Looper (2012) Movie Explained & Theme Analysed: In 2012, long before his public execution with ‘Stars Wars: The Last Jedi’ and subsequent redemption with the ‘Knives Out’ (2019) films, Rian Johnson, was one of Hollywood’s most exciting filmmaking talents. With ‘Looper,’ he sealed the greatness he seemed to have been destined for as a commercial filmmaker. Using the ‘Kill baby Hitler’ trope and reworking it around the narrative of ‘The Terminator,’ Johnson created one of the most original films of the year that is now rightly seen as one of the finest sci-fi films of the 2010s.

The world Johnson created makes ‘Looper’ stand out especially well. Its usage of elements from neo-noir and the clear visual cues it takes from ‘Blade Runner’ make it sleek yet not indulgent. By placing the film’s second half in a farmhouse, completely removed from that world, he shows his confidence in his material to not rely simply on aesthetics or mood. An extremely compelling work, ‘Looper’ is a film that embraces the complexities of a time travel narrative while supplying us with strong characters and a carefully plotted story that never loses momentum.

Who is a Looper?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt; Bruce Willis in Looper (2012)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as “Joe” in TriStar Pictures, Film District, and End Game Entertainment’s action thriller LOOPER.

In 2044, which is when the film is set, time travel hasn’t been invented, but it will be within the next thirty years. When it does get invented, it’ll instantly be outlawed, with severe consequences for using it. The mob, around that time, gets a hold of time travel devices and starts using them for execution purposes. Tagging techniques and the like in 2074 (by which time, time travel has been invented and outlawed) make it impossible for a person to be killed and disposed of. So the mob takes its targets and sends them back in time to 2044, where an assassin called a ‘looper’ kills the target. The target always has their hands tied, gagged, and their head covered with a sack. Upon murdering them, loopers dispose of the body that doesn’t technically exist in their timeline.

The target has silver bars attached to their body which is the looper’s payment for the assassination. They’re called loopers because if they are still alive when time travel is invented, the mob tracks them down in the future. Then, as a means of tying up loose ends to their illegal use of time travel, they send them back to their younger self to be killed off. This is called ‘closing a loop.’ When a looper’s target has gold bars attached to its body, they know that it’s the future self they’ve killed. Closing the loop means retirement for the looper, with the gold being a fat paycheck for their services but also meaning that they have a timer on their life. To recruit and manage loopers, a man called Abe was sent back in time by the mob, who was to stay in the past (the narrative present) without any prospect of returning.

Who are the Gat Men?

The loopers use blunderbusses to eliminate their targets, a highly powerful weapon but with a short range. The Gat Men use a weapon called a ‘Gat’ – revolvers with long barrels that have a much longer shooting range than blunderbusses. These Gat Men are Abe’s henchmen, people he hired to form a large gang of his own. The loopers have a specific purpose of eliminating enemies of the mob. The Gat Men do all of Abe’s dirty work and, given his power and influence in Kansas City, are essentially the law there.

Who are TKs?

Sometime prior to 2044, telekinesis emerged as a phenomenon among a small section of the population. The people with telekinetic powers in this world are called TKs (abbreviation for ‘telekinetic’). They aren’t particularly powerful beings. The most they can do is float light objects in the air and, with some skill, play around with them. About 10% of the population in the future will consist of TKs.

Looper Plot Summary

Joe, the son of a vagrant mother who sold him to a panhandle gang, was recruited by Abe when he was quite young. In 2044, he’s a seasoned looper. A farsighted individual, he saves up half of the silver bars he gets after each execution and is also learning French because he plans to retire to France after closing his loop, whenever that happens. He’s also addicted to a narcotic that is consumed as an eye drop, like all other loopers. Over the course of a month, suddenly, the loopers around him start getting their loops closed. 

One night, his friend, Seth, alarmingly visits his apartment and tells him that he has failed to close his loop. Old Seth, whom he let escape, told present-day Seth about the arrival of a new crime boss called the Rainmaker, a ‘holy terror’ in the future. As Joe later learned from his older self, the Rainmaker appeared out of nowhere and took control of five crime syndicates. His first priority was to close all loops in the past. Among the old loopers, the rumor is that he saw his mother killed by a looper and therefore took it upon himself to kill all of them, hoping to get the one that caused his grief in the process.

Joe initially hides Seth but gives him up when Abe leverages him to take away half his stashed silver. Letting a loop run in the past is a serious danger to the security of the mob in the future. Abe, therefore, catches and punishes renegade loopers who failed to close their loop quite seriously.

One day, Joe’s target is a little late to appear, and when he does, he sees that the man doesn’t have his hands tied, his mouth gagged, or a sack on his face. The target, is Old Joe, manages to overpower young Joe and runs away, leaving behind a note that asks him to escape the city. On regaining consciousness, present-day Joe returns to his apartment, only to find it ransacked by the Gat Men, his silver taken away, and him being their key target for letting his loop run. 

After Old Joe helps him, present-day Joe meets him at the diner, where he’s a regular, by carving the waitress’s name on his arm, which appears as an old scar on Old Joe’s arm. There, Old Joe tells Joe about the arrival of the Rainmaker, who killed his beloved wife in the future. He is back in time to find the Rainmaker as a child and eliminate him to ensure his wife doesn’t die. He has with him a number from the mysterious Rainmaker’s hospital record that an ally of his found out before dying and which he plans on using to track the young Rainmaker down. Joe is not interested in this plan of murdering a child and wants to kill Old Joe so that he can have some future following the closing of his loop. A race ensues to track down the real Rainmaker and prevent him from getting killed.

