“What if I could put him in front of you, the man that ruined your life. If I guaranteed you’d get away with it would you kill him?” With that cryptic question, one of the better movies dealing with time travel begins. Time travel is one of my favourite film genres because if done right not only can it be immensely entertaining, but it can be very thought-provoking as well. In the case of Predestination, it certainly achieved both of those in spades. The movie is based on the short story ” ‘—All You Zombies—’ ” by Robert A. Heinlein and if you are going to make a science fiction movie, a Heinlein story is certainly one of your better choices for source material, and directors Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig did their best to stay true to the original.
This is one of those movies that is incredibly hard to review because going into the film cold is probably the best way to go, so I will do my best to not spoil or even get into the intricate twists and turns the plot makes, but if all you want to know is that it’s a time travel movie starring Ethan Hawke and based on a Heinlein story then stop reading now. Those who wish to continue reading, don’t worry I will do my best to dance around anything that could spoil this movie for you.
The film follows the missions of a Temporal Agent played by Ethan Hawke who works for the mysterious Temporal Bureau that sends its agents through time to prevent major crimes. On a mission to stop an infamous terrorist known as the Fizzle Bomber, the Agent is able to stop the bomb from killing hundreds but is severely burned and the bomber escapes. The Agent returns to his own time where doctors are able to do amazing surgery and facial reconstruction with the result being that the agent now looks a lot like Ethan Hawke.
We learn that the Fizzle Bomber is the only criminal to be able to continually elude the Temporal Bureau and that the Agent, now all healed up nicely, is to be sent out on his last mission before he will be decommissioned. With his coordinate transformer field kit (that’s a time machine to likes of you and me) he arrives in 1978 where he takes up work as a bartender where he seemingly is waiting for someone.
An odd-looking man enters the bar and the Agent in the role of bartender cajoles the man to tell a story about himself that will truly shock him, for if it is shocking enough the man will win a free bottle of liquor. What follows is a wild tale of how this man actually came into the world as a girl (yeah this movie has your standard sex identity twist as an appetizer) and how twenty years ago she was dropped off at an orphanage as a Jane Doe baby. She grew up smarter and stronger than all the other children, thus she found herself apart and treated like a freak.
Her aptitude and the fact that she is still a virgin draws interest from SpaceCorp, a Sixties-era government agency charged with recruiting women to go into space to provide sexual relief for astronauts on long space missions. Now those of you who may have some historical knowledge may be thinking, “I don’t remember there being a SpaceCorp in the ’60s.” Well, that is one of the clues that this movie takes place in an alternate Earth, similar to ours but different in many ways. Another subtle clue is a mobile hanging over baby Jane’s crib isn’t the most accurate look at our Solar System.
Just as things seem to be going well for Jane she is kicked out of SpaceCorp for fighting, falls in love with a mysterious man who gets her pregnant and then abandons her, then after a tricky birth finds out that she is a true hermaphrodite and that due to complications with the delivery the doctors had to remove her uterus and ovaries. Because they discovered male organs intact, they decided to surgically make her a man.
Now that may sound like I’ve spoiled a lot but that is really just the tip of the iceberg on what is a wild and crazy ride. The movie will take Jane and the Agent to places where if you think you know where things are heading you are at best probably only half right. This film takes the idea of the “Time Paradox”, drags it behind the bar and beats it with a stick until it apologizes for existing. To quote Doc Brown,
What makes this film stand out, even more, are the stellar performances of its two leads, Ethan Hawke as the Agent, and Sarah Snook as Jane. Hawke keeps the film grounded by his world-weary time travelling agent who may have jumped through the space-time continuum one too many times while Sarah Snook is simply amazing in a part that could easily become farcical. As the bizarre nature of the story twists and turns, we learn more about the nature of the Temporal Bureau and what makes the Agent so special. It is only the talent of these two actors and the tight direction by The Spierig Brothers that keeps the film from flying off the rails.
So if you like serious science fiction and enjoyed such films as Primer and Looper you will most likely get a huge kick out of Predestination.
Time Machine Note: How our protagonist in a time travel movie gets up and down the corridors of time has almost an infinite amount of designs as there are timelines; from the ornate time chairs of The Time Machine (1960) and Time After Time (1979) to the awesome Delorean from Back to the Future or in the case of Predestination where it can all fit inside a violin case. Regardless of their design, I love them all, with maybe the exception of the Hot Tub variety which has a limited appeal to me.
The Spierig Brothers do an amazing job adapting Heinlein`s short story making Predestination one of the best movies dealing with time travel and the problems with the time paradox. And again I must reiterate that Sarah Snook is fantastic in this film and should become a big star if given more roles like this.