“What if I could put him in front of you – the man that ruined your life? Would you kill him?”
Rian Johnson and Spielberg may have a few things to say about Predestination, the first film from genre-nerds Michael and Peter Spierig since 2009’s Daybreakers, but this mega-cut of time travel conventions embraces cliché and gets by on the strength the Robert A. Heinlein story it’s based on.
A time-travelling “Temporal Agent” (Ethan Hawke) tasked with stopping crime before it happens struggles to catch an illusive bomber and becomes entangled in the past and future of a mysterious man (Sarah Snook) who was raised as a girl.
If you recoil at the thought of wrapping your head around another time travel spaghetti dish of paradoxes, this isn’t the one that’s finally going to turn you on to the genre, but those that appreciate a good mind bending will find tons of b-movie fun in Predestination.
The opening minutes are brimming with cool. Low-key lighting set-ups in orange and blue create shafts of light and shadow. A dark, electronic score (composed by Peter Spierig) rolls around in bassy arpeggios. A man in a trench coat slips through the night carrying a violin case capable of transporting him through time fifty-some odd years in either direction of point zero (when time travel is invented in 1981).
Cool can be pretty dumb, though, and for the first third of the film there’s good reason to think that’s all that this indulgent project is. The Spierig Brothers run into major pacing issues right off the bat when they dive into an incredibly lengthy flashback from the writer character’s point of view. The writer, who the Temporal Agent meets in a bar, shares the story of his entire life, shifting Hawke into an uncomfortable reactionary position as the listener of this story immediately after he’s introduced as our main character.
Fifty minutes later, we emerge from the flashback and the plot starts moving forward in time. Then things get interesting. Brevity aside, the writer’s story was, of course, crucial to the events to follow. As we begin to shift around time, Predestination comes alive with that special, warm time-travely sense of satisfaction that comes from seeing things from alternate perspectives and uncovering a larger understanding of the past.
As the Agent gets closer to the truth, and closer to stopping a New York City bombing that will kill 11,000 people, he becomes engaged in a time loop that’ll fully warp your understanding of the “chicken or the egg” quandary. While chock-full of messy paradoxes, the sci-fi stuff of Predestination is taken for entertainment above the pursuit of sound logic. You’re not compelled to figure it all out, as with Primer, so much as to sit back and enjoy the narrative twists as they unfurl, as with Timecrimes.
Hawke (Boyhood, Getaway) brings his unmistakable every-man charisma to the high-concept role, fitting in both as a rule-breaking agent for a top secret government organization, and a 1970’s barkeep (seriously, if alternate universes exist, the one I’m sure of is that Hawke is out there tending bar and chatting up everyone that comes in). While Hawke is the film’s anchor, Sarah Snook is its revelation. Playing a character that makes startling changes in appearance throughout his life, Snook is dynamic and light-footed – a real discovery in a film that could have left the bulk of the weight on Hawke’s experienced shoulders.
The Spierig Brothers may have been having a little more fun with the culture references in Daybreakers (like the Starbucks that serves blood to a world populated by vampires), but while Predestination is missing some of that genre farce, it’s in exchange for a more seriously considered, dramatic story – a winning pay-off in the end.
The third act turns are thrilling, but nearly ruined by a moment of foreshadowing dropped in with the subtlety of a grand piano from a high-rise window. But while that moment tips the film’s hat far too early, the final, crashing reveals should go unpredicted. In fact, the audience will probably need some help after the credits roll.
In the end, you’ll have to accept one big, fat, inexplicable paradox that no number of flow charts (believe me, I made one) can help you understand. If you’re the type that can walk away from a puzzle without the solution, satisfied by the process, you, like me, will find Predestination to be an entirely entertaining, mind-bending adventure.Continue Reading Issue #31
January 9, 2015
1 hr. 37 min.
Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Ethan Hawk, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor, Christopher Kirby, Madeleine West, Jim Knobeloch, Freya Stafford, Elise Jansen, Tyler Coppin, Christopher Stollery, Christopher Sommers