looper- sara“About Joe:

Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”

And although it is appropriate for a time travel script to begin with an ending, I would have much preferred if it had begun at the beginning of the poem it quotes:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

because there is an answer to the puzzle that is Looper in those lines:

All time is unredeemable.

As we begin, and until we end, we will have to make do with the much less precise line Mr. Johnson actually selected from T.S. Eliot’s poem Burnt Norton:

Time… point(s) to one end, which is always present.


1. Is the dialogue (a) free of exposition and (b) rich in subtext? This will include (c) unique voices for each character. (each part worth 10 points)

Before we really begin I want to acknowledge that the preamble to this post is pretty inscrutable unless you’ve read the script. Basically, Rian Johnson opens up with an allusion to Eliot’s poem Four Quartets.

Sometimes I think these allusions in screenplays [and in screenplay reviews] are the result of a little googling and a lot of wikipedia. In other words, sometimes I think these allusions are blatantly full of shit.

Anyway, there are four of these quotes interspersed through Looper. I think they, and Rian Johnson as the author who chose to include them, are not an example of this full of shit case. The allusions, in this instance, fit the story and add some depth to it. I especially liked the most obvious similarity– the script itself is broken into poem-parallel divisions by four. We have Joe, Old Joe, Sara, and Cid each given an accompanying line from one of the poems. I will mix these quotes, and small discussions of their story potency, in with the regular review.

Part A) The dialogue is not anywhere close to free of exposition. In addition to this we also get running voiceover from the Joe character that is, as voiceover almost always is, all exposition. A few examples, the first is from page 3 (which is actually page 1):

JOE (V.O.)
Time travel has not yet been
invented. But twenty five years
from now it will be. Once the
technology exists, it will be
relatively cheap and available to
the public at large. And so. It
will be instantly outlawed, used
only in secret by the largest
criminal organizations. And then
only for a very specific purpose.

On page 5 we move immediately to this:

When the TK mutation started
appearing in the general populace
it was on every magazine – “Next
Step in Evolution, what’s next.”
Everyone got tested. But turns out
this was it, and now it’s just a
bunch of assholes thinking they’re
blowing your mind by floating

Aside from its expository nature, I want to bring attention to this because there is a very real way in which Mr. Johnson is violating Mr. Snyder’s Save the Cat injunction not to engage in double mumbo jumbo by giving us the time travel “magic” and the TK “magic”. I will say that I don’t believe this injunction is as much of a fact about screenwriting as Mr. Snyder makes it out to be, and as far as Looper is concerned, the competing bits of magic never distracted me or even came close to unsuspending my disbelief.

I’ll give one more example, from later in the script, to illustrate how the exposition is constant throughout and not just concentrated in the voiceover. From page 46:

Have you heard of the Rainmaker?

Seth said, that night. A new boss
in the future, he said.

The Rainmaker came out of nowhere
and in the span of six months took
total control of the five major

That would take an army.

But he didn’t have an army. Legend
is he did it alone. Alone alone.
Don’t know I believe the legend but
he didn’t have an army.

How did he do it?

That’s the question. And no one
knows. Not only that, there’s no
pictures of him. It’s insane.
There’s stories he has a synthetic
jaw. Things like that. But word
spread quick about him through the
ex-looper grapevine, even before
his mass executions and vagrant
purges and reign of terror, because
the first thing he did was start
closing loops. All of them.
Exterminating the whole program.
Cleaning house.

3 out of 10 points.

Part B) There is some good subtext in the character of Sara. She tries very hard to have the hard as nails exterior this dystopian future requires but always comes up a few inches short of that finish line. From page 63:

This is a Remington 870, one blast
could cut you the fuck in half.

And that’s, that’s telling. You’re
holding a gun. I say I’m not
afraid, so you describe the gun to
me. But it’s not the gun I’m not
afraid of.
What are you gonna shoot in the
air? Blow a hole in your barn? To
scare me? Go ahead. But you
couldn’t let me die, you won’t kill

looper- saraSARA
So now I saved your life that makes
me weak?

This bit of subtext gets completed, in my mind, when we discover one page later what will make Sara’s exterior actually hard as nails:

…the NUMBER that Old Joe wrote on the back. 07153902935.

And everything changes.

What is this.

When Joe doesn’t give a satisfactory answer to Sara’s questioning, she unloads the contents of the Remington into Joe’s chest. Fortuntely for him, she really is not a killer and the gun is filled with rock salt.

You can see that this scene sets her character remarkably well; she isn’t hard as nails but she will push back as hard as she can for the sake of her son.

There is also some good subtext in the way Joe/Old Joe and Kid Blue/Abe interact. This was cemented for me by Old Joe’s line on page 35 about Joe:

Stupid little shit.

Which is followed up one page later by Abe’s line about Kid Blue:

Stupid little shit.

In general, though, I couldn’t recommend this as a script to study for its subtext.

6 out of 10 points.

Part C) The character individuation was very good. I loved how Joe and Old Joe had enough similarity to seem like they could be related by an unbroken temporal chain and yet still spoke with different voices.

Cid’s characterization was especially good. A fact which, I believe, helped the child actor deliver a performance beyond his years in the film version.

8 out of 10 points.

About Old Joe

His segment of the script begins with this from East Coker:

In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning.

If you read the Eliot poem, you’ll find that this is East Coker edited for its first sentence and then its last sentence. That is, I would say, apppropriate enough to require no further comment.


