ending be explained? Well, to sort through this, we’re going to need to go through a little bit of sci-fi and time-traveling history.
In past sci-fi movies, the concept of time travel has usually been pretty loose with the logic and details. Take Back to the Future for example, where numerous paradoxes are exposed and ignored as multiple characters time travel with little to no repercussions.
However, as even Rian Johnson has admitted, Looper isn’t meant to be as rigid or complex as other more hard sci-fi films like Shane Carruth’s Primer for example. Instead, Looper presents a pretty straightforward time travel mechanism that really only allows for one main timeline… with the possibility of another one in the end (or maybe more).
Basically, Looper ends with young Joe making an unselfish decision to take his own life as a means to save another. He has developed a love and fondness for Sara and Cid, despite realizing that Cid is most likely going to grow up to be the Rainmaker.
When young Joe turns his shotgun on himself, he is in effect ending old Joe’s life, saving Sara’s, and possibly freeing Cid of the trauma which might turn him into a harrowed mob boss killer in the future.
Yet, the ending is indeed open-ended enough to leave plenty of questions in the wake...
Credit: This is Barry.
Looper Meaning Explored
So, with the Looper ending explained, it’d be of no surprise to learn that many fans have plenty of thoughts into what the meaning of Looper as well as several theories into other possible outcomes and timelines.
The biggest question that remains is whether or not young Joe’s selfless act would actually change the future or not. We know that Cid already possesses power and anger, and there are hints that it's spurred by the loss of his actual mother.
We also have to ask about young Joe’s death and what happens after. As we see in the film, when young Joe dies, old Joe disappears. But you could also reason that once young Joe dies, so should the entire history of old Joe, including all the moments which led up to the climactic final scene.
However, to really understand the full Looper meaning, you’d really have to just take it at face value. As Johnson has stated in interviews, the film is meant to be dealt with “moment-to-moment,” and that “the things that have happened have happened. Everything is kind of being created and fused in terms of the timeline in the present moment.”
'LooperCredit: TriStar PicturesJohnson goes on to elaborate when discussing specific plot points like “why Sara would remember old Joe” at all that, to him, “it’s largely just semantics.”
Which is to say that the real meaning of Looper is that it’s about the characters. It’s a sci-fi action thriller, but it’s also a love story, and a story about accepting personal responsibility for oneself. Johnson has stressed that while you might want to “go back and graph the whole thing out. What’s important is what the experiences of these people are in the events that happened in the movie.”
What do you think, though? Is the ending of Looper as straightforward as it seems?
Let us know your thoughts on the Looper movie the comments below...