Film / Looper

Joe: So do you know what's going to happen? You done all this already? As me?
Old Joe: I don't want to talk about time travel shit. Because if we talk about it, then we're gonna be here all day, drawing diagrams with straws.

Looper is a Science Fiction film directed by Rian Johnson, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a man named Joseph Simmons, and Bruce Willis plays a future version of Joe.

The film takes place in the not-too-distant future, at a point in time thirty years before the invention of time travel. Though it is illegal to use time travel, a flourishing black market has made the technology available to high-profile criminal organizations who have put it to practical use. Because it is nearly impossible to discreetly dispose of a body in the future (due to advanced tracking and tagging technologies), the criminals send the target back in time where an assassin (called a "Looper") kills and disposes of the helpless victim before he technically ever existed.

Joe is one such "Looper", and like all Loopers he has accepted the job knowing that some day, when his employers in the future wish to terminate his contract, his future self will be sent back in time to be killed at his hands, a process known as "closing the loop". The problem is that when his future self does appear, he does so of his own free will, unbound and ready to fight. Older Joe easily subdues Young Joe and embarks on his own agenda in the past - and he will not let anyone stand in his way.

The film, which also stars Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels, and Emily Blunt, is the third from writer/director Rian Johnson. It's also Johnson's second collaboration with Levitt. Watch the trailer here.

This film provides examples of:

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  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: The conversation in the Diner between Young Joe and Old Joe happens after Young Joe's apartment is raided and right before Old Joe's escape when the Gat Men show up.
  • Action Mom: Sara.
  • Actually Pretty Funny: Cid tells Joe he wants a blunderbuss just like his, and Joe replies by asking if he's gonna pole-vault with it because it's bigger than him. You can clearly see Cid (or his actor) suppressing a giggle.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Being a single mother with a gifted son who also has something special about his brain, and who is prone to violent and potentially-lethal tantrums.
    • A kid falling down the stairs in slow-motion.
    • Seeing the kid's head whip back after being shot at...
  • Affably Evil: Abe just wants to have nice talks with people until they give him what he wants... or until he gets fed up and smashes their hands with a ball-peen hammer.
  • Aliens in Cardiff: A hardboiled, time-traveling hitman tale set in... Kansas.
  • Anachronism Stew: While being set in the future, the common shotgun is styled like a blunderbuss and the clothes mimic previous fashions. Also, those are clearly 2000s and 2010s model cars that are seen in 2044. The US economy has fallen apart, so older cars (retrofitted with some sort of battery or energy unit hooked up to their gas tanks from the outside) may be all that's available to the proletariat.
  • Anti-Hero: Young Joe is a Nominal Hero at the start of the movie. He's (mostly) self-centered, has no qualms executing people for the mob, and shows few signs of heroism throughout most of the film. He develops more into an Unscrupulous Hero when Cid becomes something of a Morality Pet for him in the third act.
  • Anti-Villain: Old Joe turns out to be one. He has sympathetic goals but is willing to do unspeakable things to achieve them (though he's also tormented by guilt when he does).
  • Arc Words: "Closing the loop."
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Kid Blue juggles his loaded revolver right in Joe's face, and you can even see he almost drops it. Though as the movie progresses, it's made clear that Kid Blue is the resident fuck-up.
  • Awesome Anachronistic Apparel: Most Loopers (Young Joe included) seem to be riding on a 20th Century nostalgia fad with their neckties and other "past" fashions. And if the world of 2074 is any indication, it apparently stuck with everyone.
  • Bad Future: The "present" of 2044 is strongly implied to have rampant poverty, with organized crime being one of the main employers; the "future" of 2074 seems to be more pleasant (in China, at least), but society is still at the mercy of a fearsome criminal and terrorist mastermind.
    Abe: I'm from the future. Go to China.
  • Badass Adorable: Cid is the embodiment of this trope.
  • Badass Boast: Kid Blue's comparative speech between the "Gats" and the "blunderbusses" is supposed to be this, but gets immediately undermined when it is established to be the mob's resident fuck-up/idiot, nobody respects him, and all of the gun twirling he had been doing throughout the speech had gotten him shot in the foot once already.
  • Bad-Guy Bar: Abe owns a club frequented by all the Loopers and Gat Men.
  • Batman Gambit: Abe convincing Joe to rat out Seth by banking on his selfishness.
  • Bellisario's Maxim: In-Universe. Old Joe basically says this when his younger self starts to try to dissect time travel.
  • Big Bad: Abe, to an extent. Until Old Joe upstages him.
  • Bigger Bad: The Rainmaker, the Big Bad of the near-future whose reign of terror-to-come colors the actions of everyone else in the film.
  • Bilingual Bonus: A Chinese news report in an early 2074 scene sheds light on just how horrific the Rainmaker is.
