Looper Explained (Spoiler Alert!)

Looper coverThe movie Looper, staring Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis, came out recently and has a lot of people talking. ***SPOILER ALERT!***

What’s a Looper? A Looper is someone who receives payment for killing and disposing of people from the future. The targets are sent back in time to meet their inevitable fate. The target suddenly appears at a predetermined time and location, bound and hooded, where a Looper awaits with gun in hand. The second the target appears, the Looper blasts them in the chest.

The plot basically explores the age old question: If you could go back in time and kill Hitler as a child, would you?

Now, while the movie introduces interesting philosophical concepts such time travel and free will, and they make Joseph Gordon Levitt look like Bruce Willis, they ultimately fail in both respects. Joseph Gordon Levitt looks more like Kirk Cameron than Bruce Willis, and all that complicated time travel/free will talk, well, they pretty much skipped over that part.

Looper scene

There is a scene in the movie where Willis and Levitt are sitting in a diner. Willis is from the future and Levitt is asking a bunch of questions about time travel. The writer (Rian Johnson) conveniently has Willis get mad, bang his fist on the table, and avert the topic altogether. Here’s why – time travel is complicated.

In philosophy, there is a concept known as the Grandfather Paradox. Its function is to point out the fact that two things seem possible while appearing impossible at the same time.

The paradox is this: Suppose you went back in time and killed your grandfather as a little boy. Your grandfather would then not grow up to have your mom or dad. Since your mom or dad would not have been born, neither would you. So if you were never born, you could therefore not travel back in time to kill your grandfather. It appears that you both could and could not travel back in time to kill your grandfather. A paradox indeed!

The way around this paradox is to introduce alternate dimensions or nonlinear time continuums. This way, you and your grandfather could both exist, but operate independently of one another. So if he dies, it does not affect your existence. It’s not so much as your grandfather as he is an alternate dimension grandfather of some alternate dimension you.


This is the choice that seemed to be endorsed in the movie. Willis, as a young man, gets a target one day, blasts him as usual and goes about his merry life. Thirty years goes by and Willis is suddenly snatched from his home one day and sent back in time to die. He realizes that he was the target that his younger self killed 30 years ago. So this time, when his younger self (played by Levitt) tries to kill him, he creates an act of subterfuge and escapes. Same person – two alternate time continuums.

Regarding the time travel problem, there are two scenarios that the writer could have made: Either they are on the same dimension or not. If they are on the same dimension, then the writer failed to address the Grandfather Paradox. If Levitt doesn’t kill Willis, he cannot grow old and live his merry life, and if that doesn’t happen, he cannot be snatched and sent back in time. If he’s not sent back in time, this whole scenario in the movie cannot take place. Alternatively, if they are on alternate dimensions, why are they interconnected? What happens to Levitt does affect Willis.

The other topic that the writer eschews is the concept of free will. How is it that you have a future that seems to be carved in granite, but somehow you can change it? I mentioned that Willis gets snatched from his merry life. What I didn’t mention was that during the snatching, his wife gets killed. This enrages him so much that he kills all the men who apprehended him, jumps in the time machine, and changes the course of his life.

boy in looper

My question is this: if he did that in one scenario, why wouldn’t he do it in all scenarios? When Willis was a young man, he shoots his target in the chest and lives a merry life. Why didn’t the target in that scenario (his future self) do as Willis did (avoid being shot in the chest). What would have been different? Every single aspect of that situation would be the same from the snatching, the murder of his wife, the rage, even the temperature and weather. If all the ingredients are the same, so too should be the choice, but it wasn’t. That doesn’t make sense.

As I mentioned earlier, I understand why the writer didn’t tackle these topics. In a sci-fi movie, you have to suspend disbelief a little for the sake of entertainment. All in all, it was a decent movie, although a little slow at times.

See Also:

Interstellar Explained

Cloud Atlas Explained

Oblivion Explained

Life of Pi Explained

Transcendence Explained


Edward Mullen

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