Looper: Lessons in not changing the history from I-am-my-own-grandpa

Looper is a 2012 Hollywood production belonging to sci-fi/action genre and more importantly a time travel subgenre. It grabbed the attention of the fans of the genre for its complex plot and bold use of time travel elements. If you’re interested in such topics as the possibility of time travel, its effects on society and so on, this is a must watch and you’ve probably watched the movie more than once already.

Fig.1. It is obvious that Levitt is really Willis’s youth and traveled through time for this particular part (image: IMDB)

Looper ventures very far from an ordinary action movie with its plot and succeeds to please the fans of the time travel movies as well for it did not reduced its main plot element to “what would happen if there were time machines.” It uses time travel as a motive for the inevitable consequences of our choices, the impossibility to change our future (or past) without changing ourselves and how we create our part of the world that we so readily despise.
Despite the fact that it deserves all the praise it got, this does not necessarily mean that the movie has a complete inner consistency. Although a few arbitrary assumptions can make the plot seem so, in fact the movie has not a complete consistency especially in terms of time travel. This does not decrease its value but it is very hard not to spot them either.
Contrary to other movies, I urge you to watch the movie before reading this. However, since you’re already here you’ve probably seen it a few times and have your own timeline diagrams and graphs as well. But if you insist on not watching, if you’re too scared to watch a good movie while also want to talk about it as if you did, there’s also a detailed plot summary below. We can continue.


First of all I have to say that in 2012 when I first watched the movie, I solely concentrated on time travel side of the movie. Time travel movies are not as much as they might seem and therefore everyone is a jewel for the fans of the genre. It’s inner inconsistency created such a frustration that I did not even noticed the scene where the movie itself saying “do not watch this movie for time travel; do not draw diagrams of timelines and so forth.”

– It’s hard staring into your eyes. It’s too strange.
– Your face looks backwards.
– Yeah.
– So, do you know what’s gonna happen? You’ve done this already, as me?
– I don’t wanna talk about time travel shit. Cos if we start talking about it then we’re gonna be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws. It doesn’t matter.
– I hurt myself, it changes your body so what I gonna do now changes your memories?

But, of course, we don’t have to seriously just because some old man shouting at our face. And we won’t. Let us keep thinking about it and make up our own minds.
The movie takes place in near future, but a date before the invention of time travel. We learn that time travel is invented even farther future and it is immediately outlawed and is not used except by government and mafia. Mafia uses it to get rid of dead bodies with is virtually impossible in the future due to some advanced tracking technologies. The idea is simple, if you want somebody dead, kidnap, tie, send to the past and the hitman waiting in the past (Looper) kills that guy without knowing who he is and disposes the body for you.

Fig.2. We all know that hydrofluoric acid is necessary and sufficient to get rid of a body

Loopers get paid by silver nuggets tied to their victim’s back by their future employers. But if one day a Looper finds gold nuggets instead of silver, it means that they killed their future selves and hence retiring. This is called as “closing you loop”. From that day forth a looper has 30 years to live with the redundancy package they get. When 30 years pass, some dark people comes for the looper, kidnap him and send him back to himself to get killed, looper living the exact same moment as the victim this time.

Fig.3. Life line of an ordinary Looper

In Looper cinematic world there are also people with telekinetic abilities. These constitute 10% of the total population, yet, their abilities more or less just let them to float coins right above their hands.

Fig.4. You can flip coins without using your hands only for &6K. Call today!

After this narrative introduction, the movie sets on to answer the inevitable question: What happens if the Looper refuse to hill himself? A Looper named Seth, portrayed by Paul Danno who’ famous for getting beaten up in movies, and also a close friend of protagonist Joe, recognizes his future self despite his mouth being tied from a melody he’s humming and cannot kill. Therefore his loop remains open and mafia starts to hunt both of them.

Fig.5. There are people having it worse than Sean Bean

If that’s not enough and you still hate his face or something maybe this will help:

Here we’re starting to have some ideas regarding the time travel vision of the movie. Mafia want present Seth alive due to the fact that his death would change the future. However, they carve a message on present Seth’s arm for future Seth to see. Message simultaneously appears on future Seth’s arm but as healed wounds. So, time concept of the movie is not the one that every change in the past creates another parallel future or not the one that characters living in the past, already living the modified past, a sort of closed loop if you will, as well. We can name this sort of thinking as open loops. You can go to the past and change it, but every change you make has its effect on future you. Time travelers of this type of realities would warn you about changing the past, because you never know what those changes would bring in the far future. Also this type of time travel is suitable for a movie discussing free will and responsibility that it brings, which is a main theme of it. Do we have free will? Could a person who has the will make a difference?