  • Birth/Death Juxtaposition: A rather twisted example — after Old Joe kills one of the children who he thinks could be the Rainmaker, he now remembers having a child.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Young Joe kills himself to prevent Old Joe from murdering Cid's mother to get to the boy, an act which would have driven the boy to become the very Rainmaker Old Joe is trying to prevent. Though the future isn't certain, Cid possessing one parent instead of none (and a lot of cash) at least makes it more likely he won't become the feared mob boss, while also, as Young Joe noted earlier in the film, saving Old Joe's wife from the circumstances that get her killed.
  • Bizarre Baby Boom: It's stated that about 10% of the population has a mutation called "TK" (telekinesis) that allows them to move objects with their mind. Later on, it becomes a Chekhov's Gun when it's revealed that the Bigger Bad is powerful enough to use it as a deadly weapon.
  • Black Comedy: In subtle and usually stealthy ways, but there is a lot of it.
    (A Gat Man sits on a chair, and the camera tilts to Young Joe, who's behind a couch, and then to Cid, who's on the stairs.)
    (Cid motions "Do you wanna shoot the guy?")
    (Joe motions "WHAT? NO!")
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: Joe's thrown gat lands barrel-first into the ground, if only because he threw it straight down.
  • Blown Across the Room: Almost every gun death punches the victim at least a foot away, since the guns are mostly either heavy calibre handguns chambered in .45-70 Gov't, or hi-tech blunderbuss shotguns.
  • Body Horror: How Abe's goons convince Old Seth to surrender, with a hefty side order of Temporal Mutability.
  • Brick Joke: Abe makes several references to future events that would happen in Joe's life. In fact, the entire conversation between Abe and Joe is very important.
  • Bulletproof Human Shield: Old Joe uses one of the Gat Men this way.
  • Butt Monkey: Kid Blue.
  • Byronic Hero: Joe himself is a hitman who not only works for himself, but is also a flawed protagonist with a mysterious past that is never mentioned.
  • Car Cushion: Young Joe after falling off the fire escape at his apartment.
  • Carved Mark: In the event of "Running Loops" (a Looper failing to "close the loop" by killing his future self), the Gat Men employ a man known as "The Doc" to carve directions onto the arm of the "young" Looper, which then appear instantly on the "old" Looper as scars, as a means of crude communication. In the event that doesn't produce results fast enough, they start slowly dismembering the "young" Looper to cripple his "old" version.
    • Subverted later in the movie when Old Joe notices scars on his arm which appear to say the same thing ("Be at...") but turn out to spell the name "Beatrix". Old Joe points out that Young Joe could've just as easily got his attention with the name of another waitress whose name wasn't as long.
  • Character Development: Young Joe starts the film as reckless, self-absorbed and pretty ruthless. He starts to soften after arriving at Sara's farm, and he comes to care for both her and Cid. When Jesse takes Sara hostage, Joe makes a point of prioritizing her safety before trying to save his own neck, and despite initially being horrified by Cid's wild power, he has gained enough compassion to understand that there is a difference between a scared child and a ruthless mob boss. By the time of the final showdown, Joe is trying to protect Cid and Sara, rather than to get his life back. He ultimately sacrifices himself to prevent Old Joe from murdering Sara and inadvertently ensuring that Cid always becomes the Rainmaker.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Telekinesis is introduced early and dismissed as not being that big of a deal besides cheap parlor tricks. Cid, the future Rainmaker, turns out to have the power to make people explode with it, crush vehicles, and flatten entire areas. Foreshadowed by his mother hiding in an old safe when Cid gets angry.
    • A literal one in the form of the blunderbuss. The range of the blunderbuss is so limited it's basically a close combat weapon, unlike the gat men's revolver. Which turns out to be a problem in the end when Young Joe is armed and dangerous, but too far away from Old Joe to stop him in time... so the only solution open to him is shooting himself.
    • A ball-peen hammer rests on Abe's desk in plain sight, but Abe assures Joe he won't break his fingers with it. When it comes to Kid Blue, however, Abe soon responds to his screw ups by smashing his hand.
    • Seth's barely working hovercycle, which is "borrowed" by a great many characters by the film's end.
  • Chekhov's Classroom: Both Seth and Kid Blue note the blunderbuss is restricted to about fifteen yards. Young Joe later exploits this to kill Kid Blue with blind fire, though it also prevents him killing Old Joe because he's out of range.
  • The Chew Toy: Kid Blue.
  • China Takes Over the World: China becomes a superpower in the future, with the United States resembling immediate post-breakup Soviet Union. Characters are shown using yuan rather than dollars, and a number of future characters talk about how great life in China is.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: What the mobsters do to Young Seth to get to Old Seth, as well as the 'logic' that it wasn't actually torture. They just started removing things. If Abe can be kept at his word that killing a young looper is bad for the timeline, then they kept him alive without limbs, a nose, or a tongue for thirty years.
