Rian Johnson’s Looper finally has opened in theaters! Stop reading this and go. Go!
What’s that? You’re back? Good. Because while attending the Toronto International Film Festival – where Looper served as the Opening Night film – Johnson took time out of his busy schedule to entertain our time-traveling theories and hash out emotional details over coffee. It’s a piece best saved until after you’ve seen Looper, as we dive into story specifics that you might not want to learn in an interview. But bookmark this conversation (as well as our chats with Looper stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt) for post-screening reading. Because you are going to want to read, write and talk about Looper after you’ve seen it, and Cinema Blend is a great place to start.
Here’s Rian Johnson:
Tell me about being the Opening Night film at TIFF.
It was kind of a blur. It was so big and so overwhelming, in a lot of ways. But, the way that we make the movies that we make, we have a consistent, tight group … this little family that moves from film to film. We all get together and make a movie. Joe, whom I’ve known since Brick. Noah Segan, whom I’ve also known since Brick. Steve [Yedlin], my cinematographer whom I’ve been best friends with since I was 18. Or my composer, Nathan Johnson, who is my cousin and we have been working together since we were kids. Sitting in that theater and being surrounded by that family, that helped to ground the whole thing. That was kind of nice.
You’ve had this idea behind Looper for many years.
I wrote the initial idea for this almost 10 years ago. At the time, I was reading a lot of Philip K. Dick, and my mind was just in that sci-fi world. But it was always just this situation … I don’t remember what came first with it, but it was always this set up of a younger hitman who is sent back his older self to kill, and he can’t pull the trigger. Then there’s a chase, basically. That was the initial hook of it.
It was only in the past couple of years that the bigger themes, and Emily’s part of the story, attached themselves and I realized that they could be served by this sci-fi hook, and that’s where it all grew from.
How detailed did you get in your own mind in terms of all of the things that we don’t see?
In terms of the time travel?
No, not exactly. You have a fascinating montage that shows the passage of 30 years. And when you checked in with the characters, I wished that we could have stayed in those periods for a little bit longer to see how much things have changed. How much of that did you fill in when writing all of that?
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Listen, the temptation – not only there, but also with the time travel – is always there to want to dig deeper and deeper. Because you do build out a whole mythology for it. The thing is, you have to discipline yourself as a storyteller and realize what your story is. You have to realize that moments are really important, and you can’t give yourself the indulgence of spending a second of film time going beyond that. That process continues in the edit room. The China sequence you are talking about was originally twice as long in the edit room. And I’ll tell you, if you’d seen that cut of it, you would have been bored. You would not have wanted to see more of it. We kept paring it back. We realized, “You may think that you want to see more about this stuff, but in reality, the second something is just explanation of something that isn’t crucial to the main line of the story, you instantly feel it.” It may be interesting, but you don’t need to know it.
The time travel is the same thing. I came up with a very elaborate, and I think pretty solid, theory about how all of the paradoxes and everything works. And then it’s a matter of figuring out how much of that you can not explain.