What's the logic behind the time travel in your movie?
Mostly what I researched is not the science behind the reality of what time travel could be, but time travel in narratives. It's completely separate from the science, but it's just as fascinatingthe way that time travel has been incorporated into stories and fictions, and culture. And so I looked at a lot of movies to see how they dealt with time travel, and to see how the fiction of time travel has grown. It's fun to read theories about time travel, just to stoke your brain up with it. I was concerned with how to let time travel fulfill a specific function in the story, but not have it take over the narrative and not have to explain everything about it. So part of the approach for that was to have the whole thing told from kind of a worm's eye point of view: Time travel exists in the future, but doesn't exist in the present that Looper takes place in, and the characters don't know how it works. I have a whole intricate thing about how the logic of it works, but the characters aren't privy to that. All they have to deal with is the reality of the effects of it. That frees us up from having to have the chalkboard scene and have to sit down and explain all the logic of it.
Ultimately, the movie is not unlike a great movie like . This movie is not about the mechanics of time travel so much as dealing with the situation that time travel creates.
You showed the script to Shane Carruth, who directed Primer. Did he have any advice or feedback for you?
He told me it was all wrong. He said "What are you doing?" [Just kidding.] No, he had some really useful feedback. I'm convinced Shane knows how time travel actually does work. His brain is just this incredible thing that works on that level, so he gave me some feedbacksome of which was really useful, some of which I was like, "You know what, you're technically correct, but narratively this works well in the story..." It was almost a matter of approaching the time travel like a card trick, trying to figure out how to make it feel like you've just seen something work when in reality you're doing a bunch of machinations to pull a trick off under the audience's eyes.
Why did you decide to go with a time machine rather than, say, a wormhole?
I wanted it to be very mechanical, and kind of impenetrable. I wanted it to look like a hunk of metal that does something. In a way, I felt like that has a magic, inscrutable technology. It goes back to when you were a kid and looked at, you know, the VCRa hunk of metal that did this magical thing and had these weird gears in it. You don't know how the thing works, and there's a mystique to that. That, to me, is so much cooler than a glowing hole in the middle of the air, because it's something we can relate to. Especially because the technology was supposed to be inscrutable to the characters themselves, just having this behemoth tank with all this gunk on it that opens up, and you get in it and all these strange noises start happening. To have it be mechanical in that way made a lot of sense.
The characters don't know anything about how time travel works, but did the actors ask you how it worked?
My favorite story actually is with Jeff Daniels. So we were sitting down before a scene, looking over the script and he goes, "I have one question, Rian: Wouldn't I already know that all this stuff was gonna happen because I've already been through this because my character is from the future?" I got really excitedI was like "Well no because..." and he stops me by raising a hand and he goes "No is fine." The actors really didn't need to know all that stuff.
In the production design, you meld futuristic technology with things that are around today. What was the decision behind that?
I wanted a really grounded world. A lot of the design choices had to do with pulling it way back from a sci-fi world and trying to find a way to ground everything. The aesthetic that we landed on, for our near-future world, was that things have kind of broken down. The cars for instance. We decided, okay, instead of having a bunch of futuristic cars, we're gonna have them be like the yank-tanks in Cuba, where there are some cars from 2010 that have had to survive for 30 years because they aren't making new cars and have been retrofitted with new engines, so we kind of took that approach to it.
How did you decide what should be more futuristic and what should be more traditional?
Each of the things that's futuristic in there serves a really specific thing with the characters. Like the guns the Loopers carrythey look like a metal packing tube, and the idea is the characters are actually not well-trained assassins. They're a bunch of yahoos, and so they gave them a gun where if you point it vaguely at something, it's impossible to miss, and so the design took its cue off of that.
The other futuristic element of it is these hover bikes, and partially that was because we did want to cue the audience that this was in the future. Instead of looking like a futuristic vehicle, it kind of looks more like a Triumph motorcycle. And they're actually kind of [crappy]they don't work that well. Even the futuristic stuff I tried to undercut and tried to keep it grounded in reality.