Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The time travel problems of Looper

I really had a hard time enjoying the movie, Looper. Now don't get me wrong, I gave the movie a positive review. It's just that I was thinking of the paradoxes of time travel and the logic problems of Looper. And those problems drove me nuts. So let's go over the problems. Warning. There are spoilers and I'm going to assume that you've seen the movie since I'm not going to discuss the details of the plot. So, if you don't want to find out about the plot points and the ending of Looper, stop reading.

How Time Travel Works in Looper.

I'm a Star Trek fan. So, I've got a little of bit of advantage in viewing time travel in science fiction. Time travel in Looper works like the original series Star Trek show, "The City on the Edge of Forever." That means if you go back in time and do an action, you can change the future. Time travel in Looper is not about creating a parallel universe such as the 2009 reboot Star Trek movie. Why? Because in the film when a character wants to send a message to his future self, he can carve words on his arm. The future self sees the message. No parallel universes here. That being said, Star Trek: The Next Generation had an episode called "Cause and Effect" that covered topics of time travel in Looper.

But I digress. There are two major time travel problems in Looper.

1. The Flash Forward.

There's a flash forward montage. We see Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) execute Old Joe. (Bruce Willis) Later we see Young Joe's future life. He goes to Shanghai and commits more crimes. His life rambles for years in crime. Then we see Young Joe finally look like Old Joe. But Old Joe then meets his future wife. (Qing Xu) He becomes happy. That lasts until the Rainmaker's henchmen decide to send Old Joe back for assassination. The men kill Old Joe's wife. But before he is sent back, Old Joe finds out the Rainmaker's date of birth and hospital where he was born. Old Joe decides he will go back into time but he will kill the Rainmaker as a child. It's the Grandfather Paradox or the plot of Terminator.

So what's the problem? Old Joe's death at the beginning of the flash forward causes events to happen in the future. But when Old Joe goes back and escapes Young Joe's attempt to kill him, he erases the timeline of meeting his wife. Yeah, it's possible that Young Joe could meet the same woman again, but the events that cause that are gone. So how can Old Joe remember the events in the flash forward? Yes, Looper does hint that Old Joe has trouble remembering his wife but again that timeline doesn't exist. In fact, one could argue that Old Joe can't exist since that Old Joe's timeline has been wiped out.

2. The Ending.

Let's talk about the climatic end. Old Joe tracks the child Rainmaker aka Cid (Pierce Gagnon) to a farm. He wants to shoot him but can't because his mother, Sara (Emily Blunt), stands in the way. Young Joe sees what is going to happen in the future. How? The movie doesn't say. But what Young Joe sees is Old Joe accidentally killing Sara. Cid grows up alone and becomes the Rainmaker. Sensing a way to end this time loop, Young Joe takes his gun and shoots himself in the heart. Old Joe disappears and Sara survives to raise her son.

First, what drives me nuts is how does Young Joe sense another timeline. I mean he's not an alien like Guinan in Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Yesterday's Enterprise." But again I digress.

This end doesn't work logically. The event that causes Young Joe to kill himself is Old Joe shooting Sara. That means Old Joe must exist. But when Young Joe shoots himself, he ends Old Joe's existence. How can one exist and not exist at the same time? You can't.

Look, I'm reminded of this sage advice from Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. (1999) When Austin Powers gets confused about a time travel paradox, his boss Basil tell to not to worry about such things and enjoy himself. Then both Powers and Basil both turn to the camera and tell the audience the same thing. Video below. Enjoy Looper but don't classify it as accurate science fiction.

No comments: