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Looper (2012)


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Here's my final, theological, Christian-y question: Would Jesus’s death on the cross be sacrificial and loving if he had nailed himself to the tree?

Would you call Samson's death a sacrificial suicide?

Good question. I'm not sure. What were his motives? Revenge on the people who overpowered and enslaved him? Or an act of justice from God? Or a little of both? I'm leery calling Samson a hero of the faith (though he gets a small shout-out in Hebrews 11).

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Here's my final, theological, Christian-y question: Would Jesus’s death on the cross be sacrificial and loving if he had nailed himself to the tree?

Would you call Samson's death a sacrificial suicide?

Samson's death is not parallel to the climactic action in Looper.

Samson was (self-inflicted) collateral damage. Samson took out a strategic target with numerous enemies and one collateral friendly (himself). What happens in Looper is in no way parallel to that.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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You could say in fact that Young Joe's act was actually a more loving act since we wouldn't really consider a suicide bomber (parallel to Sampson then) much of a loving act. Yet Young Joe gave his life for the woman and her son.

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

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You could say in fact that Young Joe's act was actually a more loving act since we wouldn't really consider a suicide bomber (parallel to Sampson then) much of a loving act. Yet Young Joe gave his life for the woman and her son.

This is related to my question, as you are assuming Joe's motives are out of compassion for the woman and boy, and not out of seeing his own self-destruction in becoming a child-killing monster who creates his own painful fate. I'd lean more towards the latter interpretation of Joe's motives.

A related question in this: can suicide (in any form) be considered an act of love?

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Oh I definitely think he cares about them. The whole middle section of the movie sets up him coming to care about them.Even to the point that he can't kill the boy himself when he has the chance.

I dont think it's about Old Joe at all, or trying to only stop a monster.

it can if there is no other alternative, it can if it saves a life and you consider that life more important than your own. I see how it can be construed as self hatred even if you're not even really thinking about yourself but about the person you're dying for. But we see acts of self sacrifice (possibly could have lived but with little chance, weighing the odds, chooseing to do the act anyways) all the time in movies and this movie just took it to the extra extreme. That's how I choose to interpret it.

Actually now that I think of it, think of the scene in Captain America when he jumps on the grenade...he totally believed that the grenade was about to blow up and that there was no time for them to get clear. He in that instant chose to give his life to save theirs. That's one of the reasons I love that movie.

Edited by Taliesin

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

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Actually now that I think of it, think of the scene in Captain America when he jumps on the grenade...he totally believed that the grenade was about to blow up and that there was no time for them to get clear. He in that instant chose to give his life to save theirs. That's one of the reasons I love that movie.

Again you are equating non-parallel things.

A soldier who jumps on a grenade to save his buddies is choosing who will absorb the impact of a grenade that is armed and about to go off and which he has no power to prevent from going off. A man who points a gun at his own chest and pulls the trigger, regardless what circumstances you care to posit, is engaged in a radically different sort of act.

Acting to limit the toll of life (even at the cost of one's own life) is entirely different from directly taking a life (even one's own life) even to save other lives.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

Writing at the new Decent Films | Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

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I think Taliesin is right in one part though. I saw the film as progessively showing his care for the mother and her child. It might be a stetch to think what he did was out of just love for them, but it wasn't just trying to destroy a monster. I think he WAS trying to do what was right and set things right. Even if it might have been the wrong way to do it.

Edited by Attica
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So when Joe chooses to shoot himself—rather than shoot the elder Joe, or cause another distraction to avoid the loop he envisions—is it an act of love?

Could he have shot the older Joe? I assumed he was out of range. (He still had a Looper's short-range "blunderbuss".)

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Acting to limit the toll of life (even at the cost of one's own life) is entirely different from directly taking a life (even one's own life) even to save other lives.

Well said. This addresses what I was asking, and I'm inclined to agree, though I totally get what Taliesen is arguing. I think the difference is subtle but important, which is why I'm asking the question. One feels redemptive and lovingly sacrificial (Captain America) while the other...well...doesn't. Or didn't for me. I'm trying to find a better parallel, but the Seven Pounds example is the one that keeps coming back to mind. And that act is hardly loving or moral.