2. Do the first 10 pages make me want to read to Fade Out? (20 points)

Let me point out before getting too far into my answer to this question that I’m a sucker for science fiction in general and time travel stories in particular. There is an amount of bias toward the material in me that will be hard for me to quantify and account for properly as a critic.

Rian Johnson is preaching to the choir in my case. I am his target audience, etc etc.

Interestingly then, I didn’t just love these first 10 pages. Is it possible that the exposition voiceover was distracting enough to impair the quality of the read slightly? I don’t know. I mean, the time travel stuff is there, the TK stuff is there, the dystopian future stuff is there, and I was definitely on board for the ride, but the material didn’t quite put up lead shutters on the rest of my world.

14 out of 20 points.

3. Does the structure of the story have (a) a suitable number of reveals (b) an engine that fits its protagonist and (c) a thematic underpinning which, by Fade Out, explains why THIS engine and THIS protagonist were the subject of THIS story. (each part worth 10 points)

Part A) The story is well-plotted and has enough reveals to keep you guessing and, therefore, reading. All time travel stories deal in liquid logic and this one is no exception. The best of these (like Twelve Monkeys) make the liquid in the logic serve the story that is trying to be told.

The thing I liked most about the way the reveals are parcelled out to us in Looper is that it ends up making the Rainmaker’s Loop Closing not a mad gangster’s power grab but more like plain old fashioned revenge. A clear case of the liquid serving the logic, for me.

10 out of 10 points.

Part B) In other words, time travel stories are interesting because all Fiction takes the law of cause and effect more seriously than science. It has too. The manipulation of human emotion which causes resonance in fiction relies on the fact that causes have a one to one relationship with their effects. Time travel stories have to manipulate human emotion and cause resonance while denying that causes have a one to one relationship with their effects. In the world of Looper [or 12 Monkeys] you are not the sum of everything you have done. You can still be more or less than your sum. It is in this (and let’s be honest we always end up with characters choosing to be more) choice that time travel stories produce whatever resonance they can.

So, the engine of Looper is generic. Each of the “Four Quartets” drives the story forward with the same goal. They all want to be more than the sum of their previous choices implies.

If that is not taking the central conceit at the heart of all time travel stories and turning it against itself in a brilliant way, then I don’t know what is:

10 out of 10 points.

Part C) I wouldn’t argue with anyone who wanted to say that Looper ends with a martyr’s theme. Something like:

To make the world a better place sometimes you have to sacrifice everything.

On the surface this is what happens, but I think Looper is a bit deeper than that. Joe kills himself so Old Joe can’t kill Cid because Joe realizes that Cid becomes the rainmaker when, and not before, Old Joe kills Sara. Simplistically then, Joe’s choice to end his life is an expression of classic Altruism. However, I think what Joe realizes right before he makes his altruistic choice is that the world has been wrong about him all along. In spite of his blunderbuss and his hired killings, he is, and has always wanted to be, a morally good person.

Joe learns this message from Sara and stated like a bumbersticker it is:

You can’t trust the world to tell you who you are.

10 out of 10 points.


About Sara

Her quote comes from the middle of the fifth stanza of The Dry Salvages:

Men’s curiosity searches past and future
And clings to that dimension. But to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint—

and makes her a saint. And although saints are in the same ballpark as martyrs, they aren’t necessarily the same thing.


4. Is there anything unique in what the writer presents? Basically, do I have to hire THIS writer in order to get her/his original take on things? Are the rest of the writer’s ideas, based on this sample, likely to be original? (worth 10 points)

We have a story which is absolutely a science fiction story, beyond that it is a science fiction story set in a dystopian future which only resembles our world. And yet, these are the elements of their world which are not in our world:

1. the blunderbuss
2. Old Joe uses a computer which is just a sheet of plastic
3. Sara has a trash can device which becomes airborne and assists her with the tasks of farming
4. the slat bike
5. of course, there is also the time machine

I point these things out because I mean to say that Looper isn’t Minority Report. It isn’t even The Hunger Games. Rian Johnson is able to give a convincing science fiction flavor without enagaging in REALLY EXPENSIVE science fiction spectacle.

I was also impressed that Mr. Johnson manages to tell half his story on a farm. This is VERY risky; losing the audience’s attention on a farm seems all but guaranteed. It is also high reward. If you don’t lose the audience’s attention, you save yourself millions of dollars in production budget. Looper never lost my attention, and it came in at 30 million dollars. Impressive. For this alone, I have no problem going:

10 out of 10 points.

5. Can “we see” the description? A.) Are the images clear and appropriate? B.) Are the sentences free of typos and grammatical errors? (each part worth 5 points)

Part A) The script demonstrates command of the medium. It also sets a great tone and preserves it throughout. I keep saying dystopian to describe the world of Looper and, to be honest, that might not be a bad description of the description. It all works well, in my opinion.

5 out of 5 points.

Part B) There were very few typos.

5 out of 5 points.


About Cid

The quote is from Little Gidding:

And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled

I thought this was the most interesting selection of all. Look what happens if you let the quote from the poem run on a little further:

And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.

The fact that Mr. Johnson ended this quote where he did tells us a lot about what he meant for Looper to mean, I think.


Total Score: 81


One response to “Looper

  1. Apologize for the old reviewing format used in this review. I thought there was enough worth salvaging craft-wise to post it in spite of the discarded format.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s