Is there any genre with more potential for ideas than sci-fi?
Not restricted to the realms of the realistic or the possible, yet generally ruled by the same forces that make our world tick, science fiction is a way of deconstructing the human experience, of really getting to the heart of our identity, who we are, where we’re going. This is certainly the case with Predestination, a taut time-travel thriller from the Spierig brothers.
Badly scarred in a face-off with a terrorist known as The Fizzle Bomber, a Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) retires to New York in the 1970s where, working as a barman, he encounters an apparent stranger, a bitter confessional writer (Sarah Snook), who goes by the pen name The Unmarried Mother. In return for a free bottle of booze, the writer promises to tell the bartender the best story he’s ever heard.
The film has a lot to live up to after that ambitious promise, but, faithfully adapted from Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “—All You Zombies—”, Predestination certainly takes its best shot.
There’s relatively little that can be said about the film’s plot that wont spoil it; suffice to say, its title is accurate if somewhat unimaginative. Thematically, Predestination is about the people we are, the people we were, and the people we might become.
With its glossy visuals and imagery of a vaguely futuristic past, the film shares DNA with the likes of “weird science” TV drama Fringe. No mad scientists here, though: time travel is simply a mechanism by which to tell it’s story, as in, say, Rian Johnson’s Looper, against which Predestination holds up favourably.
There’s nothing hugely grand or sweeping about the film, no telekinetic rugrat wreaking havoc in a cornfield; the makeup work here is far more understated. Predestination is all about character and narrative, which, by its own terms, are pretty much the same thing.
Though coldly analytical in its tightly scripted narrative, the story resonates, largely due to the small touches. Hawke and Snook sharing a drink between plot beats is lovely and low-key, and the film never feels obliged to rush, slowly building towards the final paradox.
Very much a two-hander, Hawke is grizzled yet good-humoured as the former time-hopping counter-terrorist while Snook impresses in a technically demanding role, managing to be brittle, brilliant, and vulnerable all at the same time.
Shot in neo-noir style, Predestination is slick and streamlined. Deliberately designed to tie itself in knots, it essentially boils down to a neat intellectual exercise but one that’s executed with humanity and verve.