Episode 222: Portrait of The Artist as An Old Man Coming to Visit Himself as A Young Man

The Overthinkers tackle Looper, written and directed by Rian Johnson, Starring Joseph “Gordonian Knot” Levitt and Bruce Willis.

Ben Adams, Peter Fenzel, and Mark Lee, David Shechner, Jordan Stokes, and Matthew Wrather overthink Looper, Directed by Rian Johnson, starring Joseph “Gordonian Knot” Levitt and Bruce Willis.


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Further Reading

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Looper
Wallace Stevens

Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the looper.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three loopers.

The looper whirled in the autumn winds.
It was a small part of the pantomime.

A man and a woman
Are one.
A man and a woman and a looper
Are one.

I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The looper whistling
Or just after.

Icicles filled the long window
With barbaric glass.
The shadow of the looper
Crossed it, to and fro.
The mood
Traced in the shadow
An indecipherable cause.

O thin men of Haddam,
Why do you imagine golden birds?
Do you not see how the looper
Walks around the feet
Of the women about you?

I know noble accents
And lucid, inescapable rhythms;
But I know, too,
That the looper is involved
In what I know.

When the looper flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

At the sight of loopers
Flying in a green light,
Even the bawds of euphony
Would cry out sharply.

He rode over Connecticut
In a glass coach.
Once, a fear pierced him,
In that he mistook
The shadow of his equipage
For loopers.

The river is moving.
The looper must be flying.

It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The looper sat
In the cedar-limbs.

17 Comments on “Episode 222: Portrait of The Artist as An Old Man Coming to Visit Himself as A Young Man”

  1. pxib #

    I feel you guys missed the obvious one during the opening question (though Shechner came close): As older me, I would say whatever I remembered older me saying that convinced me not to shoot him the last time this happened.


    • fenzel OTI Staff #



  2. cat #

    Now, I’ve never seen Big. But at 22:23 when Matt says Tom Cruise… that can’t be right, can it?


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      I thought Tom Cruise was also great in Bosom Buddies.


  3. L33tminion #

    Spoilers below, of course:

    I thought the scene in the diner was a great “take that” to the over-thinking audience. Despite that (when has that sort of thing ever stopped people like me?), the movie did have very interesting rules of time-travel, which it used to great effect in the story. One interesting rule was that, aside from actually sending something or someone back in a time machine, characters could only affect the present and future, not the past. That’s demonstrated early on: Cutting up Young Seth causes Old Seth to suddenly be disfigured and traumatized, but doesn’t change the fact of Old Seth having escaped in the first place. Likewise, killing Young Joe causes Old Joe to cease to exist, but doesn’t undo all the stuff that’s already happened.

    (Also thought it was great how that provides a real explanation for why Abe thinks killing Young Seth would be too much of a change even though carving him up isn’t: Kill him and Old Seth vanishes, along with the gold.)

    Someone on the show asked why Cid became the Rainmaker in the first, pre-Old-Joe iteration. I thought that was clear from the movie, Joe is both the solution to and the perpetuation of the whole Rainmaker loop. If Young Joe never shows up, Sarah never reconnects with her son. If Old Joe isn’t stopped, Sarah reconnects with her son and then is immediately killed (which mirrors how Old Joe is “saved” by the woman who loves him, but is back to being a cold-blooded killer after she’s killed).

    Finally, wanted to say something about the question of whether Old Joe and Young Joe are the same person. At the very least, they have the same tragic flaw. Young Joe is willing to sell out his friend for silver (more generally, for “something he can call his own”). Old Joe thinks killing the Rainmaker will somehow get him back with his wife (or at least save her), and he’s willing to kill innocent children to do it. I could imagine a movie where that scenario is just played as a twist on the usual “go back in time to kill Hitler” trope, but it’s pulled away from that by making it very, very clear that Old Joe isn’t planning to kill the Rainmaker for altruistic reasons.


  4. The Eye Collector #

    When you were discussing solipsism and this idea that ‘well if I kill myself everything will be better in this timeline’ I couldn’t believe no-one brought up the obvious comparison – Donnie Darko! My friends and I argued about that endlessly when we first watched it – we couldn’t agree if (spoiler) his decision to stay in his room and get crushed by the jet engine was a heroic act of self-sacrifice for the greater good, or an immature unwillingness to deal with the difficulties and challenges of life without going ‘this sucks, I can’t deal with it, I’m done now.’ Plus, in the timeline in which he dies the paedophile ring never gets uncovered, so… yeah. I think we can conclude from this that I watched this movie too many times as an impressionable young person.


  5. Ed #

    I can think of two examples in Star Trek where having too much knowledge was a bad thing. The first is the Department of Temporal Investigations and their Temporal Prime Directive. They were introduced in DS9 when Sisko goes back in time and meets Kirk during the Original Series “Trouble With Tribbles” episode. They are re-introduced in Voyager due to the numerous times Voyager messes with time. They are very specific that having future knowledge could be disastrous to the time line.

