With all the different timelines and time travel and matters of life and death, "Looper" was enough to have anyone's head spinning. We knew someone would be able to explain the plot in a visual way so simple, we'd feel almost foolish for not getting it the first time. So, we turned to Rick Slusher, creator of the infamous "Inception" infographic, to straighten us out.
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The "Looper: The Timelines" infographic depicts the life trajectories of the film's key characters as looping, color-coded ribbons. Each ribbon shows how its characters' destiny is altered over the course of the film's three alternate timelines.
In Timeline A, the looper hitman Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) successfully "closes his loop" in 2044, executing his time-traveling older self (Bruce Willis) at the prescribed moment, earning his golden payday and proceeding to live out the rest of his life. Regarding the other key characters in Timeline A, the infographic illustrates a problematic time paradox in the film: Despite Old Joe's execution in this initial timeline, young Cid must still somehow come to lose his mother Sara and, devoid of her positive influence, develop into the angry, telekinetic, all-powerful gangster kingpin known as the Rainmaker in order to send Old Joe back in time to close his loop in the first place.
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The moment of Joe's successful loop-closing in Timeline A instantly launches Timeline B: Joe's 30-year post-looper retirement inevitably leads to his eventual wife's tragic murder in 2074. The trauma inspires Joe's older self to change his life's trajectory by escaping his own self-execution in the past to hunt down the child who will become the Rainmaker, whom he holds responsible for his wife's murder.
Therefore, Joe's altered moment of execution in 2044 – this time a narrow escape rather than a successful kill – instantly launches Timeline C: Old Joe and Young Joe concurrently racing to kill and save Cid respectively. Old Joe seeks to save his wife by murdering the Rainmaker as a child, whereas Young Joe understands this attempted murder will paradoxically bring about the very outcome Old Joe is striving to avoid. Young Joe's final decision to commit suicide alters everyone's destiny: As both he and his older self cease to be, Cid is allowed to grow up under his mother Sara's positive influence and never develop into the monster he might have been.
See what Joseph Gordon-Levitt had to say about the twisty film: