Hey Amy, was this blog post partially created out of you wanting to tell people that you saw LOOPER before it was even out in theaters?
Why yes, yes it is.
That, and writer/director Rian Johnson’s films make all of my top ten movie lists. If I were stranded on a deserted island, I’d bring his high school noir film Brick with me. If I had three hours left to live, you can bet I’d be watching his feel-good con man love story adventure, The Brother’s Bloom. What’s that you say? There’s been a nuclear war and I’m only allowed to save five movies from the impending destruction? Looper, consider yourself saved.
P.S. As much as I want to burst out in song and share my bundle of feelings about LOOPER to the world, there will be no spoilers in this post. Cross my heart, guys.
Lesson #1: Play With Genre Expectations
high school crime ring to investigate the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend.
Brick is one of those rare films where the literary design is as interesting as the visual design. We’ve got all the ingredients of a hardboiled detective story wrapped in the neo-noir genre: crime rings, drug wars, violence and revenge and love triangles… but the characters in this story are all in high school, still living with their parents and attending classes. It’s a twist on the traditional genre that surfaces every once in awhile to wink at you before submerging again and allowing the darker tones of the story take over.
Lesson #2: End Your Story Right
Both The Brothers Bloom and Looper feature fantastic third act twists that are surprising yet feel like inevitable progressions of the story.
Structurally, you can look at both of these films like this: the entire story was a set-up for the final punchline that not only wraps up all the story elements but also integrates the theme in a powerful way. I don’t want to give either ending away, but if you watch Brothers Bloom twice, you’ll suddenly pick up on all of the foreshadowing that led to the twist. There are at least four scenes that reference the final scene in shockingly straightforward terms, practically spelling it out for the viewer! Yet the ending is still surprising because Rian Johnson does a fantastic job of obfuscating from these moments of foreshadowing by taking you on a wild adventure that eclipses all of the nagging ‘wait until the final scene…’ references.
In a sense, screenwriters are like magicians. We’ve got to keep the viewer distracted so they don’t see the ace in our sleeve.
Lesson #3: Write Rewarding Roles
The character Bang Bang in The Brothers Bloom
Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character in Brick is a brooding anti-hero out to save the girl who broke his heart. Mark Ruffalo’s character in The Brothers Bloom tries to use his cons to give his brother a more rewarding life, stating that “they’ve all been about you.”
But what I love about Rian Johnson’s work is that he also creates compelling minor characters. The demolitions expert Bang Bang in Bloom says two words in the entire film, but she’s almost always a source of comedic relief and is one of the most lively characters of the movie. The villains in Brick are colorful and interesting, and Jeff Daniels’ character in Looper is ingenious.
Lesson #4: Add Artistic Flourishes (That Also Serve the Story!)
There’s a scene in Brick that’s so poetic and interesting it requires a mention. It’s about twenty minutes into the movie, and it’s the first time we meet the character Laura. She’s reciting a few lines of poetry at the piano, and it’s such an odd, intriguing poem that the moment resonates.
It serves the story because it introduces one of the key characters of the story, enforces the tone, and even alludes to the theme.
Am I saying that you should introduce all of your characters via piano ballad? No. Each unique character deserves their own introduction, and everything scene should work within the context of the story.
Lesson #5: Be Bold.
Looper is filled with bold story and directorial choices — both of which are responsible for hooking both Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s combined interest in the project, and also making Looper stand out from the crowded action/sci-fi genre.
And finally, here’s a helpful interview with the man himself, Rian Johnson:
Be bold in your own work and carry on, brave scribes!