  • Complexity Addiction: One of the common complaints about the movie based on the trailer was that time travel plot seemed like a needlessly overcomplicated means of execution. However, this is actually averted in the film proper — advanced tracking and forensics in the future have made disposing of bodies nearly impossible, so they kidnap the targets and send them to the past for Loopers to kill.
  • Cool Car: Averted. Most vehicles in 2044 are decades-old models jerry-rigged to run on solar power, and only a select few 'future' cars are seen — and even those are outdated concept cars. There are hoverbikes and well-taken-care-of convertibles, however.
  • Cooldown Hug: Cid gets this after his TK powers spiral out of control.
  • Crapsack World: The US of 2044 suffers from hyper-inflation of the dollar, rampant drug use, roving bands of violent vagrants, loads and loads and loads of shantytowns, and criminal syndicates controlling entire cities, though Europe and Asia are at least implied to be better off. The world of 2074, meanwhile, is terrorized by a criminal overlord who kills thousands with every new attack.
  • Create Your Own Villain: Old Joe would have inadvertently ensured Cid becomes the Rainmaker in every future loop if he killed Cid's mother to get to the boy.
  • Creepy Child: Cid, particularly when he loses control of his TK.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: As noted by Seth, the "Blunderbusses" are very powerful and guarantee a kill withing fifteen yards — good for committing executions where the target's delivered near point-blank — but can't hit anything beyond that. They consistently fail to when used against anyone who isn't on their knees with a bag on their head.
  • Cyber Punk: The film's genre.
  • Cycle of Revenge: With a unique Time Travel twist.
  • Days of Future Past: The US of 2044 is somewhat reminiscent of The Great Depression... only this time around, things got MUCH worse. Meanwhile, 2074 looks like a more futuristic mix of The Forties and The New Tens.
  • Death Is the Only Option: Young Joe kills himself to stop Old Joe from killing Sara and ensuring Cid becomes the Rainmaker.
  • Death's Hourglass: When a Looper's contract is up, his future self is sent back to him to be killed. The Looper doesn't find this out until he recovers his payment from the body — gold bars instead of the usual silver. He now knows that he has exactly 30 years left to live.
  • Delayed Ripple Effect: Changes to the timeline affect future selves as soon as they happen, but have no effect on any event before the change. For example, when the mobsters cut Young Seth's legs off, his future self's legs instantly disappear. However, events continue as though Future Seth still had two perfectly good legs up until that point, which is why he could even escape in the first place.
    • Meanwhile, in the Future: Any change to the timeline instantly updates the future self from the point of its occurrence.
  • Determinator: For all his faults, the one thing that can be said about Kid Blue is that he will not take failure lying down.
  • Diner Brawl: When the two Joes meet in the diner, the scene ends with Old Joe giving a Groin Attack to Young Joe, beating him down, then shooting his way out when back-up arrives.
  • Disappeared Dad: No mention is made of Cid's father, or where he might be. It's possible that Cid's mother, Sara, doesn't know who or where he is herself.
  • Disposable Woman: Old Joe's wife pretty much just exists to get killed. She doesn't even merit a name in the credits.
  • Down on the Farm: The film takes place mainly in (future) Kansas, with nearly everything outside the unnamed city being nothing but farmland.
  • The Dreaded: The Rainmaker, an evil crime lord from the future who took control of every mob family single-handedly, and now presides over an international reign of terror and mass murder.
  • Empathic Environment: A large neon arrow helpfully informs Old Joe which way an attacking Gat Man is coming from.
  • Enemy Mine: Young Joe briefly teams up with the Gat Men as they shoot at Old Joe. As soon as Old Joe escapes he realises how bad an idea it is and runs.
  • Eternal Recurrence: Discussed in the ending monologue, as a matter of Vicious Cycle caused by time loops:
    Young!Joe: Then I saw it: I saw a mom who would die for her son; a man who would kill for his wife; a boy, angry and alone. Laid out in front of him, the bad path, I saw it. And the path was a circle. Round and round. So I changed it.
  • Establishing Character Moment:
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Joe betrays his friend, Seth, by handing him over to Abe and his men, albeit reluctantly.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: As explained in the DVD/BluRay extras, the non-orchestral side of the soundtrack that contains industrial-sounding techno stuff was actually made from sampling industrial material and machinery, then remixed into music. Even the recurring harpsichord-sounding music was created by building a custom instrument that Nathan Johnson dubbed "The Gat Piano."