Fig.6. Enough beating him. At least leave his future self

However, this movie’s approach to time travel collapses almost as soon as it becomes clear. Mafia who does not kill Seth not to change the future, do not even hesitate to slowly decapitate him until there’s nothing left to cut off. When Seth arrives at the mafia’s designated place, he cannot knock the door or stand. The door opens and Seth is shot.

Now, it is possible to think that a group of people concerned not to “change the future” to cut off every part of a person longer than an inch is due to the fact that they can actually tolerate a certain amount of change. This way of thinking seemingly helps the plot, but at the expense of an arbitrary assumptions to the possible effects of events to the future. A person interacts with his or her environment extensively. Thirty years is long enough for interactions with thousands of people, which would cause exponentially more interactions with other people which could easily render unforeseeable changes in the course of time especially in long term. It is very hard to accept as a viewer that simply killing a man would cause more change than almost killing a man, practically rendering him unable to move, unable to “live”.

Fig.7. “Oh look! A lesson in not changing the history from Mr. I-am-my-own-grandpa” (görsel: FARK)

Of course, we do not have to strictly agree with the idea of deterministic chaos where, given time, little changes unavoidably causing large scale disasters. Changes can also dissipate and vanish in time. Physicists among members of the future mafia may be able to calculate these changes. In fact, the movie itself seems to have a probabilistic view of the future where past events effect at the strength of these different probabilities. We’ll come back to this idea later.

Fig.8. According to Chaos Theory, fuckin’ butterflies are the sole reason of everything wrong on the planet (görsel: Wikimedia)

Let us continue our summary with only the essential points of the movie. Joe continues his life as looper. He handles the packages from the future, collects his silver, stashes half of it, ’till one day he finds gold nuggets instead of silver on his victim’s back. Joe, initially wanting to go to France after being retired, takes the word of Abe and settles in China instead: “I am from the future, and I say you should go to China.” Is Abe trying to direct Joe to a certain future? This very well might be the case, but, the problem of the movie is not people trying to interfere with the future or the past, it is the arbitrary consequences used by the movie to get to special points. It is not discussing the difference between so-called important and unimportant events that change the timelines.

Fig.9. For instance, we do not see Joe having extensive plastic surgery

Joe spends his first ten year enjoying his saved silvers, second ten year as a hitman who’s broke, and finally third ten year with his beloved wife whom he met at a bar fight. This highly coincidental meeting is the most important point in this criticism. At a fuckin bar fight? What are the chances of meeting two people at a bloody bar fight? They may, of course, know each other from other places, they might be living in the same building, this Chinese woman might be the daughter of Joe’s dealer but the point is we do not see any of these things. And as she’s leaving. Five bloody minutes late, and she’s not even there! Viewers are forced to assume that however this might seem coincidental, it is a solid turn of events. This is just arbitrary, nothing more. There’s not one thing that prevent us from assuming even five minutes of delay in Joe’s life, would change this event.

Fig.10. With a daily average of 27 bar brawls they attend, they were practically living together

In the coming days, Joe gets over his drug addiction with a tremendous help from his beloved wife and lives a simple, happy, peaceful life. But one day, at the completion of his given thirty years, dark men appear at his doorstep. They kidnap Joe, and kill his wife while doing so. Joe does not accept his wife being killed because of himself, and probably being witnessed Seth’s case, he decides not to surrender to his younger self. He sets to change the past to change the future to prevent himself from being sent to the past to change the future.

Fig.11. Looper is actually a spinoff of the series called the Black Books (görsel: Pinterest)

His plan is this: If he kills the child form of future mafia leader called “Rainmaker”, who forces loopers to close their loops, he would not be separated from his wife. He has three addresses given by a friend in the future where the child self of Rainmaker might be living. If the child Joe kills turns out to be Rainmaker, this timeline would vanish and he would find himself with his wife.

Fig.12. But the people his wasted are all right These may stay the same

But young Joe decides to stop his future self, since the things happened to Seth might as well happen to him. If he catches old Joe, Abe might let him be. So it is the old vs the young. We already know how this story ends.

