Film is an incredible medium, one with the power to transport audiences to entirely new worlds and tell stories that couldn’t be told in ours. Science fiction in particular is a great vehicle for this, using make-up, special and practical effects, and exciting futuristic concepts to challenge our perception of reality and possibility.
I still remember being a five-year-old seeing Revenge of the Sith in theaters and being left speechless by the duel on Mustafar. Or watching the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe when I was eight and wondering how the filmmakers made Iron Man fly.
Modern film has an incredible number of tools at its disposal to make audiences believe in things that could never be real. But rarely can one find a movie that not only creates a living, breathing world for the audience to disappear into but also uses that world to tell a human story that makes you reflect on your own life.
The ASAP Awards is a celebration of the best sci-fi movies streaming right now. Recommended and written by Inverse readers.
Looper is a 2012 sci-fi time travel film written and directed by Rian Johnson. Following the success of indie breakout Brick, Johnson continued his collaboration with actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, while transporting the actor into a futuristic thriller. The film takes place in 2044, in a vision of Kansas City run amok with poverty, crime, and telekinesis. Gordon-Levitt stars as Joe, who works for the criminal syndicates of the even more futuristic 2074.
It’s extremely difficult for these syndicates to dispose of their victims' bodies, so they use time travel to send them back to Joe’s present, where he and other men called loopers execute the targets and destroy the evidence. Joe’s life is consumed by partying and drugs, with his payments being put away for a planned move to France. Then, he gets his last target: Himself, 30 years from his present.
Joe is a selfish, arrogant man. Only when he sees what his current trajectory leads to (as personified by his future self, played by Bruce Willis) does he realize that some things are more important than his own pleasure. He goes from selling out his friend to dedicating himself to the protection of a child. He literally fights against himself as Willis’ Old Joe hunts the child down to prevent him from becoming a crime lord who murders Joe’s future wife.
Looper touches on notions of destiny and self-fulfillment and teaches us that we are in charge of our character and story. This is what sci-fi cinema should be: An exciting story that engages the audience while encouraging us to look within ourselves and at the world around us. It’s the movie that made me want to become a filmmaker. After seeing it, I needed so badly to bring stories and worlds to life that people could relate to.
Thematics aside, the film features a great ensemble cast. Gordon-Levitt does an underrated job at playing a young Bruce Willis, mimicking his facial ticks and physical movements without his performance becoming a parody. Willis sells us as the bitter Old Joe, full of rage and willing to do whatever it takes to get what he wants. The film also features great performances from Paul Dano, Emily Blunt, Noah Segan, and a seven-year-old Pierce Gagnon.
One of the beautiful things about Looper is that, for all the questions it asks and all the philosophical notions it ponders, it doesn’t give many concrete answers. That’s how life often is: We’re not given enough information to make a decision but are forced to make one anyway. Joe and Old Joe both face this dilemma, and the audience is stuck trying to decide who is in the right as they clash.
We can’t ever really know if we’re doing the right thing, but what Looper teaches us is that we, as humans, have the capability to change who we are and stay in control of our own narrative, even if that means sacrificing it for the sake of others. That’s a beautiful lesson for modern audiences, and it’s even better when it’s packaged as an entertaining sci-fi action thriller.
Looper is streaming on Netflix.