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'Looper': A page from our own Story

FilmDistrict/TriStar Pictures

Then I saw it. I saw a mom who would die for her son, a man who would kill for his wife, a boy, angry and alone, laid out in front of him the bad path. I saw it and the path was a circle, round and round. So I changed it. ~Joe Simmons, Looper

When Looper came out last fall, it generated a lot of buzz as a smart and noteworthy science fiction film. I missed it in the theater but caught it recently and found it a thought provoking story—and one that could be a page from our own.

Looper is set in 2044, when “loopers”—low level but well-paid assassins—kill hooded and bound targets sent back by criminal organizations from 30 years in the future (where time travel has been invented but outlawed). But the job, as 25-year-old looper Joe Simmons (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) puts it, “doesn't tend to attract the most forward thinking people.” Eventually, the crime bosses “close the loop” by sending back the older looper to be killed by his younger self, who then receives a huge payoff and can live the next 30 years as he pleases. When Joe fails to kill his older self, we watch the lengths to which both the older (Bruce Willis) and younger Joes will go to save others in a world that is all too much like our own.
Looper presents us with a bleak world, one I find reminiscent of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford or Children of Men. Its Ecclesiastes-like tone captures an ancient weariness of repetition and vanity. The plans we make, the empires we build, the wealth we strive for, the quests for power and control—all mere dust in the wind, doomed to be sought after and ultimately lost by generation after generation.

The film’s themes are powerful and weave together well. Much has already been written of the film’s exploration of violence as a vicious and escalating cycle or “loop” that destroys souls, lives and civilizations. Looper also lays bare the human condition and our spiraling propensity for selfishness and destruction. It starkly portrays how one choice can lead to another until we are speeding so fast down a path so dark that we can’t recognize ourselves anymore.

Yet Looper also explores themes and images reflecting the profound power of loveWe see it in Sara’s (Emily Blunt) repentant, tenacious, self-denying, willing-to-die-for-her-son love and Joe’s life-altering decision to break the loop of violence. Both are acts of the deepest and most redemptive expression of love: sacrifice. And those acts break the cycle of violence and restore a thread of hope

Framed by the film’s Ecclesiastes-toned world caught its own monstrous and violent loop sludging towards destruction, that hope feels tenuous. Looper left me yearning for something more—not from the film itself but something to save our world and the people in it.

Looper may be a science fiction film set 40 years in the future, but it is a haunting and profound presentation of our own world and condition—both in its darkness as well as its light.

While faith and God are not mentioned in the film, Looper is saturated with the language of and longing for salvation in a broken world full of broken people. It is permeated with the yearning for meaning, restoration, redemption and freedom from the cycle of violence and death.

As we watch, we yearn for something to intervene. And when the thing that changes everything is love, it resonates with us. We know love changes everything because it is imprinted on the marrow of our soul.

According to our own Story, the capacity to love and sacrifice is inherent in us because we bear the image of the One who created us—who is Love. But we are, as Scot McKnight reminds us, “broken image bearers.” As broken beings, there are limits to our power to love and redeem. Our efforts, as momentous and stunning as they are, can’t save the world. We may break a loop, but—like the Ecclesiastes-toned world of Looper—there are more always festering; we are caught in a larger loop of brokenness and destruction.

But our Story is all about God changing that. As Peter puts it, Jesus, “following the deliberate and well-thought-out plan of God” to redeem, restore and resurrect we broken image bearers, showed us how we were meant to live. And in an act of unparalleled sacrificial love, he laid down his life—and then “God untied the death ropes and raised him up. Death was no match for him.”

That changed everything. The loop was broken and the Way opened for God to remake our shattered images.  As C.S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity, God invites, “[G]ive yourself to me and I will make of you a new self—in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.” 

We are created to love—and even in our broken state we love profoundly. But, as Lewis puts it in The Great Divorce, “You cannot love a fellow creature fully till you love God.” When God’s heart becomes our heart, our profound capacity to love grows because we live and breathe in a Love that is remaking the world and all its creatures.

Looper gives us our own world, one yearning for redemption where love has the power to save. In the end, I found Looper a work of art on truth’s path that leads to the One who made us to love, to the Name that can raise us, the one Name alone that can save us all—to the One who breaks the loop and changes it all for good.