With Academy Awards voting underway, EW’s Prize Fighter is kicking off the “Consider This” series, asking folks with Oscar histories of their own to share their personal favorites of the year. Jason Reitman, who had a best director nomination for Juno and was a writing, directing and best picture contender for Up in the Air, offered these thoughts about filmmaker Rian Johnson’s screenplay for the time-travel drama Looper, starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the younger version of Bruce Willis’ hitman, now forced to target his older self.
Here’s a fun fact… you know what Alien, Blade Runner, Close Encounters and The Matrix have in common? I mean, outside of being timeless groundbreaking movies that changed the way we watch cinema. None of these films were acknowledged for their screenplays — which makes me wonder, is it just because they have flying cars and hyperbaric sleep chambers and creatures with acid in their blood? Perhaps we’re so thoroughly engrossed that we dismiss how these films triumph in their examination of complicated ideas. Or maybe, as writers, we have some sort of prejudice against futuristic costume and production design.
If you break it down, at the center of these great science fiction movies are traditional writerly themes: mid-life crisis, motherhood, gender equality, and the fragility of human experience. Alien asked ground breaking questions about eco-politics and female empowerment. The Matrix delved deeper into the concept of perception versus reality than perhaps any other film I know. But for some reason, we tend not to remember the significance of their writing.
Looper isn’t a film about time travel. It isn’t a film about telekinetic powers. It isn’t about flying motorcycles or eye drop hallucinogens. It uses these concepts as well as any science fiction film I’ve seen, but it also knows the difference between a prop and a story. Time travel is a prop. Looper is about what your 55-year-old self would tell your 25-year-old self over a cup of coffee. It’s about finding love in the third act of your life. It’s about overcoming trauma and the idea of true sacrifice.
Looper is so deftly told that it’s easy to forget how difficult the maneuvers are that Rian Johnson is pulling off with grace and sophistication. His screenplay employs unparalleled structural fluidity, complicated and moving visions of the future, and a language of its own invention that is somehow foreign and yet just in our grasp. It’s size and ambition slip by the eyes and ears so stealthily and by the way … it’s an independently made film! Never has it been more important to consider the unique routes innovative stories take as they navigate their way to the big screen. One can only imagine what might have happened to Johnson’s screenplay had it been forced to pass through more hands.
There’s an unfortunate probability that the most original of the original screenplays this year has a chance of being overlooked. Rian Johnson’s Looper is inventive, entertaining, and thought-provoking in every way a movie can be. It is in fact the kind of movie that reminds us why we watch them and make them. A beautifully told story that deserves to be not only remembered, but acknowledged for its writing.
– Jason Reitman
Looper debuted in theaters Sept. 28 and comes on Blu-Ray Dec. 31.
The film has already won best screenplay from the National Board of Review and Washington DC Film Critics Association. It was also nominated in that category for the Broadcast Film Critics Awards, which also included mentions for best action movie, sci-fi horror movie, action actor (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and action actress (Emily Blunt).