  • Everyone Is Armed: Due to the nature of the Crapsack World, causing a quite violent separation in social and economical classes; everyone can be killed for the sake of property or caprice with little to no consequence.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: What drives this loop's Cid to become the Rainmaker — he loses his mother; his moral compass and the only person who can calm him down in a TK tantrum, and decides to take revenge on Loopers.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: When Jesse realizes he's pointing his gun at a child, he immediately raises both his hands to show the boy that he's not a threat. It doesn't help him. According to the deleted scenes, he says he has a wife and kids of his own.
  • Fade to White: The film's ending leaves the future of Cid up in the air. Though it is heavily implied it will be better, since his mother survives (thus removing his revenge motive) and inherits a sizable fortune, and Young Joe had a decidedly positive impact both on Cid's life and his relationship with his mother.
  • Fantastic Drug: An unnamed designer drug administered via eye drops.
  • A Fool and His New Money Are Soon Parted:
    • In the timeline where Joe successfully closes his loop, he takes all of his money and goes to China, but within a decade, winds up wasting it all on partying and drugs. What little there's left becomes worthless, thanks to more and more loopers getting paid in more and more silver, driving down the value.
    • Based on Young Joe's egging, Seth's hoverbike cost a large chunk of money and he never managed to get it running before his death.
  • Foreshadowing: The Urban Legends about the Rainmaker. Hell, the term "Rainmaker" itself.
    Old Joe: We all heard stories about the Rainmaker. Has a synthetic jaw, saw his mom get shot.
    • Not to mention the double Chekhov's Gun. With Seth as an example, telekinesis is suggested to be worth basically nothing. Then we find that Sara is much stronger than Seth. And finally there's Cid, who is much stronger than her...
    • An In-Universe example is the posters, drawings and action figures of a man in black wearing a wide-brimmed hat in Cid's room, just like the outfits worn by the Rainmaker's mooks in the future.
  • Film Noir: Rian Johnson's trademark love of noir comes through in certain spots.
  • Functional Addict: Averted. While relatively efficient at their jobs, both Joes are crippling addicts to the "eyedrop drug." Somewhat played straight with Old Joe however, as he's been off the stuff thanks to his wife. The withdrawal symptoms on the other hand look to be similar to heroin, only about a hundred times worse.
  • Fluffy the Terrible: Kid Blue. Just because his given name is such, doesn't mean that he won't be a mafioso.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Cid to The Rainmaker, who "came out of nowhere" and took over organized crime.
  • Future Badass: While Young Joe, as a Looper, is a killer and criminal, his weapons experience basically boils down to shooting bound and gagged prisoners with a blunderbuss. Old Joe, however, has a few decades of hardened crime life under his belt, and is therefore much more of a threat.
  • Future Me Scares Me/I Hate Past Me: Old Joe is attempting to change his past and save his own life, but Young Joe enjoys his lifestyle too much to give a shit about the future and thus continues trying to kill Old Joe to preserve it. This makes the fight scenes between them fascinatingly complicated, as Old Joe, despite being an amazingly superior combatant, is obviously unable to kill Young Joe, inflict permanent damage, or even restrict his movements to any real extent(as the local mobsters will capture a helpless Young Joe and start cutting parts off him to force Old Joe to submit to being killed).
    Old Joe: This job doesn't tend to attract the most forward thinking.
    • And eventually twisted into a Klein bottle when Young Joe decides to abandon the criminal lifestyle and Old Joe starts fighting him to preserve the past he knows. This ultimately Drives Young Joe to Heroic Suicide.
    Old Joe: You got your life back, you better think right now about what that's worth to you.
    Young Joe: My life? Your life! Becoming you!

  • Gold–Silver–Copper Standard: The "Loopers" are usually paid in silver ingots, which are conveniently strapped to their targets. However, if they get gold instead, they know that they have "closed their loop" and killed their future selves. They are now free to enjoy their lives... for the next 30 years.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: Several.
    • Right at the point where Old Joe goes Guns Akimbo, the camera angle casts his entire body in profile, with his targets conveniently out of frame.
    • Although we see some blood coming out when Cid starts to murder Jesse, we don't see anything significant before the camera cuts away. As Young Joe and Sara run back into the house to look for Cid, the camera pans by the house on the outside, with one set of curtains almost completely red. When Joe finds Cid, his face and shirt are drenched in blood.
    • All we see of Young Seth being tortured is its effects as scars on Old Seth — then bodyparts vanishing — and then its aftermath — a lump of something swathed in a bloody sheet next to a heart monitor. As for his future self, the camera cuts away as he's blasted in what's left of his face.
  • Groin Attack: Old Joe does this to Young Joe.
  • The Gunfighter Wannabe: Kid Blue
  • Gun Twirling: Kid Blue's Failed Attempt at Drama. The accidental discharge didn't help either.
  • Guns Akimbo: Old Joe wields two FN-P90s in one scene. It's as ridiculous, and cool, as it sounds.
  • Hand Cannon: The gats, which are Magnum Research B.F.R.s ("Big Frame Revolver").