So when Joe chooses to shoot himself—rather than shoot the elder Joe, or cause another distraction to avoid the loop he envisions—is it an act of love?

Could he have shot the older Joe? I assumed he was out of range. (He still had a Looper's short-range "blunderbuss".)

Judging from the considerable estimated distance between Joe and the hoverbike during Joe's final confrontation with Kid Blue, I assume that young Joe could have reasonably attempted a shot. (He also could have shot himself in the hand, which wouldn't have been unreasonable, as he had already wounded himself before to send the message to old Joe. It just would make for a less compelling ending. Young Joe would have been forced to kill the older Joe, and the film would end.) He probably assumed a miss, hence his chosen shot that guaranteed the outcome.

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Shooting himself in the hand would have been a perfect way to go I think. It could of led to a hand to hand conflict between them. Which would have been an opportunity to explore some other things. For instance Old Joe would have had to fight young Joe while intentionally not killing him or harming him to any degree. Also Young Joe could have been placed in the position of whether or not he could actually seriously harm or kill his older self.

Of course the ended they gave us suggests that he could. But the other ending would have really given more of an opportunity to flesh out these dynamics, this while taking away any of the questionable aspects to the ending we were given.

Edited by Attica
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Shooting himself in the hand would have been a perfect way to go I think. It could of led to a hand to hand conflict between them. Which would have been an opportunity to explore some other things. For instance Old Joe would have had to fight young Joe while intentionally not killing him or harming him to any degree. Also Young Joe could have been placed in the position of whether or not he could actually seriously harm kill his older self.

Of course the ended they gave us suggests that he could. But the other ending would have really given more of an opportunity to flesh out these dynamics, this while taking away any of the questionable aspects to the ending we were given.

Hmm. Yeah. I like it. Thanks for this. I stand (pleasantly) corrected.

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okay you guys might have a point, but i'll just reiterate that it didn't feel like suicide to me, and I know what suicide is like in real life. but as one person pointed out my interpretation is biased by a very signifigant life event and thus i can't really see others seeing it the same way.

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

Justin's Blog twitter Facebook Life Is Story

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It didn't really feel like suicide to me either but many others are perceiving it that way which I suppose could mean that it was a bad storytelling choice.

Edited by Attica
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could be right. i've accepted other holes in the story. It's one of those movies that you love after first viewing, and still love even as you begin to see the holes. I think the heart of it at least got across.

"The truth is you're the weak, and I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin Ringo, I'm tryin real hard to be the shepherd." Pulp Fiction

Justin's Blog twitter Facebook Life Is Story

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I thnk it's pretty clear in the voice-over that Levitt is motivated *both* by the sight of Willis preparing to kill a child *and* the sight of a boy who will grow up without Blunt's presumably positive influence if Willis gets his way. I don't know that I could separate the two and weigh the moral ramifications of one vs. the other. Considering that the Levitt character has only a split-second to make his decision, I'm content to leave that part of the film the way it is. (Now, why the kid would have grown up without his mother on the *original* timeline, *before* Willis came back in time and killed her, is where the movie really, really falls apart for me.)

Attica wrote:

: Shooting himself in the hand would have been a perfect way to go I think.

Heh. That's actually a pretty clever idea, but it might have taken the Levitt character a few more seconds to think of that.

: For instance Old Joe would have had to fight young Joe while intentionally not killing him or harming him to any degree.

Wasn't something like that already implicit in the diner confrontation, though?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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(Now, why the kid would have grown up without his mother on the *original* timeline, *before* Willis came back in time and killed her, is where the movie really, really falls apart for me.)

Ah, but it didn't say he would have grown up without his mother in the original timeline, only that he saw his mother killed - and this kid, remember, has already seen a woman killed whom he believes to be his mother. That happened when he accidentally killed his aunt, before the movie. So if Old Joe had killed Sarah, Cid would have grown up having seen his mother killed twice.

Edit: see my post #167 for details.

