Predestination is a film about time travel and moreover the role of fate and freewill in a time travel story. Its also a film about an alternate reality, which it never states but becomes rather clear as the film progresses- it doesn’t reflect our world, but rather the future world envisaged by Robert Heinlein in 1958 when he wrote his short story All You Zombies (a title which infers a completely other kind of movie altogether). The world is partly familiar, but also strange, a little ‘off’. The space program, in a 1970s more advanced than ours, sends male astronauts into deep space for months at a time, necessitating the recruitment of female cadets, whose purpose is to relieve these male astronauts’ sexual frustration on their long journeys. Perhaps a progressive idea to the young James T Kirks out in the Space Corps, I’m not sure what that says about what sexual politics and feminism were like in the ‘fifties back when the story was written, but credit to the film-makers with being consistent regards being faithful to the original story. Its easily something that might have been dropped or tweaked to be more PC-friendly. Contrary to the short story, I think its in the movie to make us feel uncomfortable and sympathise with the plight of the films heroine.
The main thrust of the premise concerns secret Temporal Police, who move through the last decades of the 20th Century stopping particularly bad crimes from taking place. One of these police, played by Ethan Hawkes, has become obsessed with stopping the crimes of ‘The Fizzle Bomber’, whose bombings over years culminate in a terrible attack on New York in 1975 that leaves many dead. Following a prologue in which Hawkes is thwarted by the bomber and left horribly disfigured requiring extensive reconstructive surgery in ‘the future’, we find Hawkes working undercover in a bar in 1970s New York resuming the hunt for the terrorist. Hawkes strikes up a conversation with one of his customers. Drawing out more information as part of a bet, Hawkes convinces the customer to recount the bizarre story of his life. What this has to do with the bomber is not at all clear, but the story is a remarkable, dark, twisted tale, eventually causing Hawkes to share his own story too. Cue lots of challenging, mind-bending twists and turns as a mystery unravels and we discover their fates are connected through time, finally leading to the revelation of who the Fizzle Bomber is.
As time travel movies go, Predestination is a superior entry in the genre. Its a film with a complex narrative that rewards careful attention with a self-consistent logic that is unnerving and dark, thoroughly justifying its film-noir production design and lighting. A fairly low-budget film shot in Australia, its remarkably well made considering its story unfolds in the 1940s, 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, each decade vividly brought to life with a slightly skewed, alternate-world sensibility. No doubt enjoying the freedom the low-budget affords the film, the cast are excellent as impossible characters in an impossible world. Ethan Hawkes has perhaps never been better than he is here,his character world-weary and beaten by the psychic toll exacted from his pursuit of his quarry through time. Sarah Snook is nothing less than a revelation, one of the finest performances I will likely see this year. I can’t tell you why (you have to see the film and then you’ll understand why I can’t elaborate), but she is simply astonishing, raising the film to a whole other level.
Predestination is a great little movie and one that will surely gain cult status. I half-expected Ex Machina to be the only intelligent sci-fi film I’d see this year, so I’m pleased to say that it has fine company here. Predestination is up there with Gattaca in my estimations, oddly enough another sci-fi film with a great story and great performance from Hawkes.
Released soon on Blu-ray here in the UK, it seems the UK disc is missing some extras so I bought the French disc from Amazon. Released by Sony over there with a lengthy documentary and excellent picture, it loads up with all the menus etc in English so is an ideal alternative for pretty much the same price as the UK edition. Certainly worth a blind-buy if the premise intrigues you, I’m sure a rental will have you soon reaching for the Blu-ray anyway.