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Needless to say, this feature is packed deep with SPOILERS, so if you haven't seen Looper, turn back now and click on another one of our fine articles.
Many time travel conversations have posed a particular scenario to those involved: going back in time to kill Adolph Hitler so World War II and the Holocaust never happen. Feel free to substitute any other tyrant and atrocities, but the point is that if you were able to travel back in time, would you do whatever necessary to prevent said tyrant from ever committing those atrocities? In 2012, the Rian Johnson-helmed Looper set up that situation when a retired assassin named Joe (played by Bruce Willis) traveled back 30 years to kill a child who would eventually grow up to be a ruthless criminal boss known only as the Rainmaker. This mission, unsurprisingly, complicates his younger self's (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) life, leading to a lot of shooting, cursing and explosions.
By the time Looper ended, it looked like Young Joe was successful in preventing the Rainmaker's rise to power. However, time travel is a complicated subject. In some tales, going back in time and changing certain events is an easy feat. In other cases, changing the past doesn't always mean that the future is significantly altered. So what's the deal with Looper? Is the future brighter because the Rainmaker will never be "born," or will the young boy (played by Pierce Gagnon) still grow up to be a telekinetic monster? That's what this features aims to determine. To start, let's recap what happened in the movie...
As young Seth (played by Paul Dano) learned from his older self, 30 years into the Looper world's future, the Rainmaker has seized power away from the five major bosses. This makes him the most powerful criminal in the county (if not the entire country), both in terms of his telekinetic abilities and stature. However, that isn't enough for the Rainmaker, as he's also closing out all the loops, i.e. killing every retired assassin, no matter what. Unfortunately for Old Joe, that resulted in his wife being gunned down when he was taken. Granted, he expected to be killed eventually because his loop closed, but he didn't think his wife would be lost in the process. Desperate to prevent the only person he ever loved from meeting her cruel fate, he overpowered his kidnappers and went back 30 years to kill the Rainmaker as a child, time travel repercussions be damned.
Old Joe successfully arrived back in the present time period, and after doing his best to make sure his younger self wouldn't interfere, he set out to kill all the children in that city with the Rainmaker's birthday to cover his bases. Meanwhile, young Joe, having seized a portion of Old Joe's map, traveled to the farm where Cid, the young Rainmaker, was being raised by his mother, Sara (played by Emily Blunt). While watching over them, Joe not only learned about Sara's past and her TK ability (something that approximately 10% of the population has at by this point history), but also saw firsthand how Cid is the most powerful TK the world has ever known. This explains how he's able to wipe out all his competition in the future; he just tears them apart with his mind.
Eventually Old Joe made his way to the farm, and Young Joe and Sara did their best to protect Cid, whose jaw is grazed by a bullet during the attack. This struggle culminates with Sara willing to sacrifice herself so her son can escape and Young Joe desperately trying to stop his older self, but unable to get close enough due to his injured leg. He also saw in his mind that Sara dying would set Cid on a path of angriness and loneliness. The Rainmaker's path, a circle going round and round. Left with no other choice, Young Joe shot himself with his blunderbuss, thereby wiping Old Joe from existence and saving both Sara and Cid. Since all the members of Abe's (played by Jeff Daniels) gang were also eliminated by Old Joe, that means that the mother and her son will get to live their lives in peace without any fear of retribution.
Mission accomplished. Right? Read on...
Why Joe Might Have Succeeded
The key to Young Joe's success is keeping Sara alive. When Old Joe and Young Joe were chatting at the diner, the former spouts off some rumors he's heard about the Rainmaker, one of them being that the criminal powerhouse watched his mother get shot. This was presumably the inciting event that led him to the dark side. Remember, even with Sara's parenting, there were times when Cid lost control of his power. Without her love and education giving him stability, he would have nothing reining him in, and he would become that feared criminal in the future.
Fortunately, Young Joe made the ultimate sacrifice, which, as he put it, broke the cycle, That, along with Old Joe gunning down Abe's gang, means ideally, Sara and Cid will live out their lives in peace. Sara can continue taking care of Cid, making sure he keeps his telekinetic powers under control. It won't be easy. Cid will probably still have the occasional tantrum, requiring Sara to hide in her closet vault until he calms down. Fortunately, Sara is determined to make sure he has a better childhood than she did, and now she has extra incentive to keep this up since she knows what will happen 30 years from now if he doesn't have the proper guidance. Oh, and he'll also keep learning about math, literature, science and all the skills that a well-functioning adult should have at least a basic grasp on. It's the telekinesis control that's the priority, though.
