If you’re younger than, say, 40 or so, there’s a good chance you’ll live to see the year that Rian Johnson’s LOOPER takes place in—2040. That’s 27 years from now (how’s my math?), just a generation or so away. But for all its formidable achievements in creating the future, LOOPER’s defining characteristic might be the way it incorporates new into old and makes the future feel lived in, and the comforting assertion that the future might not necessitate the complete reconstitution of society and technology.
From the beginning, Johnson soundtracks his film with old songs by the likes of Chuck and Mac, Richard and Linda Thompson, Warren Zevon and others. These are oldies even by today’s standards, but in 2040 these songs would all be about sixty years old, the equivalent of Doris Day and the Mills Brothers today. The library that old Joe breaks into might have paper-thin collapsible computer screens, but there are still books lying around (and even more astonishingly, there are still libraries.) And when Jeff Daniels' mob boss wants to punish his underling Kid Blue (Noah Segan,) he doesn't blast him with some new-fangled ray gun--he smashes his hand with a hammer. Hoverbikes share the road with classic cars, and the diner where old and young Joe (Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, respectively) share the film's best scene still has waitresses slinking around in aprons, the ketchup and mustard on the tables in their familiar plastic squeeze bottles.
At the 53 minute mark, when the film cordons off a new narrative for itself, we head to.. a farm. What could be less futuristic? Inside and outside it looks like any farmhouse you might have passed on a two-lane highway, heading to Grandma’s house for pumpkin pie or Easter lamb. Quaint even by today’s standards, by 2040 this place must be the equivalent of today's elegant, fussy Victorians. And there are still cane fields in Kansas (*nervous cough*).
As the 2012 “Best of” film lists came flooding in last December, I found myself wondering why LOOPER hadn't made it onto very many of them, including my own (it was my #11.) It may be that the script occasionally feels like a letdown, probably because of the familiar nature of it all. Just slightly too recognizable to be super exciting, slightly too futuristic to be fully relatable, LOOPER exists in a kind of limbo, at once of the future and the past, but not the present.
Johnson’s first film, BRICK, also trafficked freely in an even more blatant temporal anachronism, making great use of speakeasy dialogue and bebop swing to evoke an era fifty years in the past of the film’s ostensible present. And THE BROTHERS BLOOM is a huckster caper comedy that the Rat Pack fellas would have been right at home in. No matter where or when they’re set, Johnson’s films are always dabbling in some type of time travel.