First I want to say that, as a WGA member, I received a code to watch "Looper" for free online. I logged in, the movie froze, or my computer froze, but whatever happened, I couldn't get back in and watch my "online screener." But the first twelve minutes were so compelling I felt had to see. Rented it on Amazon instant vid tonight and just finished watching it twice, back-to-back. Really moving, brilliant, thrilling. The messiness and paradoxes of time travel, or writing about time travel -- Rian, you handled them deftly. And bless all you fans for this vivacious forum, which has laid a lot of track for deep discussion. Thus, what follows below may have been covered already. But it may not have.
All that said, I'll try to be brief and relatively emotionless in the following. The theme of inadequate childrearing, and the destruction of families (due to poverty, in my interpretation, though of course children are poorly raised and families are destroyed for all kinds of awful reasons), is clear. In some ways this is dangerous socio-political turf -- the current discourse about "family values" is fraught with... whatever... freight.
Luckily, the film is thematically layered enough, imho, to render rich and ambiguous what might at first seem vulnerable to kneejerk carping. As an inveterate kneejerk carper, I know what I'm talking about.
A looper is both a victim and a victimizer, and the discussion between Old and Young Joe in the diner is a perfect psychological portrait of such a dual personality. Both types are self-absorbed, both can be petty martyrs and narcissists. That Joe's feelings of abandonment take on cosmic significance is perfectly appropriate to his dual character.
Old Joe's memories of the Rainmaker and his reign of terror are only revealed, and for all we know only exist, after he's tried to cheat his way out of his loop. We know his motives are pretty selfish even then -- he's not going to "give her up." He hasn't come back to prevent the reign of terror, just to keep what he had before the balloon payment came due.
Joe made a deal, a deal his young self was always willing to fulfill (not being a very "forward-thinking" person). Once the debt comes due, Old Joe wants to renege. It may be that it was this very reneging, this act of trying to cheat fate (the impossibility of which is a staple of time travel fiction but transcends it -- see Sophocles et al) is what creates the Rainmaker. For all we know his wife may not have been killed originally, that future path may have been channeled after he thwarted Young Joe's initial attempt to kill him. He doesn't recount that memory until the meeting in the diner.
In any case, whatever can be said about mothering or love or abandonment, there is the even broader theme of choice and paying the piper for one's choices. On that thematic level, Young Joe has indeed achieved a wisdom his older self never did -- he pays the debt his older self refuses to pay.
Anyway, brilliant script, great movie, excellent cast, just superb.
"A man has got to see his face!" -- Willis (Richard Lawson) in Scream