Fig.13. We know that every person despises his younger self from the story Reflection in a Pond by Pappini (görsel: Goodreads)

So, as old Joe shoots every child who might grow up to be the Rainmaker, young Joe also finds a possible child who’s living in the country with his mom Sarah and starts to wait old Joe there. Here he learns that no retirement is possible for him from a hitman who’s sent to kill him by Abe. They will kill old Joe and capture young Joe no matter what.

Fig.14. The movie is so deep that even the mafia leader looks like Zizek

The things young Joe live together with Sarah and her son Cid becomes memories of old Joe simultaneously. Moreover, these memories are so strong that they even begin to replace his memories of his Chinese wife, but he tries hard and somehow manages to keep his memories. I mean, how is this even possible. His memories belong to young Joe now, if he decides a single thing that would prevent him from being in a certain bar, at a certain time 30 years from now, old Joe would not even know the difference. These are of course probabilities but how much must change to miss a single opportunity to meet someone 30 years from now. In my personal opinion, the moment Joe could not kill his older self, he already missed his 10-minute window by a mere 3 years.
And this is the third and last example of the movie’s arbitrary use of past’s effect on future.
In summary:
A. Mafia does not hesitate to harm extensively a present looper in order to get to his future self.
B. Mafia does not want to kill a present looper due to the fact that it would affect the future.
C. Future Joe is trying to prevent a past event from not happening when during a coincidental bar fight he met his wife.
D. Even after a single day of change in his life, young Joe’s timeline almost deviates completely.
E. In 30 years, it would create a change more than a single day’s worth of events that a person losing his hands, legs, nose and whatever else. (or, say, young Joe not killing his future self, running away from mafia, meeting Sarah and Cid can and knowing no mafia members will be after him in the future can cause increasing changes in his life)
If we formulize these, it can be said that, E implies D. But E conflicts with C. They cannot both be true. A also conflicts with E. If we replace C and A with ~E in (D implies E) and A and B and C:
(D ⇒ E) ∧ A ∧ B ∧ C rewritten as:
(D ⇒ E) ∧ ¬E ∧ B ∧ ¬E
(1 ⇒ 1) ∧ 0 ∧ 1 ∧ 0 results as 0,
(1 ⇒ 0) ∧ 1 ∧ 1 ∧ 1 results as 0.
∴The effects of time travel implied by the movie is incoherent.

Fig.15. Two hobbies of Abe, symbolic logic and breaking fingers

But, is this sufficient to conclude that the movie’s visions are incoherent, isn’t there any sort of possible alternative reading of the plot to make it work? Of course there is! If we assume that Abe has gone through a number of timelines, and his in fact the same person with Kid Blue, and that he created Cid in a laboratory and then letting him stay with Sarah, misguiding all the other loopers because in one of the timelines Joe actually killed Rainmaker and returned to his own timeline but then had a sex change operation and got pregnant from his younger self and their child is the real Rainmaker and in timelines where his did not succeed he is taken by Abe and sent to Joe’s mother but turned into Joe we know when her mother left him who is actually Sarah’s younger self, then the movie is fully consistent.

Fig.16. All the men in the island were their own respective grandfather and all the women were Sarah. No one’s seen this. (görsel: Lostpedia)

If this explanation has not convinced you, don’t you worry, because IT DOESN’T MATTER!
Bu açıklamada yeterli gelmediyse, üzülmeyin, sinirlenmeyin. Çünkü, ÖNEMLİ DEĞİL!
The movie’s not discussing time travel. This is a story of a man who had to become a professional killer because left by his mother due to poverty. He carries his selfishness all his life, and when find unconditional love, he loses it when first time in his life, he was living for something other than himself. Know no better to be his old self as soon as he loses. It doesn’t matter because, we watch a mother, regretting ever leaving her own child, but then returning, giving up her life. We see a woman who does not give up her child even if she has to selflessly sell herself, but her child is taken from her selfishly. It doesn’t matter because we see a man, acting on selfishness and learns selflessness. And lastly we see a man, who’s giving up his own future to change his future and with a last act of selflessness saving all he ever cared about. It doesn’t matter anymore because the loop is broken, never to be closed.

IMDB, Wikipedia, Reddit, Youtube