“Looper” Advanced Screening and Q&A with Director Rian Johnsonby Jo W. on Sep, 15 2012
At the Shattuck Cinema this past Wednesday evening, the newest Rian Johnson science-fiction film, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, and Emily Blunt, played for a small audience of Cal students, followed by a Q&A session with the director.
The premise, as stated by Joseph Gordon-Levitt (who did not attend the screening, to the dismay of fangirls) in this trailer countdown preview, is, “What would you do if you had to hunt down and kill your future self?” He continues to add in with a light-hearted boyish laugh, “My future self is played by Bruce Willis, which is how you know it’s a movie, ‘cuz in real life I’d be screwed!”
Joseph Gordo-Levitt plays Joe, a 25-year-old assassin for a powerful mafia as a “Looper.” Time travel has yet to be invented in the year 2044; however, when it does exist thirty years later, time travel will be deemed so dangerous, governments will ban it. Nonetheless, the greatest criminal organizations have access to time travel and utilize it to send targets back to a designated place in the year 2044, where Loopers will kill and dispose of their bodies, thus obliterating their existence. Loopers are paid handsomely, given the condition that they never let a target escape, even if it means the target is their own future self.
When Joe is sent a 55-year-old version of himself (played by Bruce Willis) and fails to shoot him, his mafia company is out to kill him – both the current and future Joe. Letting your future self run away, which is referred to as “Letting your Loop run,” has severe consequences. So, both versions of Joe, at age 25 and 55, are on the run, hiding and fighting for their lives, with younger Joe hunting his older self while the elder Joe swears revenge for the death of his wife.
Looper is a sci-fi film that interlocks themes of morality, family dynamics, and a dystopic future. As of now, it has a rating of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. While I could write a lengthy review praising this film, I would only regurgitate what all the other critics are saying. Perhaps what made this screening unique was that the director himself, Rian Johnson, appeared for a Q&A session with the audience. Read on!
NOTE: Because recording devices were prohibited, the abridged Q&A session, as follows, is a paraphrased version of what was said in the theater. What is written here aims to capture the essentials of Rian Johnson’s words, if not completely verbatim. Apologies for any misinterpretations.
Q: Where did the idea for Looper come from?
A: I was working on this with my cinematographer, who I met during my freshman year at the dorms at USC. Without thinking of any way that would benefit our careers, we would just have fun making short movies. I wrote a 3-page script. I had the basic idea of the elder and young versions of the same man chasing each other around the city. The ending of this script is pretty much the same as what you just saw in the movie. Eventually, I gave it some new themes, blew it up, and made it into this movie.
Q: What was the process like to get Joseph Gordon-Levitt to look like Bruce Willis?
A: Kazuhiro Tsuji, this amazing Japanese makeup artist who has worked with Joe before, put photos of Joe and Bruce next to each other and said it was impossible, since their features were significantly different, especially with the distance between their eyes. I was very persistent about asking him to take on the challenge, and ultimately, he agreed to do so, and adjusted a few key features on Joe. But really, it was Joseph’s acting that pulled it all off. He was very smart in his research – not only did he hang out with Bruce, he would only watch Bruce’s more recent films. He felt that it was important see how Bruce Willis functioned at his current age, and to avoid being a Saturday Night Live caricature of a young Bruce Willis, and bring life to a character, a man, and his thoughts and actions in his youth. Nothing digital was done with the faces.
Q: Tell us about the design of the movie.
A: When I was writing the script, I tried to be very disciplined, and focused more on the script and character development, rather than how the world would look. The production designer, who worked for Steven Spielberg, came up with every design choice based on the need of the story. The dystopic futuristic city is very dangerous, and represents how Joe is very protective of what he has. There’s no middle class, so there’s no cushion to fall back on if you fall and lose everything.
Q: Discuss the family dynamics in this film.
A: Hopefully that’s one part of the film that’s examined more closely. There’s a lot going on with parallels of mothers and sons, and sons who didn’t have mothers growing up. But I had a great mom who gave me a great childhood. Nothing’s your fault, Mom!
Q: The film dealt with children and lots of violence against children. What was your filming and thought process like when you have to film scenes like that?
A: I had to have very heavy discussions before filming those scenes. I thought of them from the audience’s point of view, and I was trying very hard not to create a reaction from a movie goer who watches a scene with a kid being killed in which the movie goer believes I did it for shock value, and think, “Okay, you shocked me. F*** you!” and bash the rest of the film. We really wanted to film this from a moral standpoint, with moral distinctions, and make sure it was coming from the right place.
Q: How did you approach the rules of time travel?
A: I wanted to treat time travel as an organic being. But it’s sort of like math equations, where there are all these rules, and that if you do this, then then happens, and then this happens, and so on. But it’s not like a machine. Something happens, and you have to watch and see what happens to it, instead of expecting something exact to happen. It was very messy, and of course, the past self had to influence the future self. If the current self got cut, then the future self, in his current existence, would suddenly get a scar from that cut. I was talking to one of my friends, who’s a time-travel specialist, and would object to me calling him a time-travel specialist, and say that time travel is essentially impossible, and that my movie is ridiculous.
Q: Do you have any advice for actors?
A: I’m going to say it’s pretty unsexy advice. It’s going to be the sort of “Oh, thanks…buddy” advice. Actors don’t have the advantage that writers and directors have. Writers can just keep on writing and creating, and a director can just pick up a camera and create whatever he wants. But actors have to do the same thing over and over again, and are at the mercy of whatever they can find and whoever would pay attention to them. To be an actor, you must be persistent, continue to hone your craft, keep doing it over and over again, and not disappear. If you’re good, and if you continue to stick around, eventually you’ll be noticed. Very unsexy advice. Good luck, buddy!
Q: As both a director and writer, how do both roles influence the movie?
A: As a director, I find that I tend to treat other writers’ works more preciously, and try not to deviate too much from the original material. But with my own works, after I write, and then switch to directing, I fix a lot of things that may have seemed great in the writing but aren’t working out so well on camera. I’m a slow writer, so it takes me about a year to finish a write. After I’m done writing, I have to switch roles, and then it brings on a much more collaborative spirit that’s very rewarding.
Looper will be released in theaters nationwide on September 28!