Most of us when young endured the advice of well-meaning senior citizens on why we shouldn’t make the same mistakes they did. Ho-hum. We’re invincible, we know everything. Only decades later do we realize how stupid we were — and wish we had listened.

What if you were a young man and the person giving you advice was actually yourself — your older self, transported from the future — and he was sitting across from you at a restaurant table — same scars you have, less hair, lots of wrinkles and more attitude? The fact that this old man is alive and well, instead of dead as you had intended him to be, makes you face the weird truth that in your life script, you’re both the hero and the villain. You are, indeed, your own worst enemy.

The way your world has stacked the deck, if you want to stay alive, you have to hunt down and kill your older self. But your older self doesn’t want to die. He’s made a happy life for himself in the future, and he won’t hesitate to kill you to get back home.

As an audience member you might say, “Hey, if you killed your older self, wouldn’t that mean you never got to become that older self?” Good question, but a pointless one. There is no internal logic in the concept of time-travel. Don’t even dally with the age-old theory — could you change a perilous future if you could change the past? The answer is simple — yes and no.

Time-travel, with its reality-fracturing conundrums, is the basic premise of the terrific new sci-fi thriller, Looper. In this literate, thoughtful, and exciting tale from still-wet-behind-the ears American filmmaker Rian Johnson (whose quirky The Brothers Bloom was on my Top Ten Best for 2008 films), the future is an extension of the worst of our world today. Crime lords run things in America, and the most fiendish is a sadist named Abe, played with reptilian ferocity by usual nice guy Jeff Daniels.

Time-travel is illegal but the crime lords use the new invention to get rid of their troublesome underlings. They transport them 30 years into the past, blind-folded and on their knees, and when they land in an isolated cornfield, they are immediately shot by a young hired gun, called a looper. Then their bodies are incinerated. All traces of their existence, present and future, gone without a trace. The best of the loopers is Joe (the enigmatic Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Unlike his fellow assassins, such as boastful Seth (Paul Dano), Joe eschews expensive boy-toys. Instead, he hoards the silver bars he gets paid in and dreams of living in Paris.

Joe’s life is on track until the moment he realizes that his latest target is his future self. In the split-second he hesitates to pull the trigger, Old Joe (a riveting Bruce Willis) escapes. To deal with the furious crime lord Abe and his insane, Gatling-hoisting minions, Joe must “close the loop” — and murder Old Joe. Causing an emotional detour, and adding a curious mystery subplot to the action, is Sara (Emily Blunt, mesmerizing as always), a farmer with a strange, hard to love son.

Old Joe is a wily quarry, and his passion to return to his wife in Shanghai (the luminous Quin Xu) is a motivation young Joe can’t derail. Time, once an easy-to-ignore given in their individual lives, now becomes a curse that can destroy either or both men in the blink of an eye — and shows no mercy to the innocent people caught in their wakes.

In Looper, time doesn’t go forward in an inevitable tick-tock. It spirals back and forth, twisting on itself, tying itself in knots like an enraged serpent. No one is safe in its violent gyrations and only one man, young or old, can decide how to calm the wild beast. Don’t miss this unforgettable film.

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