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Lots of violence. Lots of poverty. Lots of death. That’s what the future holds for us, according to the movie Looper. Well, maybe.

This dystopian vision of North America hits a little closer to home than many I’ve seen because it’s a not-so-distant future and much of the landscape looks the same. There are still golden farm fields, still big cities. The movie’s big city, located somewhere in Kansas, looks much like any U.S. city in 2012, but there are people camping in tents everywhere. Things are crumbling, though there are a few high-tech gadgets and vehicles. Oh, and there’s a mutated gene that allows for some telekinesis, which mostly means some people can float quarters.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a 2042 henchman for crime lords in 2072. Time travel has been invented and outlawed by 2072, but the criminal element has found it to be a convenient way to dispense with those who get in their way. Joe and his fellow loopers efficiently eliminate and dispose of the unwanted souls from the future. Joe maintains a façade of cool planning—he’s saving up his money for the time when his contract ends and he can chase down his dreams. In the meantime, though, his daily life is a gritty mix of bloodshed, eyedrop-delivered drugs, partying, and sex by transaction. His connections to others are few and feeble.

Everything changes when his future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back to become Joe’s next victim but escapes instead. Young Joe hunts down old Joe and their interactions reveal the complicated loop of Joe’s history and future. As he searches, he stumbles into the lives of Sara, a young woman who’s attempting to eke out an existence for her young son and herself on a farm and defending it against “vagrants.” The farm is a broken paradise—a natural, wholesome world of hard work and harvest tainted by the downfall of society. Old Joe has also seen his own personal place of peace. In escaping his execution, he’s doing everything he can to protect it, regardless of the cost.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to prove that he’s one of the best young actors around, and Emily Blunt is wonderful as Sara. This original film plays with some of the mind-bending aspects of meeting yourself during time travel, a joy already familiar to fans of Doctor Who, 12 Monkeys, The Time Traveler’s Wife, Somewhere in Time, and even Hot Tub Time Machine.

But the film also goes deeper, considering what effect our life experiences have on the future—both our own and that of society. Pretty important stuff when in our own society we see the effects of sex slavery on young girls, of war on child soldiers, of hate on young terrorist recruits, of abusive parents on children raised in homes riddled with drugs and poverty. What could change the path of destruction that results from any of these? What is our responsibility to make that happen?

Unfortunately, to get to the deeper level, viewers must endure a slew of violent deaths and the utter degradation of the future criminal lifestyle. Obscenities are profuse and continuous. I suggest approaching the movie with caution (watch the trailer to get a toned-down version). And while I personally wish that the violence had been more discreet, it did effectively portray a dark and hopeless world in need of redemption. But really, we don’t have to work too hard to imagine that.





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