Why Joe Might Not Have Succeeded
The problem with understanding Looper's time travel is that the movie doesn't delve deeply into the rules. This is to spare us from getting a headache, or as Abe put it, "fry your brain like an egg." However, there's a distinct possibility that even with all of Young Joe's efforts, Cid will still become the Rainmaker. Here's the problem. In Old Joe's timeline, he never went back in time. He killed his older self and lived the next decades of his life as a criminal and junkie until he met his wife and cleaned up. It was only after she died that he went back in time to try to change the past. Let's now fast-forward to near the end of the movie, where Joe realized that if Old Joe killed Sara, the Rainmaker would be created. Don't forget, Cid's jaw was injured near the end of the story, and the Rainmaker having a prosthetic jaw was another rumor that Old Joe heard back in his era.
In case you missed it, we now have two separate realities where the end result is the Rainmaker's creation. In one timeline, Joe had nothing to do with the Rainmaker, meaning that someone else murdered Sara and hurt Cid's jaw. In another timeline that never came to pass, Old Joe is directly responsible for Cid becoming evil. So even though the odds are likelier that Cid won't become the Rainmaker since Sara is still taking care of him, it's not guaranteed. This also begs the question of who killed Sara in Old Joe's timeline. Was it a common criminal or did another Looper travel back to the past just like Old Joe? That might explain why Rainmaker was wiping out all the Loopers. On the surface, it looked like he was just taking care of loose ends, but maybe he also used this as an excuse to exact revenge against people like the person who murdered his mother and left him an orphan.
Looper's temporal insanity could be another Terminator situation. Terminator 2: Judgement Day's ending implied that the apocalyptic future filled with killer robots will never come to pass, but years later in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, we learned that Skynet's creation was merely delayed, not stopped. Even though past events were changed, the timeline still found a way of reverting back to its original course. This could be what happens in the Looper world, and no matter what a time traveler does when Cid is a kid, he'll still grow up to be the Rainmaker.
At this point, some of you will wisely point out that the difference between this new timeline and Old Joe's timeline, as well as the vision that Young Joe saw, is that Sara was dead in those. With her alive, Cid won't be tempted to grab power and seek vengeance against the Loopers. That's a fair point, but it doesn't guarantee that he will grow up to be an upstanding citizen. Even though Sara survived, Cid still witnessed a lot of things not meant for a child's eyes...or anyone's eyes, for that matter. He destroyed Jesse with his mind, he was caught in a car accident and he was struck by a bullet that nearly led to him killing his mother and Old Joe had the former not calmed him down. These events may have been traumatizing enough that Cid will still grow up to be a bad seed, though maybe not as destructive as he was in the previous reality.
Don't forget, this is also a world where things aren't exactly bright and shiny, at least in the United States. Poverty is at an all-time high, the police are controlled by these criminal organizations and it's easier than ever to score drugs. Assuming he ever leaves the farm, Cid will be exposed to the ugliness of modern society at some point, leading him down a bad path. Sadly, that is something that can't be avoided, and it will be up to Cid himself, not anyone else, to decide how he wants to contribute to society.
Looper is one of the more twisted time travel stories, and even after reading this feature, I'm sure many of you will continue puzzling over the movie's ending. That being said, despite all the concerns about timelines possibly repeating themselves, it looks like Cid can finally live his life Rainmaker-free. As we stated earlier, Sara staying alive was the key. Cid still walked away with a injured jaw and saw more carnage than any person should, but because Young Joe killed himself and erased Old Joe from existence before he could pull the trigger, the boy can live out the rest of his childhood with his loving mother. He wasn't so fortunate in the other timelines/realities, but thankfully, that cycle has been broken.
Does this guarantee that Cid will grow up to be a good person? No, of course not. Hell, he may even still get involved with crime when he's a young man, whether he seeks it out willingly or gets wrapped up in it accidentally. Still, with Sara's parenting, he stands a better chance of not becoming a telekinetic madman than he would have if he was alone and filled with fury. 30 years from the "present," those gangs will still be operating on their own accord, which is a shame, but at least they won't have the world's most powerful TK leading them. Plus, keep in mind that with telekinesis as enhanced as his, Rainmaker could conceivably have destroyed the world if he wanted to. The future could have become much worse than the whispers we heard.
Of course, this is good news for Cid and Sara, but not for Joe. Because he killed himself, he'll never meet his wife and find the peace he was desperately craving, but at least he went out nobly, not only sparing his would-be wife, but all those who would have been causalities from the Rainmaker's actions. That's a significant progression from the man who earlier was unwilling to give up half his silver to save a friend's life.
What's your take on Looper's ending? Is the Rainmaker gone for good or will Cid still grow up to be that criminal? Let us know what you think in the comments below.