Looper: The Anatomy of a Compelling Protagonist 

Hudson Hsieh, Writer, Contributor

Looper: The Anatomy of a Compelling Protagonist 

Over the past year, I’ve written four book reviews, explaining how various protagonists either reinforce or hinder my enjoyment of the books I’ve read, because in my opinion the most important element of any story is how its characters are written. In an effort to explain what are the characteristics of a strong protagonist, I’ll be breaking down the lead protagonist of the film Looper to demonstrate why that particular character is so well written. 

Looper is a time traveling movie that unlike other conventional time travel sci-fi movies, doesn’t focus on the science, but instead the motives. It’s actually a much deeper film that mainly focuses on the characters and various implications of their actions. 

Many people will summarize the main character Joe in a single sentence, “Someone willing to help others if it directly benefits him”. This simple explanation seems like a cut and dry case of just another greedy character, but as we examine the movie closer, Joe’s actions throughout the story contradict that statement. 

The first instance of this contradiction is when Joe is explaining to Sara(Emily blunt) why he’s so determined to hunt down his older self.  Joe quotes, “I don’t want to kill him, it’s my life I want back”. This quote displays Joe’s true motivation, not to become powerful or rich, but instead securing his future. It’s this singular objective that drives both young and old Joe throughout the story, and in the end is what leads to their demise. 

What makes Joe stand out to me from the protagonist in other films and books is that he establishes his own motivation, and drives forward the plot by actively trying to achieve the goal he sets for himself. 

This transitions perfectly into the next segment, how the film concludes. This is where in my opinion, where we get the best display of who Joe is as a person. It’s here where we see how young Joe developed over the course of the movie to change his present and more importantly his future.

To quote Joe saying, “Then I saw it, I saw a mom who would die for her son, a man who would kill for his wife, a boy, angry & alone, laid out in front of him the bad path. I saw it & the path was a circle, round & round. So I changed it”. When Joe realizes that he has to put his own selfish ambition aside to save Cid, he makes the ultimate sacrifice by killing himself. He does this so his older self wouldn’t be able to kill Cid in the future.

That quote perfectly wraps up the character of Joe because you see how he develops from the start of the movie to the end. He learns throughout his journey what greed could lead him, and decides that in order to secure Cid’s future, he had to sacrifice his own. 

He doesn’t turn into the selfish and evil characters that we see with old Joe. He makes the right decisions that lead him down a better path, a path where he doesn’t turn to a life of crime.

Although his motivation is the same throughout, you can start to see Joe challenging his ideals. on how far he would go in order to secure his own future. The film asks the question “What do you value most, moral or money? And “what does fate mean to you?”. These conundrums were brought up many times by characters like Abe, Seth, and Sara. Luckily at the conclusion of the film, Joe learns from his mistakes and is able to guarantee a good ending, the one where he will be remembered as a hero, not as an assassin.

The last point I want to touch on is how Joe responds to the inciting conflict to build a bigger narrivative. The quote comes from a supporting character named Abe, he quotes “Ask yourself, who would I sacrifice for what’s MINE?”. This excerpt is given very early on in the story, as the film starts to build Joe’s character and eventually transitions into his development later on in the movie. The quote exhibits the internal conflict that is already present within Joe. This conflict is why throughout the first act of the film, Joe struggles to find the balance between saving himself or helping others.

Luckily, Joe is an active protagonist, and chooses to directly engage the plot. He does this by telling Abe where Seth is hiding. Like I mentioned before, this incites an internal struggle as Joe tries to justify what he did. To him, the silver bars were worth more than Seth’s life, because the bars are the key to securing his eventual future, and not seth. But when Joe decides to actively engage the plot by making this decision, he sets a new path where he eventually becomes the selfless man we know at the end of the movie. 

The film Looper excels in areas like cinematography, world building, and plot development. But in my opinion the area that the film shines the brightest is its ability to create a compelling and interesting character. It’s helped along by the amazing acting duo of Joseph-Gordan Levitt and Bruce Willis. Their outstanding acting brought young and old Joe to life. But, in the end it’s how the characters in Looper are brilliantly written, that I chose it as the first topic of the year to write about. That’s why the film Looper is so good.

Credit:Thomas fitzmaurice 


Post note: If you noticed, during the article I focused on one super specific element of Looper. I barely talked about the Plot, Conflicts, or even the stunning world that the directors and producers had built. This is because I noticed that some of my older book reviews seem rushed at times, as I try to balance all the elements I liked or disliked in a short three and a half page article. This problem got so bad that I had to split some reviews in half, which is not the format that I want to be releasing my articles.

To rectify that issue I decided that during the New Year(2021) the majority of my articles are going to only focus on one element of a story. The thinking behind this is to help you, the reader understand each element of a story. So when you read a book or watch a film, you know the techniques I use to dissect and analyze it. My goal this year is to inspire you, the readers to take a closer look at the world around you and maybe motivate you to read more. 

My timeline for this year is to release one article a month talking about elements of a book or movie. Maybe at the end of the year I’ll do another book review. Please comment down below to request books that I should cover. Lastly I’ll be writing school related news with my friend Ethan, so be on a lookout for those. That all for me today, and as always thank you for reading and have a nice day.