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Old Joe.
  • The Hero Dies: In the end, Young Joe kills himself to stop Old Joe from killing Cid's mother and perpetuating the loop. It ensures the Rainmaker at least isn't a definite, but there's always the possibility.
  • Heroic Suicide: Young Joe kills himself to stop Old Joe from killing Sara and ensuring Cid becomes the Rainmaker, though whether or not Cid still becomes the Rainmaker in the future is left unanswered.
  • Hitler's Time Travel Exemption Act: Old Joe is trying to kill The Rainmaker, the "Hitler" of his time... but, as Young Joe realizes, is merely the catalyst which will create him.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Joe himself, eventually.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Played with. Suzie seems like the standard HWAHOG, as a quasi-love interest and sympathetic parent figure, but she flatly rejects Joe's attempts to "save" her from her lifestyle, and she sees him as just another client.
  • I Die Free: Young Joe kills himself rather than let Old Joe create a Stable Time Loop that ensures the Rainmaker's continued existence.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Kid Blue does a lot of fancy-but-dangerous spinning of his revolver, and at one point misfires it. It's all but stated that he shot one of his own feet off this way.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: Kid Blue also notes that gat revolvers have accuracy that the blunderbuss lacks; despite this claim, Kid Blue and the Gat Men rarely hit anything with their badass pistols.
    • Justified through consistency, as the gats are simply used for Rule of Cool: magazine-fed weapons and blunderbusses (used in range) always work, yet gats tend to jam and almost always miss. Of all the shots fired from gats, only five total actually hit a target: the mook shot on the fire escape by Old!Joe;note  the three people shot during the La Belle Aurora shootout by Old!Joe, all at point-blank range; and finally when Old!Joe tries to shoot Cid, which only just clips the said target.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Kid Blue. Doesn't stop Joe from killing him, though.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted when Old Joe kills one of the kids who might turn into the Rainmaker. His second attempt, notably, leads to his capture and allows him to catch up to Cid.
  • Insert Cameo: Rian Johnson's hand appear in the scene where Seth's older version starts losing his fingers, nose and other extremeties as the younger version is being tortured.
  • It's All About Me: Joe is incredibly selfish, willing to give up his best friend to protect his bank account. Even his future self is unwilling to make a profound personal sacrifice to save his wife's life, despite this being his supposed mission.
  • It's Quiet... Too Quiet: Young and Old Joe's encounter in the diner, before they're ambushed by Gat Men.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Young Joe (who at this point is still a fairly selfish Jerkass) bluntly tells Old Joe that if he truly wanted to save his wife, he could easily have Young Joe not marry her and thus her fate is averted, and Young Joe offers to promise just that right then. While very cold, he's still right.
  • Job Title: Joe himself as a Looper, obviously.
  • Karmic Death: All the loopers. After making a life by killing people, they end up killed by themselves. On a more specific example Old Joe, and to a lesser extent, Young Joe.
  • Killing Your Alternate Self: How often do you get a job, even as an assasin for hire, where killing yourself future self is considered normal? Young Joe takes pre-empts this in the end with a Heroic Suicide, killing his older self and stopping the Rainmker from being created.
  • Lampshade Hanging:
  • "Leave Your Quest" Test: A Deleted Scene has Old Joe balk at shooting a child, remembering that his wife wanted him to stop being a killer. He's about to throw his gat in a rubbish bin when a vision of his wife disappearing makes him reconsider.
    "If I picked up this, my life, given back to me, just like it was before. And she would never know what I did."
  • Lens Flare: All over the place. The creators seem to have a special liking for horizontal-blue-line flares.
  • Love at First Sight: When Young Joe stumbles onto Sara's farm and is treated for his withdrawal, Old Joe finds his wife being replaced with images of her, and has to concentrate to retain his old memories.
  • Love Redeems:
    • Subverted and inverted. At first, it seems that Old Joe's main motivation is to save his wife's life. But when Young Joe offers to memorize her picture and walk away when he meets her in the future, ensuring that she'll live without him, he refuses. Old Joe wants the life he had with his wife back, and he is willing to kill three children to get it. Love has made him more selfish, not less; he wants to have his cake and eat it too.
    • Double subverted when Sara's love for her son and his memories of his own mother inspires Young Joe's Heroic Sacrifice, setting things right.

  • The Mafia: Abe and his Gat Men.
  • Mama Bear: Sara makes an effort to be this trope personified, except she's way softer than she plays at. Most of her Badass is bluster, which Joe twigs to quickly.
    Sara: This is a Remington 870. One blast could cut you the fuck in ha—
    Joe: (cutting her off) In half. Yeah, that's telling. You're holding a gun, I say I'm not afraid, so you describe the gun to me. It's not the gun I'm not afraid of.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • When Abe tells Joe why he hired him in the first place, he tells him that, when they first met, he could see how his entire future life was going to go. He says that things were going to end badly, "so I changed it." At the end, Joe uses almost the same words.
