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Why do the loopers need to work in a time that is only 30 years prior to the invention of time travel?

Why not have the loopers work, let’s say, 100 years before the invention of time travel? In that way, loopers could live to old age and the mobsters would not have to worry about assassinating loopers before they reach the time at which time travel was invented.

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  • I haven't seen the movie, so can't even begin to guess at an answer, but the Wikipedia page says that time travel was invented in the year 2074 (in the movie universe). In order for the whole process to work, I assume the people on both sides need to be in on it, which would require you to travel back to 1974 and recruit people; I don't think you'd get the necessary response to "I'm from the future" in order to do that. Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 9:16
  • I also haven't seen the movie. However, based on the synopsis from Wikipedia I'll take a stab: I think you're confused as to why the mobsters assassinate loopers. It's not so that they never see the day time travel is invented. It's so that the contract can be terminated with no loose ends. A disenfranchised mercenary assassin is not someone you want to have to worry about - they tend to come back and bite you one way or another. Someone feel free to correct me, but if this is confirmed to be valid enough I may move it to an answer.
    – Iszi
    Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 16:43
  • @Iszi the point of the "Closing the Loop" in their contract is to tie up any loose ends that could connect the Looper to the criminal organization. It's essentially the Looper disposing of one last body (it just so happens to be his own)
    – Monty129
    Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 20:16
  • I have seen the movie, and it's never stated in the film why the number 30 is chosen, however (and this is me speculating so it's not an answer) 30 years is a pretty decent amount of time for the Looper to live the "good life" after closing his loop. Given that most Loopers are between 25 - 35 that seems like a much longer life span than could be expected in such a violent line of work.
    – Monty129
    Commented Nov 8, 2012 at 20:19

4 Answers 4

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First of all, the reason a looper must be killed is to prevent any possible leakage about who the mob has disposed of - this is the same reason the victims wear hoods and are shot immediately after appearing.

That being said, the amount of time a looper serves must be balanced between two extremes. If the amount of time is too short, no one would ever sign up to be a looper. If the amount of time were too long, loopers would become too old to be effective assassins, potentially lose interest in the carpe diem lifestyle, or, what the mob fears most, begin to comteplate their murderous lifestyle and consider informing to the police.

Another reason is simply related to current events and the state of the world. In 2044, the U.S. economy collapses and the organized crime mobs begin to form. 30 years later, in 2074, time travel is invented. Promising a looper loads of cash is much more effective if the country's economy is in shambles. It would also be easier to keep the loopers on a short leash if there is already a mob presence established, which only appeared after 2044.

Sources: Wikipedia, and saw the movie.

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    +1 | Simple, concise and perfectly reasonable. Thank you. Commented Nov 9, 2012 at 20:52
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It might very well be that they did not pick "30 years" themselves. Maybe the time machine only sends things back exactly 30 years, no settings, you don't get to pick a time.

This is supported by the fact that Old Joe is late when he arrives in the past after fighting his captors. They probably sent back a note to Young Joe earlier that day, telling him the time they planned to send back a target (Old Joe). When Old Joe starts fighting they miss the time they should have sent him. He sends himself back a couple of minutes later, arriving late. If you were able to set any time on the time machine then Old Joe would either arrive on time (if the time was already entered into the time machine) or not know when to go to.

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This was explained in an interview with the film's director; Rian Johnson.

The principle of the time machine is that its destination in both time and space is irrevocably fixed. Quite why the Chinese machine sends you back to a field in Kansas precisely 30 years ago isn't described in any in-universe detail.

"But I also thought of doing a scene where he (Daniels) says that he’s been complaining to his bosses that this is a stupid system and that they need to find another way. But at the end of the day, it didn’t end up making the cut. The one other thing, and we actually had a line that we cut out in the diner scene, is the fact that the time travel device is not adjustable. That fact that it is set to an exact time and you can’t change when or where it sends you back to. And maybe I should have left that piece of information in the diner scene. But it was part of this longer discussion that Bruce and Joe had that we ended up snipping out to get to the heart of that scene.”

and from the original script

OLD JOE : And the salt. No, the pepper. The pepper.

Old Joe sets two straws about a foot apart, parallel, and pours pepper between them, thus:

OLD JOE (CONT'D) : Ok, the span between the straws is a timeline of the next 30 years.

this (indicating the left straw) is the present moment, right now. and this (indicating the right straw) is the moment thirty years from now when I was sent back. The machine is tuned to a fixed time, you know that, 30 some years, it's not adjustable.


From an out-of-universe perspective, the intention was to set the film far enough into the future that audiences would view it as futuristic but would also still be able to relate to what was going on.

We were trying to create a really grounded near-future dystopia,” Looper director Rian Johnson tells Wired in the video interview above. “But even the futuristic stuff that we’ve built into it we tried to knock down a little. Like, there’s hover bikes, but they kind of don’t work that well. They’re not actually that good. And the phones still don’t get reception.”

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  • And the reason why the machine was based in China should be pretty obvious; Chinese audiences like to see Chinese settings.
    – Valorum
    Commented Dec 25, 2014 at 17:07
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Thinking this through as I was writting out my comments I came to this conclusion. However I can't site any canonical reason this would be my interpretation why. It's because the criminal organization would need the Looper to live long enough to be sent back in time to "Close the loop" on themselves. 100 years would obviously be too long to expect the Looper to live to be sent back and killed by his/her younger self. As I said in my comment 30 years is a pretty decent amount of time to live with the hefty pay out after killing your future self, and you could also live with the knowledge that you are going to make it out of any situation alive up until that fateful day you are collected to be sent back.

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  • I agree with you about the need to close the loop, hence 30 years. But there is no guarantee of living 30 years: there were alternate futures portrayed in the film. Commented Dec 25, 2014 at 12:31

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