There are echoes of the plots of several other science fiction movies in this mind-bending time travel tale by the Spierig Brothers, but the source material – Robert A. Heinlein’s short story ‘—All You Zombies—’ – predates most, including Rian Johnson’s Looper, which in terms of recent years is arguably Predestination‘s closest cousin. Another comparison could be made with Minority Report; Heinlein’s tale was published in 1959 by Fantasy And Science Fiction magazine after it was rejected by Playboy, just three years after Philip K. Dick published the short that inspired Steven Spielberg’s movie, and both are concerned in one way or another with unaccountable state powers that can stop crimes before they happen. Yet stylistically Predestination is a very differeny beast to both Looper and Minority Report: the Spierigs have worked with a relatively small budget of $5 million here and their B-movie isn’t driven by big names, action sequences or special effects (not that Looper was overly-reliant on the latter either). Thus the big name here is Ethan Hawke rather than a Cruise or a Willis, and the device his time traveller uses to jump back and forth from one year to another is a simple violin case; additionally Predestination‘s biggest set piece involves a bomb so weak it only gives the person standing right next it some facial burns upon detination.
Hawke’s character is travelling back and forth in time as an employee of the Temporal Bureau, an organisation that sends its agents to the past so that they can make preemptive strikes at the scenes of crimes before they are committed, thereby stopping them from ever occuring. His target, in the early-1970s, is a terrorist dubbed ‘the Fizzle Bomber’, who is seemingly intent on wreaking havoc throughout New York City. And it’s there that the agent works undercover, as a bartender, eventually meeting writer John (Sarah Snook). John’s life story is told in a lengthy first act flashback, involving an orphanage, a fleeting romance and a gender reassignment, but to say more would be unfair to anyone reading who is yet to see the film. Suffice it to say John talks and the agent listens, their respective fates becoming slowly entwined over beer and peanuts.
Predestination is an entertaining puzzle thriller, one that delights in zipping back-and-forth between the years and challenging its audience to keep up or figure out where it is going (unlike my recent viewing of Primer I had no trouble following this plot or second-guessing the ending). Some effort is made by the Spierigs to answer the questions and issues raised by time travel, and by and large they have fun with the premise, even if the device of characters disappearing from one room and appearing suddenly in another time and place feels far too familiar in the modern age. The Fizzle Bomber is entirely their invention, and as MacGuffins go it’s not too bad, though the character’s brief appearances are lacking in any real menace. Occasionally some poorly-written dialogue pops up, but the Spierigs version of Heinlein’s story is well constructed and they get to grips with the central theme of identity, displaying more than just token interest in the experiences of their intersex character.
Directed by: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig.
Written by: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig. Based on ‘—All You Zombies—’ by Robert A. Heinlein.
Starring: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor.
Cinematography: Ben Nott.
Editing: Matt Villa.
Music: Peter Spierig.
Running Time: 97 minutes.