    Obviously, this does not prevent Admiral Janeway from traveling back in time with future knowledge to bring Voyager home earlier in the series finale, as well as providing future technology (which comes to play in the Expanded Universe when the tech she provides is used during a new Borg invasion).

    The second example was in the Voyager episode Omega regarding the Omega particle, something so dangerous that the explosion of a single molecule destroys space and subspace and renders warp travel impossible. The Omega Directive (Star Fleet has lots of Directives) says that any Star Fleet vessel encountering Omega must destroy it and any knowledge on how to discover or synthesize it.

    So even in Star Trek, too much knowledge can be a bad thing.


  6. LeighH #

    A subtle example of future dystopia: crops. Emily Blunt grows sugar cane. In Kansas. The only way that could happen is if there has been significant climate change, including warming and a change in precipitation patterns. In order to get the right future look for Kansas – and to find some cane fields – the film was shot in Louisiana.


  7. Howard Member #

    Fenzel, I always appreciate a good Dragonball Z reference (and good job sneaking one in when you were talking about Doctor Who).

    A tachyon is a particle that always travels faster than the speed of light, which is currently purely hypothetical. After looking it up on Wikipedia, there’s another definition that is SUPER technical – the name “tachyon” also refers to a quantum field with an imaginary mass, which is not a way I’ve heard it used very often, but there you go.

    Dave, I think what you were talking about is Noether’s Theorem, which states that a symmetry of a system leads to a conservation law and vice versa. It’s actually quite beautiful. The idea is that if you observe a system that has, say, spatial translational symmetry (ie the laws of physics don’t depend on where you’re standing), that directly leads to conservation of linear momentum. The other classic examples are rotational symmetry leading to conservation of angular momentum and time symmetry leading to conservation of energy.


  8. Gab #

    Saw it Monday, been too busy to join in until now. Sorry for the late entry, but…

    A stretch-of-a-parallel I kept thinking of during the movie was one with the Clint Eastwood movie Unforgiven. The wife of Eastwood’s character is never shown, but supposedly they fell in love and he gave up his life as, basically, an assassin, to be with her and raise a family. No real explanation as to why she’d go into a relationship with a cold-blooded killer, let alone marry him and stuff. All we see is how much he cares for her, even after she’s gone, and that he feels himself sort of venturing away from her as he kills more people. The rest of the plots are entirely different, but that, at least, struck me as rather similar.

    I was really intrigued by the messages on the bodies of the loopers. Somewhat loosely using the conversation between the two Joes in the diner, as the past timeline changes, the future person’s memory’s also change. So not only was old Seth losing parts of his body, but was he also gaining memory of his torture? Not that it matters much, other than that would probably make it even more horrific.

    Ah, Doctor Who. One theme that presents itself is the idea of “fixed points” in time. By this, I mean (as the Doctor explains) there are certain events in time/history that absolutely cannot change or be changed. So, SPOILERS, he figures out some alien race is controlling Mt. Vesuvius and lets it erupt in order to kill them, sacrificing the population of Pompeii in the process (except he does save one family); Rose’s father HAS to get hit by a car; the crew on the first Mars colony HAS to die. There are some little insertions to suggest that the Doctor is basically the reason for a lot of our history (feeding Shakespeare some of his most famous lines, being Nixon’s inspiration for recording his conversations), but there’s a lot less “be careful when you mess with time” in the series than one would expect, given how seriously he supposedly takes the responsibility he has to the universe as “the only” time traveler. And I feel like time’s structured like Superman’s powers- however best to suit the episode, in other words. One episode, it’s a single timeline; another, it’s more like a few. It’s interesting because the show actually addresses this directly in one of the more famous episodes during the 10th Doctor’s run:


    The show itself sort of does what he’s describing, goes from the strict progression in one episode, to that ball.

    All this to say, I think the world created in Looper is more like the latter. Which would explain why even though the Rainmaker supposedly doesn’t exist any longer, Young Joe still needs to kill himself; Seth is tortured, but Old Seth is still transported back in time; etc.

    I feel like there’s a vague A Wrinkle in Time reference, here, but I haven’t read those books in over fifteen years…


  9. Timothy J Swann #

    I still haven’t caught up with the podcast, but if I had any video-editing skill I’d like to do the conclusion of Looper followed by a clip from Inception of Arthur saying ‘paradox!’


    • Gab #

      I totally heard a guy say, “I was waiting for him to say, ‘paradox,’ the whole time,” as I was walking out of the theater after seeing it. ;p


      • Timothy J Swann #

        It was the obvious thought, but usually when I have an obvious thought (e.g. rewatching Inception the one line where Tom Hardy sounds like Bane) the Internet provides me with the video for it.


    • fenzel #

      Why not splice in a clip of Jeff Goldblum from Independence Day saying “Checkmate”?


      • Timothy J Swann #

        For some reason on top of that I just want all the clips of Harrison Ford saying ‘snakes’ from Indy.


  10. Timothy J Swann #

    Lee’s song to keep himself from killing himself should surely be “I’ll Be Back”, no? It’s extra funny since Looper is Terminator (2) meets the Omen.


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