    • Joe asks Suzie to stroke his hair like his mother did. After his heroic sacrifice, Sara strokes his hair in the same way.
  • Meaningful Name: The Rainmaker, named for his "Reign of Terror." Or the fact that he makes it rain blood as evidenced by his countenance after Jesse's death.
  • Mind over Matter: Telekinesis has been discovered by 2044, with 10% of humanity born with the potential for it. However, most people can't do much more than clumsily levitate quarters, with varying degrees of focus and effort required. Sara can easily levitate a metal cigarette lighter and casually spin it around in smooth circles. Cid can levitate all the furniture in a room, apply enough force to flip a moving vehicle, send out a shockwave that knocks over everything within a hundred yards, and make people explode. And that's before he learns to focus his abilities...
  • Misapplied Phlebotinum/Mundane Utility: The mafia uses time travel for executions and corpse disposal. Nobody else uses it because it's illegal. A more subtle use of time travel is money laundering; precious metals are sent into the past and exchanged for currency, creating a loop of untraceable funds for the mob. In addition, using precious metals as payment creates a self-perpetuating devaluation of said metals. In the future, it would cost the mob practically nothing to purchase large amounts of it as payment for their employees in the past, whose subsequent sale of the metal reduces its value and closes the loop.
  • Missing Mom: Revealed to be the Rainmaker's Start of Darkness if the loop Old Joe inadvertently started continued: Cid, enraged and in grief over his mother's death, decides to become the Rainmaker and kill all Loopers.
  • My Car Hates Me: At one point, Joe has to use Seth's incredibly unreliable bike to escape, and only just manages to start it up in time.
  • Mutilation Interrogation: What happens to Seth's younger self, leading to his future self having his body parts disappearing one by one.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: Certain adverts make it seem that Young Joe was on the run from Abe due to being rather unwilling to kill Old Joe, and that the two would end up grudgingly cooperating with each other. Sara and Cid are barely mentioned.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero/Nice Job Breaking It, Herod!: Old Joe tries to kill Cid, only to ensure he continues to become the Rainmaker in the process.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Kid Blue captures Joe and brings him back to Abe's club, only for Old Joe to wipe out Abe and his henchmen once there.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Common theme throughout the film.
  • No New Fashions in the Future: Played with. 2044 clothes for the most part look like ragged versions of 2012 ones, although Abe considers Young Joe's necktie (and general outfit) as being outdated and "too 20th Century." Ironically enough, from what people see of the world leading up to 2074, fashions seem to increasingly resemble The Forties with fedoras, overcoats and Casablanca-ish dresses.
  • Not So Different: Old Joe is apparently willing to kill three kids because they each might become the Rainmaker. Cid, who will become the Rainmaker, is trying to kill all Loopers, in the future, possibly because he figures one might be the guy who killed his mom.
    • Towards the mid-point of the movie, Old Joe goes on a lecture about how selfish and childish Young Joe is. Young Joe rebuffs him, saying he's willing to kill Old Joe to preserve his way of life. Old Joe, again, tells him how childish and selfish this is. Then Old Joe goes about killing children in an attempt to preserve the course he wants his life to take. Even the director acknowledged the similarity.
  • Oh Crap!: More like Oh, I just remembered I shoot myself 30 years ago. All the more priceless.
  • One-Man Army: The Rainmaker, a powerful telekenetic who takes over several extremely powerful crime syndicates singlehandedly. Also Old Joe, a highly trained killer who singlehandedly takes out Abe and all his henchmen.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Sara has a very noticeable Southern accent when she first 'meets' Joe. It disappears as the movie goes on.
  • Our Time Travel Is Different: Displaced persons appear with no fanfare — they just... appear and disappear, though traveling back into the past is a dramatic build-up of heat and wind. And what affects the past affects the future: this is used to dispose of those who escape their own Loops by chopping off parts, as well as scrawling messages via scars. Seth gets executed this way, and Old Joe simply disappears. In addition, traveling to the past screws your brain up and tears away chunks of important memory, especially when events that may-or-may-not-have-happened appear to happen, either restoring their memory or showing what "really" happened in the new timeline.
  • Person of Mass Destruction: Cid, a freakishly powerful telekinetic who may or may not become the Rainmaker, who's described as having destroyed five ultra-powerful crime syndicates at once.
  • Posthumous Narration: Joe narrates the movie before his suicide.
  • Red Baron: The Rainmaker, the terrifying future crimelord who sets the movie's plot into motion. That may sound like a relatively odd and unthreatening nickname... until you find out how he got it. Hint: he doesn't create rains of water...
