This weekend–like a lot of people–I went and saw “Looper” by Rian Johnson. Instead of doing a movie review, I want to talk about an aspect of the movie that I was blown away by. Something that many films–sci-fi, fantasy, or what-have-you–fail at many times over.
No, not time-travel.
Creating a sympathetic Antagonist.
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The movie begins setting up Jeff Daneils’ character and the organization he works for as the Antagonists. Which was fine. We learn that the “Rainmaker” from the future is starting to close Loops at an alarming rate. This gets Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis (from here out known as Young Joe and Old Joe respectively) into a lot of trouble.
For me, Rian sets up Old Joe as our intrepid hero. All he wants to do is remove the threat to himself and his wife. With the added benefit of saving the future from the Rainmaker. If only Young Joe would step aside and let him do his job.
But Y-Joe is too focused on himself to see the big picture. He’s hot headed and too quick to act. If only he would think things through.
At least that’s how O-Joe feels. As a friend of mine pointed out, O-Joe is just as self-centered and hot headed. Looks like not much changes as we grow older.
And with that, we get to watch as these two characters switch sides. Or perhaps it is revealed to us the true side they’ve always been on. Either way, I was taken in at how I sympathized with O-Joe. I was with him and the struggles he went through having to (in his mind) kill the kids that could possibly be the Rainmaker. It was destroying him on the inside, but for him the ends justified the means.
Very powerful to me. I was with my Protagonist all the way. I was pulling for him to succeed!
So when we get to the final scene–where Y-Joe is faced with trying to stop his older self–that Protag/Antag makes a sudden shift. Y-Joe sees what O-Joe’s actions really bring and that the future he’s trying to prevent will still happen. That the loop will continue. And there is only one way to stop it. To close his own loop.
When Y-Joe kills himself, I was thrown. And I loved it. I felt remorse for both characters. I made a connection with both despite their adversarial relationship. That’s tricky and fantastic writing right there.
I wish more writers took that kind of time, and care, to make me understand the motivations of the Antagonist. And not just understand them, but care for their goal. Sure, it wouldn’t work for all movies/stories. Sometimes you just need a rotten villain. But at the very least, make sure his goal is something we can connect with.
I’ve rambled enough about “Looper.” Needless to say I think it was strong. The Time-Travel aspect is a bit wonky. But–like the movie says–don’t think about it to hard. It’ll scramble your brain.