[Spoiler Alert: I don’t actually describe the plot in detail, but I might give away some things]
A couple years ago a movie came out called Priest. It was a crappy action movie that was at turns hilarious, fun, incoherent, and bizarre in a way that was sad, unpleasant, and fascinating, like a frog with six legs. It was not so much a movie as much as a series of cliches from radically different genres. A ninja/warrior monk with unexplained super human abilities leaves a cyberpunk dystopia on a flying motorcycle wearing steam punk goggles, going to the old west to fight vampires that may be aliens with a sheriff gunfighter. There’s even a fight on top of a train.
Fortunately I’m not going to talk any more about except to compare it to Looper, a recent movie in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt wears a prosthetic nose so he can look something like a younger version of Bruce Willis. Looper, like Priest, similarly combines subgenres but unlike Priest, actually blends them together into something coherent. Again we have flying motorcycles and gunfighters. There’s a story of over coming drug addiction and a story of a Terminator coming to kill John Connor- I mean Bruce Willis coming to kill the kids from The Omen– I mean the Rainmaker. There’s a story of a guy betrayed by the mob seeking revenge and a guy trying to protect what is his. There’s a little bit of Scarface and a lot of The Terminator.
And the different genres and cliches combine in subtly novel ways. Characters turn out to be more complex than good guys and bad guys. Everyone’s motivation is sympathized with. The gunfighters and guys dress as puritans (still not sure what the idea was there) are bad guys. The “hitman betrayed by the organization” continues to like his former coworkers and wants to get back in. The aesthetics are combined subtly too. The transition between novel and modern technology is relatively smooth, with modern technology often shifted out of its recognizable form. No explanation is given for the hoses coming out of gas tanks or why the blunderbusses look like umbrellas. Characters debate about the logic of ties which are fashionable but unnecessary. Telekinesis is introduced and immediately limited. And the time travel looks messy, though to be honest, it really is kind of messy.
The movie breaks down the most when it comes to the time travel. It switches arbitrarily between kinds of time travel, at points drawing on the determinism of The Terminator and The Chronoliths, and later drawing on the alternate universe system similar to Star Trek or Timeline. When the question of time travel is addressed, Bruce Willis describes a kind of Doctor Who timey-wimey story that describes a nebulous cloud of possible futures based on individual choice. Looper, however, is even less attached to continuity than Doctor Who and draws heavily on the Austin Powers “do whatever and don’t think about it too hard” system of time travel. At points I couldn’t figure out where the plot was going, because I didn’t know how they were allowed to interact with time.
The bizarre relationship between time travel and decision making brings out a logical dissonance between causality, free will, basic psychological theory, and reality. But that’s a problem that humans just tends to come out a lot in time travel movies. I might go into it later. Anyway, it was a good movie and I suspect will become a science fiction classic. I’ll probably go to see the remake in ten years.