In case you already forgot the third word of the headline, this post contains major spoilers for the movie Looper, which opened this past weekend. Overall, I thought it was a very fun action movie with an interesting premise, so if you were planning on seeing it, I'd definitely recommend that you do! But this is where my spoiler-free discussion ends, because there was one aspect of the movie that is not mentioned in the previews that I found really, really thought-provoking that will completely spoil the movie for you. So, if you haven't seen it and want to, and don't want to hear about the ending, then read no further. In the meantime, for those who don't care and/or have seen it, come with me after the jump, and let's talk about that thing in the movie they barely talk about, and then it's a huge factor in the whole outcome of everything — the MacGuffin.
So, from this point on — HUGE SPOILERS. Okay? Okay.
Looper takes place in 2044 (30 years before time travel is invented, so, set your clocks), and in this universe, humans have developed a mutation that gives them telekinetic abilities; it's referred to as being "TK." (As in, "Oh, you're TK? Great. Get me the remote so I don't have to move.") Apparently, when it was discovered, everyone thought they'd be getting superheroes, but instead, we get corny bar tricks. ("What's that behind your ear? A floating quarter?")
People who are TK are regarded on roughly the same level as highly-skilled card shufflers.
Unless their TK powers are really powerful. While the Looper universe never saw TK translate into heroic superhuman powers, in 2074, someone with superhuman TK abilities had started committing lots of telekinetic cold-blooded murder — the Rainmaker, a powerful and dangerous kingpin. One person that ends up killed at the hands of the Rainmaker is the beloved wife of Joe, the main character whom we see as both a young (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and older (Bruce Willis) man. The older version of Joe realizes that if he can travel back in time to kill the Rainmaker before he becomes the Rainmaker, he will save his wife.
Considering all the time travel paradoxes involved with that (to say nothing of pretty big unaddressed plot holes), let's stay on an Action Movie Need to Know basis: the Rainmaker was responsible for killing Bruce Willis' wife, therefore the Rainmaker must die.
TK is barely ever mentioned after the first time it's brought up early on, so for a while, we don't actually know if the Rainmaker has TK abilities, or if TK is even relevant — the very definition of a MacGuffin. Sometimes MacGuffins end up being a huge deal, sometimes they're completely forgotten, existing only to throw us off. Personally, I like this, especially when it's done cleverly.
The future Rainmaker is a six-year-old boy named Cid (Pierce Gagnon, a freakishly amazing child actor). As far as we know, he's just an innocent kid. His mother, Sarah (Emily Blunt), had Cid when she was 22, left him with her sister so she could continue partying, and then her sister was killed, so she came back. We find out Cid is TK when he has a meltdown over his times tables. Not just a "Grab me a glass of wine" meltdown — an "I have to go lock myself in a safe because my kid is telekinetically shaking the entire house as if it were weathering a Category 5 hurricane" meltdown. And later, we watch Cid blow up a man's heart. And so, eight times three equals Cid might have actually killed his own aunt. And that means that we have just met the Rainmaker, the mass murderer who turned to crime as an adult after seeing his own (surrogate) mother killed.
Well, tickle my momplex and call me Norma Bates — what do you do when your adorable baby boy, whom you've already abandoned once, has a telekinetic power that can and will be used for homicidal purposes? You convince people that if you raise him right, he'll use his powers for good! He won't turn into a homicidal maniac! (Every parent's true goal, really.) Younger Joe actually agrees, and later realizes that (super spoiler) he is the one who causes Cid to become the Rainmaker because his older self is willing to shoot Sarah to get to Cid (the death of Cid's aunt is another MacGuffin), an act that will set the wheels of badness in motion. So (another super spoiler) Younger Joe kills himself, and now, Cid will surely channel his murderous telekinetic powers into saving abandoned puppies…or something.
The TK element actually has a ton of levels that can be explored — how many people with the mutation have heightened powers, how has the future utilized these powers, what are the rights of those with powers, etc. But the story of Looper isn't about TK. It's about ultimately realizing where trouble starts and putting an end to it. And it's also about Joe. That's why telekinesis is nothing but a MacGuffin — a great one.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures