I recently saw Looper, now in movie theaters. Kudos to writer and director Rian Johnson for an expertly plotted piece, and for a character-driven story that hinges on time travel and features a main character who is doubly presented, as both a young Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and an old Joe (Bruce Willis).
It’s the year 2074, and time travel technology has been developed. It’s outlawed, however, and so is used only by mobsters. Because 2074 technology prevents the successful, undetected disposal of bodies, when the mob wants a hit on someone, they send that person 30 years in the past (to 2044), where they’re immediately shot/killed and the body disposed. The plot thickens when young Joe is called on to “close the loop” and kill his older self.
That’s the first half of the movie. The second half concerns how old Joe wants to alter the future by changing the past. He wants to do this because a powerful criminal—called the Rainmaker—has killed his wife. He goes back into the past when the Rainmaker is only a young boy, and works to kill the Rainmaker as a boy.
It’s a shocking premise. Think of it this way: if we could time travel to 1898, would it be “right” to kill a nine-year-old Adolf Hitler?
I can’t say too much without venturing into spoiler territory, but basically the film answers No. It imagines another way—a way other than killing innocent children—of changing the past, and that way involves self-sacrifice.
Theologically considered, the film raises questions about controlling our own destiny. Old Joe will go to great lengths to do so, including the death of children. There’s no consideration whatsoever of God in the movie, but among the many quandaries of time travel is the question of what we would do if we could control our futures by altering our pasts.
Indeed, as much as the time travel device has been used, I’m not aware of a science fiction work that considers its quandaries theologically. It would make for an interesting piece.