Barreling towards the finish line, you should be doused in a sense of relief. It’s all over. You’ve reached the end. But every once in a while, a film, a book, a game, or even a song turns the tables. Instead of welcoming the faithful terminus to your exhausting journey, it instead comes faster and faster with a sense of terrible dread. Predestination does this not once, not twice, but over and over again, and it is fantastic.
Predestination is a movie starring Ethan Hawke and relative newcomer Sarah Snook where Hawke plays an agent in something called the Temporal Bureau. Via the power of time travel, he goes back into the past in an attempt to thwart the deadly attacks of a criminal only known as the Fizzle Bomber.
It’s probably best to not go into too much detail about the plot of the film, though it is heavily based on a short story by Robert A. Heinlein called All You Zombies, a work he famously cranked out over the course of a single day. Written and directed by the Spierig brothers (previously of Daybreakers, also starring Hawke), there is a substantial amount of non-Heinlein work put into the film. (The trailer is also iffy to watch, if you really want to go into this right.)
It’s safe to say that, much like any good sci-fi tale about going into the past to fix the present, it involves a number of classic time travel paradoxes and even goes so far as to take one particular thought experiment to its absolute extreme. It builds over the course of several smaller, introductory mysteries, compounding and quickly unraveling into a relentless assault of denial and acceptance of the truth.
There is a base narrative here on prominent display across the eras we visit, but in it is tucked several of the strangest love stories that somehow culminates into the unequivocally brain-rattling love story of them all. The theme, however, has very little to do with love itself. Adequately translated from book to film, the story instead deals with the idea of individualism.
By the very existence of a fluid temporal causality, we have the question of creating not only your own identity but through direct influence, create another’s sense of self. This idea fights face-to-face against the creeping but overt feeling of futility inherent in any story about things meant to be or created to be. It’s bitter while still being proactive in the way you can only be when you accept a dire lot in life.
Talking about the story, though, fails to mention two of the biggest contributors to the success of the film. Both Snook and Hawke throw down with spectacular performances, imbuing subtle flavors of the thriller tropes the Spierigs injected into the originally very short story. Hawke does a fantastic job of creating early on a character biding and hiding some truth he already knows, which later twists and turns into something intellectually frightening for all the right reasons.
Snook, however, deserves far more mention. There are only so many ways to discuss her performance without tripping over one or two errant spoilers, but all of the post-release attention and rave reviews she has been getting is well deserved. (Predestination actually premiered in March at SXSW.) She takes a character that seems to be only ever subjected to things and points her in a direction, giving a tortured—battered—person some sense of agency.
The innumerable grand and infinitely small transitions and heartbreaking turns her character takes are so smartly addressed with Snook’s acting. It truly makes you feel that despite this unbelievable framework surrounding an additionally impossible scenario has some grounded and significant gravitas to the cinematic proceedings.
Some oddities do exist and permeate the movie, though. For as big of a leap of faith it is to take in a crime-fighting, time-traveling organization and whatnot, there are some choice minutiae (actually some sizable pills to swallow, regardless) that can rip you from the viewing proscenium. The spacefaring sex workers and the singularly and highly unethical aspects of a central medical event come to mind where they are largely unaddressed in their bid towards incredulity.
It is, however, still both a visually and thematically beautiful movie, though very much in both aspects tragically so. There’s a twinge of existential and nihilistic forgiveness for trying to be, swirling in and around notes of dark cosmic humor. Stuffed between two stellar performances and folded into a fundamentally intriguing premise, there’s no reason to not see Predestination.
+ Successfully recounts the base yet complex themes from Heinlein’s original short story
+ Hawke and Snook bring the heat with their complementary performances
+ Fantastically shot and exceptionally paced
– Weird carryovers from the written version have the potential to extract you from the viewing
Final Score: 9 out of 10