What happens in Old Joe’s own timeline?

In Old Joe’s timeline, the 2044 Joe successfully closes his loop after having his older self sent back. Then, taking Abe’s advice, he retires to China. There, his luxurious lifestyle and drug addiction make him squander all his savings in about ten years. He becomes a criminal after that to fund his addiction. This way, he grows old as a violent junkie until he meets a woman at a party one day. They fall in love and get married, and she cures him of his addiction, following which they lead a peaceful married life for a while. Then, as it happens with all loopers, the mob tracks him down following the Rainmaker gaining power, kills his wife, and takes him to a time machine to send him back to 2044 to be eliminated. Old Joe kills his captors and then willingly goes back in time to find and kill the Rainmaker as a child before he can execute his reign of terror.

What is the number that Old Joe has?

The number that Old Joe has procured through a friend is a combination of the date and the medical number of a hospital. Using it, Joe can narrow his search for the young Rainmaker to the date he was born at a particular hospital. Sara tells Joe that two other children were born at the same hospital on the day Cid was born. Since Old Joe isn’t sure of the Rainmaker’s identity, he plans on killing all three of these children.

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Looper (2012) Movie Ending Explained

Sara (Emily Blunt) in Looper (2012)
Sara (Emily Blunt) is a single mom who’s learned to stand her ground to protect her home — and her young son.

What are Cid’s powers?

Sara is a TK herself and with a better-than-average grasp of her telekinetic powers. Her son, Cid, is a far more evolved TK. Sara’s sister initially brought up Cid as Sara was really young when she had him and was too busy leading a wild lifestyle to bring him up. During a small, domestic accident, Cid fell down and hurt himself, causing him to unleash his telekinetic power, which, when provoked owing to rage, creates a force field around him that destroys everything in it. This is what got Sara’s sister violently killed and, during Jesse’s visit, got him killed when Cid slipped and fell off the stairs.

Why does Joe kill himself?

When Old Joe is trying to shoot Cid, the man who would go on to become the Rainmaker, Sara gets in his way to prevent him from doing so. Joe tries to stop this, but given that he’s fairly far from them and is carrying a blunderbuss, he realizes that he cannot stop Old Joe. This is where he discovers that the formation of the Rainmaker is happening in front of his eyes. Old Joe shoots Sara to get her out of the way, while Cid escapes after witnessing his mother’s murder. Angry and lonely, he would set out on a path of destruction, eventually becoming the Rainmaker, whose sole aim in life would be to kill all the loopers by closing their loops, hoping to get the man who killed his mother in the process.

 Old Joe was going to create the man that would destroy his life and whom he would set out on a violent quest to hunt down. This cycle of violence, Joe understands, can be prevented if he just kills his younger self. This would mean that he’d never grow old, to begin with, and set off the chain of events that would eventually create the Rainmaker. By being brought up by Sara with love and care, Cid would learn to control his powers and not become a violent megalomaniac out on a vengeful quest. Joe’s sacrifice is, therefore, essential to maintaining peace in the future and the present.

Looper is featured in our list of the 10 Best Time Travel Movies Ever Made

Looper’s Theme Analysed 


Though ‘Looper’ takes place in a democratic future, authoritarian control over human life is a key facet of the film. This can be seen in how the mob operates in the post-time travel future. Every time Abe recruits a looper in the past, he seals their fate at that moment. Whoever becomes a looper is indoctrinated into a certain way of life whose pleasures always have a fatalistic end looming over them. They know that one day, they will have to kill their future self; when that happens, they will also be aware of the expiry date stamped on them. This is what makes a looper like Joe save his earnings.

The mob also doesn’t send an old looper to another looper in the past but to his own past self. This is especially important as this reminds a looper that their decadent present isn’t eternal and that there exist forces that have absolute control over their life. A looper’s life is completely devoid of free will as he knows exactly what his job is when his job will be over, and, more importantly, when his life will come to an end. There is no breaking free from this cycle that the mob engraves on their fate the day their agent makes one a looper. If they wish to during their retirement, they cannot give their future employers up to the law as, over the course of their employment, enough details about them are in place for one to be tracked down and sent back to be killed anyway. Since a looper’s whole life is geared towards planning a limited future whenever their job unpredictably comes to an end, it only intensifies the degree to which they are acquiesced by the mob’s authoritarian practices.

Circularity of Fate

Circularity is a symbolic and literal occurrence in ‘Looper.’ On the one hand lies time travel, which makes the life of a looper a circle as it is in their past that they will be killed. When Old Joe kills Abe, the latter’s fate comes full circle. He was the one who found Joe as a child and handed him a gun, as a result of which he became what Old Joe is the culmination of. To be murdered by Joe himself shows the circular nature of fate in Abe’s life. The most visible circularity lies in the loop of Joe’s life, which he sees as a vision when Old Joe is about to shoot Sara. If he didn’t kill himself at that moment, he would’ve allowed a circle of violence where a man kills for his wife, a mother dies for his son, and a child becomes bloodthirsty to keep reoccurring across eternity.

In a literal sense, it should be noted that Joe carries a pocket watch with him. It’s 2044, and technology is visibly quite advanced, yet he sticks to this ancient device. It’s part of how he styles himself after film characters from the 20th century, what Abe rightly calls an ‘affectation.’ Because of this, time always appears within the confines of a round device, where it tangibly moves around in a circle and not as numbers on a screen. Combined with his habit of looking at the watch at regular intervals, it reminds Joe about the circular nature of fate that his employment has him bound to and foreshadows the shape of his destiny. Thankfully, it’s one he manages to break free from eventually.

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