Loopy ‘Looper’: Director of sci fi flick researched other sci fi flicks, not science

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This weekend Looper, a gritty time-travel thriller from writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) arrives in movie theaters across the United States. The story: Powerful crime organizations in the late 21st century can’t off their foes without getting caught, so they illegally send victims back in time to the year 2044 to be disposed of by hitmen called “loopers.” Looper’s time travel, in short, is a futuristic version of the East River.

Looper's future Joe meets the past Joe / Alan Markfield, copyright of Looper, LLC, and courtesy of Sony Pictures

Though gunning down folks from the future is profitable, it comes at steep personal cost. Thirty years after Joe the looper (played by both Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt with some Bruce-Willis-like makeup) signs up, crime bosses nab him, send him into the past, and force his past self to kill his future self — an attempt to close his “loop.” This is the standard for loopers: live well, but live fast, and when your time comes, your younger self will be your killer. (Nothing could possibly go wrong with this scenario, nor introduce a series of mind-melting time travel paradoxes, right? Oh, wait.) …

“The science of real life time travel was less important than the science of using time travel in a story,” Johnson wrote in an email to Popular Science. “I studied other time travel movies to see how they put it at the service of the characters and story, and not the other way around.” [w]e spoke with Edward Farhi, a theoretical physicist at MIT who has both seen the movie and intimately studied time travel. …

“Einstein’s theory of general relativity seems to conspire to end the universe before you’re able to travel back in time and kill your grandfather before your parents were born,” Farhi said. “This convinced me that traveling back in time is not possible.”

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