Edited by Rushmore
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It's not just that the kid witnesses a death, though. As I recall, there's a bit of dialogue which very clearly establishes that Emily Blunt's character will have a positive influence on the kid, if she is allowed to raise him. She apparently wasn't around to do that on the original timeline.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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I just got back from seeing this. I loved it, the best SF movie since THE MATRIX.

I've got to confess not understanding the fact that people are wound up over the causality loops at the end of the movie. The filmmakers go through a lot of trouble to show that the effects of time travel happen contemporaneously in the timeline that is viewed as the "present" from the POV of the observer. When Young Seth (played by Paul Dano's character) is having his fingers cut off, the result is that Old Seth watches his fingers slowly disappearing (the results are happening in the contemporaneous timeline) NOT that Old Seth never had any fingers to begin with. If you can accept that, then the rest of the movie makes sense. If you can't accept that, then the movie stops making sense wayyyy before we arrive at the ending.

Edited by old wave
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She thinks or hopes she'll have a positive influence on him, but she might not have succeeded without the incident in the field at the end, when she calmed him down and he began trusting her for the first time. And that, of course, wouldn't have happened if Joe had never come along.

I've got to confess not understanding the fact that people are wound up over the causality loops at the end of the movie. The filmmakers go through a lot of trouble to show that the effects of time travel happen contemporaneously in the timeline that is viewed as the "present" from the POV of the observer. When Young Seth (played by Paul Dano's character) is having his fingers cut off, the result is that Old Seth watches his fingers slowly disappearing (the results are happening in the contemporaneous timeline) NOT that Old Seth never had any fingers to begin with. If you can accept that, then the rest of the movie makes sense.

That's actually not true. It would still be a problem that Old Joe's actions supposedly create the Rainmaker, when without the Rainmaker those actions would never have been performed. The movie's time-travel mechanics don't resolve that causal loop. I'm proposing a way I think it can be resolved, but I might actually agree with someone who argued that I'm imposing a complicated, logical explanation on the film from outside, when a simple, illogical one is all the filmmakers intended.

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I've got to confess not understanding the fact that people are wound up over the causality loops at the end of the movie. The filmmakers go through a lot of trouble to show that the effects of time travel happen contemporaneously in the timeline that is viewed as the "present" from the POV of the observer. When Young Seth (played by Paul Dano's character) is having his fingers cut off, the result is that Old Seth watches his fingers slowly disappearing (the results are happening in the contemporaneous timeline) NOT that Old Seth never had any fingers to begin with. If you can accept that, then the rest of the movie makes sense.

That's actually not true. It would still be a problem that Old Joe's actions supposedly create the Rainmaker, when without the Rainmaker those actions would never have been performed. The movie's time-travel mechanics don't resolve that causal loop. I'm proposing a way I think it can be resolved, but I might actually agree with someone who argued that I'm imposing a complicated, logical explanation on the film from outside, when a simple, illogical one is all the filmmakers intended.

That's precisely what I'm arguing.

Edited by old wave
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In fact, I'm not only arguing that, I'm arguing that if you want the story to be consistent in the way that you're saying, you don't need an explanation for just the ending, you need an explanation for at least a half dozen other things that happen in the film.

I mean, I understand what you're saying: you're trying to explain how Old Joe could come from a future that presumably does not exist after Young Joe shoots him. Because if the Rainmaker never comes to power, then Old Joe couldn't have come back in the first place. I get that.

But the same logic means that Old Paul Dano shouldn't be observing a scar appearing on his arm, either. Instead, Old Paul Dano should have ALWAYS had a scar on his arm, since it happened in the past. When they cut off Old Paul Dano's first finger, he shouldn't be surprised that he doesn't have a first finger, since he's been living without that finger for the past 30 years. And so on.

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I mean, I understand what you're saying: you're trying to explain how Old Joe could come from a future that presumably does not exist after Young Joe shoots him. Because if the Rainmaker never comes to power, then Old Joe couldn't have come back in the first place.

