The Biggest Question at the End of ‘Looper’ Is…

By  · Published on September 30th, 2012

Now that Looper is a decent hit – especially in China – we can anticipate that people will be discussing the movie around the web, the water cooler and wherever else we talk about movies these days. Much of the conversation will be devoted to the usual with the time travel subgenre: paradoxes, the workings of the time machine, plot holes, why wasn’t Hitler killed, etc. But with this particular story there’s one major point of discussion I’m interested in, and of course it involves spoilers. So, if you’ve seen the movie or are just one of those who don’t care about stuff being ruined, join me after the break as I ask…

Where is the younger version of Abe?

I know I’m not the only person to ask about Jeff Daniels’s character, a man who is said to have come from the future to set up the whole looper organization and wound up the country’s biggest crime boss in the process. Obviously he has a younger self somewhere, and it could have been very interesting for the story to tell us where he is. It’s not important or necessary to the plot, of course. Maybe he’s just a normal guy, a 9-to-5 suit even, who for whatever insignificant reason turns out to work for the bad guys 30 years down the road.

Or, maybe he’s the future self of Kid Blue (Noah Segan), a fuck-up lackey whom Abe keeps close by his side both to watch over and push in the direction of his own life’s goals. Abe probably isn’t even his real name and the kid may not even realize he’s actually working for himself. As far as I could tell and can recall, there is no reason these characters aren’t (or couldn’t be) the same person, and I was somewhat disappointed that by the end of the film their true relationship wasn’t revealed.

It makes sense that Abe is constantly so frustrated with Kid Blue but won’t do anything more than smash his hand with a hammer, and his derogatory nature to his younger self is very much paralleled in Old Joe (Bruce Willis) talking down to Young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Also, we can presume that Abe was being slightly punished in being sent back to relive years he’s already been through, even if he might have advantage as far as betting goes. He probably was still a sort of screw up later but was able to finally prove himself by acquiring easy power in the past.

I personally asked writer-director Rian Johnson about this nagging question of mine, and he gave me an answer via private message on Twitter. I won’t tell you what he said, if only because it’s more fun to contemplate such things on your own rather than getting certainties out of the artist (imagine going back in time to ask Leonardo Da Vinci if the Mona Lisa is really a portrait – maybe even a self-portrait – of a man in drag). I’ll point out that he’s been asked the question in interviews, as well, and responded concretely, but I’ll let the curious seek those out for themselves without linking.

Either way, Looper is still a great, thinking-person’s movie involving themes of age and time as providing authority and of strange father/son dynamics, both of which apply to the relationship between Abe and Kid Blue even if they’re not the same person. But I’ve found myself thinking even more about the film as a result of this speculative or theoretical observation.

Who’s with me in wondering about these characters’ special relationship while watching Looper – or even just asking whether young Abe would be revealed as someone else?

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.