Looper: Paradoxes, Paradoxes Everywhere


Well folks, I’m finally back. After a couple horrible months prepping for finals, the horror is finally over, and it’s time to get back to the serious business of ranting about stuff. We’ll start my posting marathon off with Looper, which I somehow found time to see during these last few weeks, don’t know how I did it, but I’m glad I did. This movie for all intents and purposes, is a fun movie, there’s no denying that. JGL and Willis give great performances, as is expected of them and the story, for what it is, is fine for entertainment purposes. But that’s not what I want to talk about, what I want to talk about is the very thing that Willis refused to let us talk about, because talking about it kind of destroys the plot’s logic for the entire movie. I’m talking about the ridiculous use of time travel in this story.


So here’s the deal. There are three basic types of time travel stories, as you can see in the image above. First, there’s the fixed timeline, which Doctor Who fans should be quite familiar with by now. Here the future is already predetermined, and any actions taken by an individual to go into the past, in order to affect the future, are already taken into account. Traveling back to the past to change the future will inevitably cause the future to happen.

In the second type of story, changing the past can change the future, but can also create paradoxes. Basically, if you go back in time to fix a problem, and the problem disappears in the future, then your future self no longer needs a reason to go back in time to fix the problem, meaning your future self doesn’t ever go back in time to fix the problem, which means the problem happens, which means your future self goes back in time now to fix the problem, which means… well you get it, there’s an infinite loop here. Futurama played with this in the latest season where a politician came from the future to win the presidency and undue the future. Bender pointed out that nothing will change because if the politician changed the future, then he had no reason to go back in the past, and so the politician disappears and Nixon’s head wins the election by a “narrow landslide.”

The third type of story is probably the easiest to work with for purposes of being able to both change the future and not create paradoxes. Here, going back into the past to change events will create a new time stream, a parallel universe to the one the time traveler belongs to. In this new time line, the future will be different based on the changes to the past, but the time traveler’s own future will still be the same. We saw this in the last Star Trek movie. The Romulans came to the past to get revenge on Spock for the destruction of their planet. They destroy Spock’s home world and kill Kirk’s father. These events change the story for the current universe, but future Spock still remembers the events from his own universe as they should be and doesn’t disappear from the current universe when the time stream changes enough that the events that happened to him could no longer have possibly happened to have allowed him to remain in the current universe.

Looper Diner

Looper, like Doctor who, plays with all three of these storylines. The Doctor at least tries to explain away any possible paradoxes by telling us that time travel is “a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey…stuff,” and to an extent the Doctor Who universe does limit its paradoxes by explaining that some points in time are fixed and some aren’t. Looper refuses to make any explanation because nothing can explain the events that occur in the movie other than movie magic.

First let’s look at how Looper’s dealt with the first escapee, Old Seth. First, Seth had an address cut into his arm in order to send a message to future Seth of wear to go. Then Old Seth slowly starts losing body parts while driving, as the gang is cutting up current Seth’s body, and here is the first unexplainable paradox. If current Seth loses all his body parts, then Old Seth could have never gotten into a car and started driving in the first place, his entire future would have been undone. And if Old Seth’s entire future is undone, then why not just kill current Seth, either way you achieve the same result. Here we have the story playing with Time Travel storylines 2 and 3; changing the present affects one’s own future, but not enough to change the actions that one takes. So somehow Old Seth’s physical body is affected by changes to his own past, but he still somehow finds himself getting into a car, with no arms or legs, and successfully driving for a length of time before crashing in front of the address that he intended to reach. You have to imagine that if Old Seth’s body can be affected by changes in the past, and he still managed to stay alive up until his loop gets closed, then he would have just been sent back to the past with no arms or legs, never been able to get off the execution pad, and would have just died right then; it makes no sense.

Joseph Gordon Levitt


(Spoilers Below)

I’m not going to go into every single other paradox because the entire movie is full of them, but here’s something to consider. The entire ending doesn’t make sense. We’ve already established that changing your body in the present will change your body in the future, so why did Joe have to kill himself? Why couldn’t he just blow off his shooting hand? Old Joe would have dropped his gun instantly, giving current Joe enough time to get close enough to shoot Old Joe, or at least enough time to give the Rainmaker and his mom enough time to get away. Further, why would this end scene happen at all? Why couldn’t current Joe make the conscious decision to never leave the farm, or to vow never to try to get revenge on the Rainmaker by going into the past and killing the Rainmaker’s younger self? The answer is of course that if Joe chose to never leave the farm or to never seek revenge, then the movie never happens.

This is all basically why Looper gives us that awesome little diner scene. Current Joe tries to get Old Joe to talk about how time travel can actually work and Old Joe just yells at him that if they were to go into it they would spend all day drawing charts and shit. And, to an extent, Old Joe is right, it’s best to just ignore the paradox issues and enjoy the story for what it is. I just think it would be interesting to see how the movie would have panned out if it chose to stick to one type of time travel story line instead of the mishmash that we were presented with.


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