No, that's not the issue. The issue is that Old Joe comes from a future that did not exist until he went back and was stopped from causing it. It's easy enough to accept the premise that actions in the present affect visitors from the future contemporaneously, in the same timeline from the perspective of present observers. Granted this, there's no logical problem with Old Seth watching his fingers disappear one by one as Young Seth's fingers are cut off, with Old Joe acquiring and losing memories in real time depending on Young Joe's actions, or with Old Joe coming back from the future and then disappearing as Young Joe shoots himself, leaving the mother and child in the field where Joe's actions led them. Those things don't involve causal loops: x causes y, and y causes x. That's where the logical problem arises.

The causal loop the film seems to posit is that the Rainmaker causes Joe to come back, but Joe's coming back causes the Rainmaker. That's a different logical configuration than the situations in the previous paragraph. That, unlike them, is a true paradox. Now, I think there's a way to get around that seeming paradox. My solution is that there are three possible timelines: the "first" one with Rainmaker #1, the one Joe would have caused but that never actually came about with Rainmaker #2, and the final one with no Rainmaker. But I do recognize that, unless you contrive something like this, the ending is problematic in a way that the trans-time causality in general is not.

Edited by Rushmore
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There are two main timelines in the film with the potential for a third (as you posit, Rushmore). The first is the primary one where we spend most of our time and where young Joe is our main reference point. The second produces old Joe. Remember, he closes his loop as a young man and thus never meets Cid (or makes him the Rainmaker). And the third, of course, is a possible future without a Rainmaker.

I think it's definitive in the film that Joe never "creates" the Rainmaker. There's a possibility he will, but that never comes to pass during the film. So what about the reference to the prosthetic jaw? This part bugged me, but then Rian Johnson recorded and posted a commentary track for the film. It's intended for in-theater listening (you can find it here) and is mostly concerned with the technical aspects of making the film, but some interesting nuggets about his intentions for some of the more discussed parts of the film are included as well.

When he's discussing the diner scene (relevant part starts around 47:30), Johnson mentions that old Joe's memories are constantly changing as he influences past events. This includes the reference to the jaw, which only comes up in Joe's memories in the diner. According to Johnson, these memories are now a cloudy mixture of events that actually happened to him and events that will (or might) happen because of choices that have been made in the past. It's not really clear from just watching the film (even though that phenomenon is addressed several times), and that's a bit of a problem. But the rules of the film support that reading.

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I've still only seen the film once, so, you know--reserve the right to retract and all of that--but I'm fairly convinced, despite the jaw allusion, that Cid was already on the path to becoming the Rainmaker before Joe entered the picture. What put him on that path was not that Sara might not stay with him (she would be killed), but that she had already left him and caused Cid to be under the impression that he didn't have his real mother. And it was young Joe's entering the picture that eventually allowed the boy to come to the realization that Sara is indeed his mother. This--the realization--is the turning point for Cid's not becoming the Rainmaker, and it's the relationship with/entry of young Joe which brings it about.

Setting off Cid wasn't Joe coming back to kill Sara. Cid had already been set off by the thought that he didn't have his real mother. Killing Sara would have been another step in an evolution that had already begun.

Sound right?

Edited by Nick Olson

"What is inside is also outside." -Goethe via Merleau-Ponty, in conclusion to the latter's one extended rumination on film
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I've still only seen the film once, so, you know--reserve the right to retract and all of that--but I'm fairly convinced, despite the jaw allusion, that Cid was already on the path to becoming the Rainmaker before Joe entered the picture. What put him on that path was not that Sara might not stay with him (she would be killed), but that she had already left him and caused Cid to be under the impression that he didn't have his real mother. And it was young Joe's entering the picture that eventually allowed the boy to come to the realization that Sara is indeed his mother. This--the realization--is the turning point for Cid's not becoming the Rainmaker, and it's the relationship with/entry of young Joe which brings it about.

Setting off Cid wasn't Joe coming back to kill Sara. Cid had already been set off by the thought that he didn't have his real mother. Killing Sara would have been another step in an evolution that had already begun.

Sound right?

Yes. That sounds right.

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