Predestination is a sci-fi time-travel movie, based on a short story called “All You Zombies” by Robert Heinlein. What precisely the films is about is difficult to explain properly without spoiling, well, all of it, so, in the vaguest of terms, Predestination is about a temporal agent, whose search for a terrible criminal leads him to a time paradox that comes to define his life. It’s a mind-bending film, conceptually a kind of cross between The Adjustment Bureau and Looper, the exact purpose of which I think one could only speculate on. The film stars Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook, and is directed by the Spierig Brothers. This is a spoiler review, and this is a film that’s worth not having spoiled. Please do not read further if you have not seen the film.
I made a note to see this movie because of Ethan Hawke, whose reputation for choosing interesting films precedes him. Boy, was this no exception. Predestination is a pretty fantastic sci-fi original, part of a lengthy list of time travel movies that leave their audiences frantically googling explanation videos and timeline diagrams. Hawke is fantastic in it, but, the maximum amount of credit has to go to Sarah Snook, whose performance as Jane/John is pretty spectacular.
Of course, they’re both playing the same character, which is around the part that the wheels fall off this review. I’ve thought long and hard about it, and the conclusion I’ve come to is that trying to figure out the origin of the time paradox of Jane/John/Barkeep’s existence is a waste of time. I give a lot of credit to the writers for the simplicity of the actual revelation. In its essence, this actually isn’t that complicated a story, it just presents certain ideas in it that blow the proverbial mind. The idea of someone impregnating themselves is pretty batshit on its own, but, when it comes down to ease of following the story, it’s not that hard, mostly just a conversation in a bar, which is arguably the biggest challenge in telling a story like this one. I also felt like the hint-dropping was pretty well placed. It wasn’t that it was predictable; it wasn’t that simple, firstly, and, secondly, predictable carries too negative a connotation when it comes to storytelling for me to use it here. It was told in a way that made me ask the right questions. So, when the time came to reveal the mysteries and ambiguities, I was a half-step ahead and could feel the reveal as a suspicion I had, thanks to clues they’d laid for me. It was immensely satisfying.
There are parts of it that are left ambiguous. The older Barkeep, or the supposed Fizzle Bomber, said that killing him would only perpetuate the cycle. Despite that warning, Barkeep empties a pistol in him. Are we to understand that he does indeed become the Fizzle Bomber? His device didn’t decommission, so he theoretically could’ve done, and that was certainly the foreshadowing. There was also a line from Robertson, one which kind of rationalized allowing the Fizzle Bomber’s paradox to continue. Of course, his reasoning is in line with what the older Fizzle Bomber himself said, that killing those people leads to others being saved. That line of thinking took me to a place where I wondered if there are more layers to this paradox, ones that the story doesn’t cover. Robertson’s character, for example, is an unknown entity at this point, as are the 10 other temporal agents Barkeep referred to when John first jumped back in time. What if they were all some form of copy, a Jane/John of a different time, working to continue the paradox? It would be a little bit. It would be a little…villainous, if their entire organization revolved around perpetuating the Fizzle Bombing in an effort to save lives further down the line. Come to think of it, a lot is left unexplained about the origins of time travel, which might hold the answer to some of these questions. Personally, I like that we’re not sure. It’s a lot more fascinating to envision a much deeper paradox.
But then there’s the rudimentary matter of what it is that this film is talking about. I’ve read a small variety of theories, and no one can seem to get together on what this film is about. It seems theorizing is about as much as anyone can do, with a film as ideologically complex as this one. My analysis is long, but it sums down to a cycle of a person’s self-view: hating then loving yourself. There’s a lot of emphasis on revenge, and finding the person who ruins your life. When that person turns out to be you, you start to look at yourself and your past differently. It’s a good theory with plenty of evidence, but I’ve seen equal amounts of evidence (like maybe the title) supporting ideas of inevitability and nihilism. Obviously this isn’t a story limited to any one theme, but the field is wider than most, and I guess any way you choose to settle it with yourself works just as well.
I thoroughly enjoyed Predestination. It’s one of the better entries to a genre that I like and respect a lot. I liked it better, for example, then Looper (though admittedly I don’t know that I was old enough to properly appreciate Looper when I saw it), and it has a lot more emotional depth than, say, Inception (though not nearly as well made across the board). That’s the other thing I don’t think I’ve covered enough: the emotional sophistication of this movie. The time travel semantics aside, this is ultimately a love story, and a deeply felt one at that. Sarah Snook deserves enormous recognition for her showing in this film, and the writers, for encasing that love story in a genuinely thrilling sci-fi mystery that does more than provide intellectual stimulation. Though it certainly does that. I’d strongly recommend this film to anyone, though I’d warn you to be ready to give this film the attention it deserves and demands.
– Aman Datta
Aman’s Score – 81/100 Aryamaan’s Score –