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: Face prosthetics are used to make Gordon-Levitt look more like Willis rather than CGI. People complained that the CGI used to alter his face was bad.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: The film-makers initially planned to have Joe travel to Paris. They changed it to Shanghai after Chinese investors offered them money.
  • Regional Riff: The soundtrack is a mix of jarring industrial themes and powerful orchestrial pieces, with the former taking precident during the more violent sequences and city scenes, and the latter taking over for the more dramatic and rural parts.
    • A prime example of the transitioning exists in the "A Life In A Day" sequence (spoilers). The piece starts with pianos and percussion as Young!Joe travels to Shanghi, then immediately gives way to industrial noise when it cuts to him partying, abusing drugs, and committing crimes. The noises briefly die as the character transitions to Old!Joe, then return for a shot of a needle and the bar fight, before finally dying fully as Old!Joe spots his future wife and then settles down with her for the sequence end.
  • Reluctant Warrior: Downplayed. Sara doesn't want to kill anyone, but has to protect her farm from vagrants in some way. She uses a shotgun loaded with rock salt; highly unlikely to be fatal, but it hurts like hell.
  • Revolvers Are Just Better: Literally true in this movie. While the Loopers do the grunt work of killing targets and use crude blunderbusses, the elite Gat Men carry long-barreled, large-caliber revolvers.
  • Rousseau Was Right: The Rainmaker was rumored to have lost his mother at one point. In present time, the Rainmaker is just a boy named Cid who isn't able to control his powers and like any other child requires parenting.

  • Self-Made Orphan: Subverted. The woman who Cid killed wasn't his mother, even though he thought she was.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Old Joe's goal, in his own mind at least.
  • Screw Destiny: Young Joe's final act in the film, after trying to ensure a Stable Time Loop through the rest of the story.
    Joe: Then I saw it. I saw a mom who would die for her son, a man who would kill for his wife, and a boy angry and alone, the bad path laid out in front of him. I saw it, and the path was a circle, round and round. So I changed it.
  • Shades of Conflict: Hoo boy. Either Gray vs. Gray or Gray vs. Black, though the former has the edge.
  • Shaggy Dog Story: While the film ends with the Loopers wiped out and Cid's mother alive, there is nothing to suggest that time travel will not be invented still and the mafia in the future cannot re-establish the Loopers, and there is no promise that Cid will not become the Rainmaker. Word of God even admits that Joe is just one person, and it's unknown how large or small an impact his actions could make in the grand scheme of the time travel plot.
  • Shoot Him, He Has a Wallet!: Joe's Chinese wife is shot by a Gat Man who mistakes her ergonomic garden trowel for a gun.
  • Short-Range Shotgun: The "blunderbuss" is an extremely short range weapon, but inside of its range, it is, in Kid Blue's words, "impossible to miss anything closer [than 15 yards]." He also called it "a gun for fuck-ups" compared to his Gat, which makes sense because killing a bound and gagged man with a crude and overpowered shotgun at point-blank range is not exactly a job requiring a lot of skill.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Director Rian Johnson has stated that his film has references to among other things 12 Monkeys, Terminator, Back to the Future, Primer, Timecrimes, Witness, Casablanca, Domu and AKIRA.
    • Abe's club is named "La Belle Aurore", the French bar Rick and Ilsa were at during the German invasion in Casablanca. Joe's Character Development was also loosely based on Rick's own growth from a selfish man into a hero who would sacrifice his happiness to ensure another's. The scene in which Seth pleads with Joe to hide him is extremely similar to a scene between Ugarte and Rick. The message Joe carves in his arm is "Beatrix": the name of the waitress at the diner ... but it's also "Be at Rick's".
    • Joe's use of the Finger Gun and narcotic eyedrops are also borrowed from various French New Wave films.
      • More specifically, the utterance of "Bang" and the sensory effects the narcotic produces are both ripped straight from Cowboy Bebop.
    • Early in the film, Young Joe is shown in several scenes wearing dress pants and a wifebeater like John McClane, somewhat alluding to Willis playing his older counterpart.
  • Show, Don't Tell: The effects of future drugs, how Temporal Mutability works, and the Rainmaker's power are all shown in often horrifying ways before any explanation of them is given.
  • Shown Their Work: To a ludicrous degree. Numerous questions about the movie can often be sated by simply watching through again and paying very close attention.
    • For example, Old Joe only clips Cid with a bullet, yet somehow this turns into the Rainmaker having an entirely prosthetic jaw; on rewatch, however, the scene where Sara removes rocksalt from young Joe's shoulder has her explaining that, outside the city, it's very easy for wounds to get infected and require amputation, which would be a likely scenario for a kid hiding on a train with a bullet through his cheek.
  • Simultaneous Arcs: The scene where Joe finds the Gat Men looking for him after failing to kill his future self is seen from the younger and future selves' point of views.
