Diagramming Timelines with Straws (Time Travel in ‘Looper’)
Removing my professor’s tam and applying my fanboy’s prosthetic forehead for just a moment, I haven’t seen anyone clearly state how time travel and the iteration of timelines works in Looper. Here it is, as best that I can tell:
Loop 0: The original timeline, in which time travel is invented in the future, at which point someone or something is sent back into the past for the first time.
Loop 1: The new timeline caused by the appearance of the new object or individual.
Loop x-3: Joseph Gordon-Levitt is recruited as a looper and murders a bunch of people, eventually leaving the business and growing up to become Bruce Willis. Thirty years in the future, he is captured by gangsters, bound, gagged, hooded, and sent back in time to be assassinated by his younger self.
Loop x-2: This is the timeline we see in flashbacks to in the movie, in which Joseph Gordon-Levitt murders a bound-and-gagged version of older self immediately after Bruce Willis arrives back in time. Afterwards, he moves to China, gets married, and is eventually captured by gangsters to be sent back in time and murdered by his younger self. However, he overpowers them on the platform, and enters the time machine unbound, ungagged, and unhooded. He then overpowers his younger self and escapes. Some unknown series of events culminates in the standoff in the cornfield, in which the young Rainmaker is shot in the mouth before seeing his mother murdered before his eyes.
Loop x-1: This is the confusing part. This is the timeline that the Bruce Willis we see for most or all of the movie actually comes from. We know this because he has memories of the Rainmaker from the future that include rumors that the Rainmaker has a synthetic jaw and saw his mother murdered before his eyes as a child. These events can only have happened in a version of the loop after the unbound Bruce Willis has escaped Joseph Gordon-Levitt. So there has to be at least one intervening loop between the flashback loop (designated x-2) and this one (designated x-1), despite the somewhat confusing way the movie presents this.
Loop x:This is the main timeline we see in the movie.
Thank you for your time, and I’m looking forward to taking your questions.