Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Now a few days ago I saw Looper and would highly suggest it to anyone that likes time travel films, due to its clever ideas and interesting characters. But don’t go into it expecting a discussion on the science of time travel, since the film pretty much tells the audience â€œwe’re not worried about it in this filmâ€. Well I am, so I’m going to explain how it all works.
Note there will be spoilers in this blog, so best check out the movie first then read this. Unless you don’t mind being spoiled, in which case read away.
Now first some backstory should be set up. I’m gonna save time and just tell ya to watch the trailer, since it sums up better then I can. Suffice it to say that time travel is used to dispose of people from the future, including the looper themselves. Now it’s not established why it’s made illegal, whether the machine can go back more or less then 30 years or who else has it because, well, none of that actually matters. That’s not what this movie is about. But the rules in place seem to be this:
1)Time travel is something that does exist.
2)Any changes in the 2044 present effect what happens to someone or something in or from the 2074 present (aka giving the 2044 version a scar results in the 2074 version getting the same scar).
3)These changes are implied to have just happened and to have always happened (aka the scar is new and thirty years old at the same time).
It’s this third rule that really throws people out. Let me elaborate. Someone from the future arrives in the present and runs away. The mob gets the guy’s present self and cut off one of his fingers. To the future guy’s horror his finger is now gone and has always been gone, i.e. the wound has had thirty years to heal. This has always had happened. But that seems logical enough, right? The guy can live without a few fingers or a nose. Now the really confusing part is when he suddenly loses a foot. Now it seems like they really are breaking the rules. How can someone that has no foot could have a)lived for thirty years in this dystopia and b)run away in the first place. How would that make any sense whatsoever? Well lets see if we can tackle this tricky problem.
But just before that (if the film jumps about in time, I can too), let us establish the fourth rule: A future person can not know what their past self has done until after their past self has done it. Aka if their past self walks into a diner, the future self won’t know that his past self has done it until he has done it. The shortest version is that he’s got an almost psychic connection and can see what his past self sees. The slightly longer version is that his memories of his past is fuzzy until they are finalised by the past self’s action. So in this case the future really is unknown till the past catches up to it. So how to explain all this…
Now the first, and perhaps the one the movie is aiming at, is the â€œOne true timelineâ€ theory. In the film we see Joseph Gordon-Levitt shoot his future self and then live out his life, eventually becoming Bruce Willis. Lets call this timeline Timeline-A. Now when it’s A version of Joe to go back he does, landing in Timeline-B. It’s in this timeline that he does the mission he’s set out to do. It’s this timeline the film takes place in. In a sense the A version of time has been erased from history, replaced by the B version. That is, in a sense, how time works in this film’s opinion. Whatever happens last stays happened. The cause doesn’t necessarily outweigh the effect.
To spoil the film’s ending, JGL (aka Joe B) shoots himself, erasing Bruce Willis (aka Joe A) out of existence. However everything that Joe A has done stays done. It doesn’t magically stop happening. Likewise when someone’s finger is cut off, that is now the new order of things. It doesn’t matter if it’s impossible for the person to have done the stuff they did without that finger, the universe just shrugs and goes â€œThat’s the new way it worksâ€. It is the effect outweighing the cause. It doesn’t matter what gun the bullet comes from, but the fact that the bullet is fired at all. The reason why human memories don’t alter to fit this is because they operate in a much more linear fashion. To the future self’s view his finger has suddenly disappeared, when logically it would make sense for it to have always been gone. Now while the universe changes instantaneously, the mind takes the slow path. In thirty years time this guy would have known he’d lost that finger and thus accepted it. But upon arriving in the past all his memories are from a different timeline, Timeline-A, so as such his mind is still trying to adjust. So in short while the physical world is overwritten instantaneously, the mental world is not.
However I’d argue that in fact this is the perfect time to bring up my multi-universe theory and show how it works in this film. The multi-universe, for those not in the know, goes like this:
1)For everything possible thing that could exist there must be a universe where it does exist (standard alternate universe stuff).
2)The universe is, by it’s nature, infinite.
3)There are only a finite amount of possibilities, but an infinite amount of space.
4)All these finite possibilities must fit within the same space, aka we live in a multiverse nestled inside the universe.
Now the key to remember with this is that everything that could exist must exist, including alternate versions of the past, present and future. Time travel is, in a sense, just travelling to these alternate pasts that already exist. Likewise changing something in the past means you’re instead not changing your timeline, but instead going to a different timeline where it already existed like that (aka when Doc Brown says they created a new timeline in Back to the Future 2, what he actually means is they arrived in this new timeline that already existed).
But what if we take this one step further. Remember, a universe full of everything. Up to and including a universe where your 2012 self already exists in 1842 (it’s possible, therefore exists), and time travel is merely the thought transference of your consciousness where you think you’ve travelled when you haven’t. Aka you think you’ve travelled to 1842 when in actuality it’s only your mind that has.
But just one more step. Remember, your brain is just a bunch of firing neurons. So what if there is a version of you, looking like you do now, standing in 1842 and having his (or her) neurons fire in such a way that they think they’ve time travelled. Confused yet?
Well to look at it this way: Imagine the very smallest possible moment of time. The thing that takes time from being ‘now’ to being ‘then’. Take that moment and imagine every single possible thing that can come from it. From the likely (your neurons firing in such a way so that you can read these words) to the fantastical (we all suddenly turn into cars and have always been cars). Out of one moment all of these other future moments exist. And out of those all other possible future moments exist. So on and so forth.
So how does time travel work in Looper? Well imagine each cut (aka switch of shot) takes place in an entirely new universe. We cut to a shot of a man that has lost his nose, what we’ve actually done is travelled to the universe where that man has lost his nose. When we then cut to a shot of him losing an ear, once again we’ve travelled to another universe where he’s lost both his nose and ear. Again and again we visit these different alternate universes. So we end up in a universe where Joe A disappeared from existence but everything he does remains as it is. Since that is possible, that universe exists.
Time travel involves no time nor no travelling. It is merely the perception of it that makes the audience (and in turn your own consciousness) think that time is flowing, when instead we’ve been moving through universes like pictures on a film strip. Looper explains that principle if you think about it that way.
So there you have it. A very confused look at a very confusing (but good) film. If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.