  • Snowy Screen of Death: When Joe shoots his way into the hit men's headquarters, blasting security cameras as he goes.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: Sara has her first cigarette in a long while after she and Joe have sex.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Seth screws up closing his loop because his future self arrives singing a familiar song, making Seth hesitate long enough to confirm his identity. From there, Seth didn't have the nerve to follow through.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: An alternate montage of Joe's future in China is set to "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" as we see Joe committing shakedowns, firebombings and murders for his future employers.
  • Stealth Pun: Kid Blue shooting himself in the foot, and then proceeding to fuck up just about everything he tries to do in the film.
  • Stable Time Loop: Averted. You can mutilate or kill somebody's past self and their older self will be affected. Old Joe also nearly creates one by trying to kill Cid, thereby ensuring the Rainmaker will exist in all future loops, only for Young Joe to destroy the loop at the last second.
  • Start of Darkness: This would have been one for Cid if Old Joe killed his mother, leading him on the path to becoming the Rainmaker.
  • Steel Ear Drums: Averted when Kid Blue has his accidental discharge.
  • Strolling Through the Chaos: This is how Old Joe catches sight of his future wife, calmly walking through a Bar Brawl in a hotel lobby; Joe stops fighting to stare at her and make an (unheard) pass. She responds by Flipping the Bird.
  • Temporal Mutability: History can be altered, but the timeline actively tries to correct itself to absurd degrees. For instance, Old Joe almost ensures a Stable Time Loop that will create the Rainmaker in his attempt to destroy it.
  • Terminator Twosome: Old Joe and Young Joe, who are technically the same person.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The retired Looper who discovers a clue to the Rainmaker's identity is shown barricaded in a building under siege by armored personnel carriers.
  • Time Machine: The Mafia uses it to cleanly kill off those they have marked for death.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: Time travel works on some form of the Delayed Ripple Effect... most of the time. But while this lets characters Screw Destiny, create a Grandfather Paradox or ruin the future, history will try very hard to self-correct into a Stable Time Loop. Director Rian Johnson noted this is how Old Joe killing Cid's mother would prompt Cid to become the Rainmaker in all future loops.
  • Troll: Sara, back before she settled down, mentions that she used to mess with the "party trick" TK users by using her own TK to completely short-circuit the tricks they did.
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future: The film is set 32 years into the future from when it was released in 2012.
  • Villain Protagonist: Both Joes are hitmen. Young Joe is a hedonistic junkie who wants no part of his future's Crapsack World. Old Joe kills kids to ensure that his wife isn't killed by the Rainmaker's goons.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: Sara's shotgun, as Joe points out. Then she finds out he's there for something to do with Cid, and promptly shoots him. With rock salt.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: While he doesn't seem to be Abe's son, Kid Blue has this relationship with his boss.
    "All I wanted... all I ever wanted... was for you to tell me I done good."
    • Abe actually seems to encourage this to a certain degree, taking in boys and making them part of his organization young in hopes they'll view him as a father figure. His whole Affably Evil demeanor is built around it.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Old Joe wants to save his wife. Even if it means shooting children.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Old Joe. Cid/The Rainmaker as well.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Old Joe, in order to prevent one of them from becoming the mass murdering Rainmaker.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child: When Cid startles him, Jesse aims at him with his gun, but the moment he realizes its a kid, he raises his hands in the air to show he's not gonna hurt Cid. Not that it saves him from getting exploded by Cid's mind seconds later.
  • Wrestler in All of Us: Old Joe hits a leaping DDT during his escape from the Rainmaker's goons.
  • Wretched Hive: The unnamed city (it's probably Kansas City, KS and MO) that Joe works out of. He says that Abe taking over the whole town would be an impressive feat... in any other town.
  • You Called Me X, It Must Be Serious: Cid insists on calling Sara by her first name until one crisis too many; she talks him down when able. At which point he calls her "Mom."
  • You're Not My Mother: Played with. the truth is that Sara is Cid's birth mother, but she abandoned him for the party life, so he was raised by Sara's sister, and called her mom instead. He killed his aunt with his TK and feels guilty about it. That comes out as anger and resentment at his mother for having created the situation by abandoning him. Cid eventually recants having said it.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me:
    • When Sara tries to intimidate Joe with her shotgun, he's not impressed.
    Joe: You point a gun at me, I'm not scared, so you describe the gun to me? It's not the gun I'm not afraid of.
    • Subverted when she does shoot him — with a load of rock salt.
    Sara: You're right, I'm not a killer. But I'm okay with what rock salt will do to your face.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: The fatalist variation: Young Joe keeps trying to kill his future self as part of his Looper contract, thus sealing his own fate in a 30 year Stable Time Loop, while his future self attempts to destroy it.