In this way, Johnson is actually asking many of the same questions Enlightenment thinker John Locke posed in his Essay on Human Understanding, one of the first texts to explore the nature of consciousness and identification. Locke argued that the concept of self “depends on consciousness, not on substance,” by which he means identity is separate from one’s physical body or even one’s soul. Through consciousness, we experience our own thoughts and actions, as well as those of the people and world around us; by continually being conscious, we form and evolve our own identities. Consciousness is highly perceptible to change, as experience can differ greatly from day to day, but we tend to ignore this fact, judging the identity of others based on physical presence.
This, of course, is what Old Joe does in attempting to kill the Rainmaker as a child. He sees the Rainmaker as a set, concrete identity, and assigns it to the same body throughout time. Locke would argue that five-year-old Cid is not the Rainmaker, however, for the Rainmaker’s conscious is different than the boy’s. They share a body, but their identities will diverge greatly over time from years of influential experiences.
One does not need to look to John Locke, of course, to understand why Old Joe should not view Cid and the Rainmaker as one. Johnson has already summarized this argument in the presence of – and relationship between – Old and Young Joe.
They are physically the same person, something Johnson is extremely careful to emphasize in two ways. First, he has Joseph Gordon-Levitt wearing prosthetics to look more like Bruce Willis, a step that constantly reminds us how these men are connected. Second, he includes a montage, shortly after Old Joe’s appearance, that illustrates how Young Joe grew into Old Joe, wordlessly illustrating the many steps Joe took to move from petty hitman to ruthless, hardened killer. Johnson is adamant we understand that these men do, in fact, share the exact same body. In substance, they are identical.
Yet we view them as distinct entities, on both conscious and subconscious levels. It is more than just an age disparity. Young Joe is a wandering junkie, living without any purpose except to reach his next hit. Old Joe, on the other hand, is all drive, arriving with a plan and determined to see it through no matter what. Young Joe is physically capable, but hardly adept as a shooter, fighter, or killer. Old Joe is practically a machine, an unstoppable force of rage and precision that conquers every foe – including Young Joe – in his path. Perhaps most importantly, Young Joe has a dormant but strong sense of compassion, one that blossoms during his time with Sara and Cid. Old Joe’s compassion seemingly died with his wife, as he responds coldly to most scenarios and is willing to slaughter mass numbers of people, including children (and when doing so does bring out his emotional side, the reaction seems so foreign that he can barely tolerate the pain).
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