How Looper revolutionised mainstream, low-budget filmmaking

Looper was released just on the 28th of September 2012 marking its fifth-year anniversary. The Rian Johnson written and directed movie (he is also making the upcoming STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI) is set in a bleak, dark future in which time travel exists. The mob uses this technology to send people back in time to the present to be executed by hitmen, one of them being Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). But then one day the mob wants to close the ‘loop’ by sending Joe’s older self (Bruce Willis). When I initially heard about the film one thing came to mind: why has a similar movie with this plot never been made before? The plot of the movie virtually defines high concept filmmaking and was also crafted on a budget of $30 million. The movie was extremely successful making over $176 million worldwide (according to Box Office Mojo). Because of this, I this film resulted in the resurgence of original, low-budget and mainstream studio-based film-making in the modern era. To prove this, I will discuss the elements that combine to making this film so unique: creativity, structure and production.

Spoilers for Looper below.

The ideas embedded within the movie are what makes Looper so unique. As well as elements of time travel (setting up the foundation of the movie), the mob world is explored, telekinesis also exists in society, drug addiction is dwelled into, notions of family and love are discussed and so…….much…….more. And it is not as though these are singular ideas thrown in just to make the film seem ‘original’; these concepts are stringed together in multiple ways making each scene just as layered as the next. One incredible part that pretty much shows how unique this film is occurs early in the movie where younger Seth (Paul Dano) had been captured by the mob. As younger Seth let his future self go, the mob had to lure future Seth back to close the loop. As future Seth was travelling to find his younger self, younger Seth was being operated in real time and we start to see future Seth’s body change in real time. Eventually, future Seth gets captured becoming a shadow of his former self. The genius behind this scene was that it was no doubt gruesome, yet you see no violence being caused, no blood is dropped and yet the scene is still extremely effective. Also, the scene sets up for what occurs at the end of the movie too again stringing ideas and scenes together.

The structure of the film follows a standard three-act assembly yet each act follows a unique story and again Rian Johnson intertwines seamlessly. The first act sets up the world and the characters; second act explores future Joe’s story and the quest to find the Rainmaker; third act follows Emily Blunt’s character, Sara and her relationship with her child. On paper this seems like a simple structure but if you delve into the film more, certain elements (like Joe’s alternate timeline and the Sara story) can seem independent and out of place from the initial movie so much that each act can form their own movie. But again, Rian Johnson blends these elements together so the story does not feel jumbled and the pace is consistent.

There is no question that this movie is very much an indie movie. But it is this fact that allowed certain risks in storytelling to be taken. There was no studio interference allowing Johnson to write the script he wanted to and tell the story that needed to be told. The budget was low proving that big explosions, action spectacles and heavy computer graphics are not needed to make a movie effective. This has been proven by the critical reception it received and the relatively high box office collection.

The movie is one of the most original and creative movies I have ever seen. Whether that be the ideas embedded within the movie or the structure of the film itself; these elements combine creating a darkly comical, emotionally wrenching and unpredictable film. The lack of studio interference allowed risks to be taken as well. Looper has proved that low-budget, original movies can be successful as is evident in film today: Get Out, Baby Driver, It Comes at Night, Okja, Split to name a few have emerged as major hits. Clearly the mainstream audience wants more original film-making because they act as a breath of fresh air among big-budget, franchise blockbusters. As a result, studios have realised this and are more inclined to allow this to happen.


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