Director: The Spierig Brothers
Cast: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor, Christopher Kirby, Madeleine West, Jim Knobeloch, Freya Stafford, Cate Wolfe
Runtime: 1 hr 38 mins
Rating: M18 (Sexual Scene)
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Opening Day: 18 December 2014
Synopsis: PREDESTINATION chronicles the life of a Temporal Agent sent on an intricate series of time-travel journeys designed to ensure the continuation of his law enforcement career for all eternity. Now, on his final assignment, the Agent must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.
Time travel has proven one of the knottiest concepts for filmmakers, and as this fall’s underwhelming ‘Interstellar’ showed, even an auteur like Christopher Nolan can find his head in a (literal) spin. That alone should put into perspective the accomplishment of siblings Peter and Michael Spierig, who with their latest time- and mind-bending science-fiction ‘Predestination’ (based upon the short story ‘All You Zombies’ by Robert A. Heinlein) have just managed to weave a narrative around time travel that makes perfect sense. Not to say that it is easy to understand – in fact, it did take us the second viewing to put it all together – but once you start to appreciate it on its own terms, you’ll begin to realise just how everything falls beautifully into its destined (pun intended) place.
Christians will offer their own interpretation of the title according to scripture, but that is not the intention of the Spierigs, who are also responsible for adapting Heinlein’s story. At best, that 13-page story was just a treatment, which starts off as a ‘guy who walks into a bar’ story – in this case, one with as nondescript a name as John, who writes under the pseudonym ‘the Unmarried Mother’ for confession magazines. John starts to narrate his incredible life story to the Bartender (there is a reason why we’ve capitalised this character), which begins as a little girl abandoned and raised in an orphanage in 1945. As a child and teenager, this girl named Jane wasn’t at all well-liked, and grew up learning to defend herself against her peers who would pick on her; but unsociable as she was, she was very intelligent.
The Spierigs have made some significant additions to Heinlein’s original story, most prominently by turning the Bartender into a Temporal Agent, whose mission as part of a top-secret organisation is to travel through time to prevent major crimes from happening. A brief prologue establishes this particular Agent’s crucial mission as stopping the ‘Fizzle Bomber’, a terrorist responsible for causing the deaths of tens of thousands in New York during the 1970s. The Agent is about to disarm the latest explosive rigged by the Fizzle Bomber when the latter stuns him from beneath, causing the bomb to blow up in his face. Thankfully, just before he loses consciousness, the Agent is sent many years into the future by a coordinate transformer field kit – which is really a time machine in the disguise of a violin case – and given a new lease of life with reconstructive surgery.
The Agent’s final mission before he is decommissioned happens to be John/ Jane, who enlists as a young adult in the Space Corps as a glorified “comfort woman” for the male astronauts out in space. Her scores are exemplary, but she is expelled from training when the doctors discover that she is an intersex, i.e. born with both male and female reproductive organs. Jane’s story takes a few more unexpected twists and turns, especially when she meets a young man who literally completes her sentences, knows her inside out, falls in love with her (and her with him), and then leaves just before she finds out that she is pregnant. The pregnancy and her daughter’s subsequent abduction from the nursery leaves her extremely bitter, which therefore allows the Agent to ask that one critical question of the film.
“What if I put him in front of you, the man who ruined your life? Would you kill him?” the Agent asks John. The answer is a brilliant paradox that deserves to be discovered by its audience on their own; indeed, to reveal anything more would be doing the Spierigs a great dishonour. It may take some time for you to fully grasp the significance of just who this young man who impregnates Jane is, but it seems appropriate to warn the more conservative members that the midway twist may potentially be rather disturbing from an ethical standpoint. And yet, it is about the most realistic and logical twist that we have ever seen in a time-travel context, one that eventually is also just as ingeniously replicated in the mystery tying the Agent and the Fizzle Bomber.
Whereas many time-travel movies posit the past to which their future selves return to as a parallel but alternate dimension, the Spierigs have overcome perhaps the knottiest logic gap in time-travel by suggesting that it happens within the very same dimension. You’ll do well if you don’t want to leave the cinema scratching your head to pay attention to every single line of dialogue, and our advice is to pay special attention to the one about time-travel being a snake eating its own tail. Yes, it is pure genius how the Spierigs have explained everything within their own movie as happening within the same dimension, even more so when after you think about it that there are but three main characters in their mind-stimulating narrative.
Compared to the ambitious but underdeveloped ‘Daybreakers’, ‘Predestination’ is a triumph for the Spierigs. Their storytelling is on par with some of the best sci-fi movies ever made, and their attention to detail here, not just with the plot but also with the characters and the locations, is impeccable. They are also supported by a most competent pair of actors, i.e. Ethan Hawke as the Temporal Agent/ Bartender and Sarah Snook as John/ Jane. Hawke proves again why he is one of the most understated leading men around, but it is Snook who in a performance of range and sensitivity truly makes the film a compelling watch from start to end, her portrayal of a transgender person so carefully modulated that you can thoroughly feel her transformation both psychologically and emotionally.
It isn’t any coincidence that the Spierigs’ film has obtained the most number of nominations in this year’s Australian Film Awards. Smart, gripping and unexpectedly poignant, this is one of the very movies that has managed to transcend the inherent challenges of its time-travel conceit without compromising on storyline and character. Besides an intriguing plot, you’ll also find that there are deep themes here of identity, destiny and choice at play. Yes, this is a movie that will leave you thinking, questioning and debating, and therein lies its brilliance and beauty, for everything ties so wonderfully together that you can’t help but agree that it is ‘Predestination’.
(One of the very best sci-fi films built on time-travel, this tightly knotted exploration of identity and destiny will keep you intrigued and entranced long after the credits roll)
Review by Gabriel Chong