Predestination is an Australian science-fiction movie that could easily have been written and directed by Christopher Nolan. It’s all about temporal wakes and existential experiments, crafted delicately, shot beautifully, arranged like a tamed acid trip. It literally revolves around itself, something Nolan’s Inception (2010) did masterfully four years ago. But Inception grabbed us immediately with an action-packed introduction. Predestination starts much more slowly and it’s not till the middle of the second act do we get a comfortable idea about what’s really going on.
This isn’t criticism. I’m just explaining Predestination’s method, which, thankfully, is different from Inception’s. It is, however, a method that’s hard to get around. As the movie ended, I wasn’t sure if it was blisteringly clever or just plain arrogant. Indeed, as I write this review now, I have yet to assign a star rating. I just can’t quite decide how many it should receive (of course, by the time you read this, there will be stars). I will have to perform a reevaluation as this review moves along.
So, Predestination is written and directed by Michael and Peter Spierig, German-born Australian filmmakers who don’t have many films under their belt. Their previous effort, Daybreakers (2009), unseen by me, opened to positive reviews and starred Ethan Hawke as a vampire haematologist. That is a cool job if ever I knew one. Hawke returns again in Predestination, playing a Temporal Agent who, mind you, is simply a secret agent who leaps through time to prevent crimes before they happen. Temporal Agent sounds more sophisticated, and also very cool.
The Temporal Agent (he doesn’t have a name; for the sake of convenience, I shall refer to him from here on as Hawkeman) is on his final mission. For years the world has been a victim of a maniac known as the Fizzle Bomber. In 1975 he blew something up real good and killed 11,000 civilians. It must have been some sort of sports complex. Hawkeman must now travel from the future (1992) to the early ’70s, rendezvous with whomever needs rendezvousing, and launch a preemptive strike against the Bomber, whose identity remains suspiciously unknown. If this is not a delightful premise, my name’s Malcolm. And I can assure you it’s not.
Hawkeman travels back and disguises himself as a bartender. Into the bar one night walks an androgynous man, or a woman, or someone caught in between. He calls himself the Unmarried Mother (why is not important) and strikes up a conversation with Hawkeman. Unmarried Mother (Sarah Snook) promises Hawkeman that he has the most bewildering story and bets his claim on a bottle of whiskey. The two settle down into a booth and the movie settles down into a lengthy flashback sequence recounting Unmarried Mother’s history, which wanders from his birth as a little baby girl (that’s right, a girl) to his untimely rejection by a lover. The sequence is so lengthy I thought the movie was just going to be about that, which would have been a neat twist of expectations. But eventually the sequence ends, and Hawkeman, not thoroughly impressed by the story, promises to change Unmarried Mother’s life. All the while we are wondering what happened to the whole plot about the Fizzle Bomber.
What happens from here I cannot say, except that Hawkeman intends to make Unmarried Mother a Temporal Agent. The rest of the movie is a rollercoaster of time travel and confusing developments. The track on which the rollercoaster sits has no start or end; it begins without a beginning and swirls every which way it can before meeting back at the same place, which is nowhere. If that sentence didn’t make sense, don’t worry — it’s not supposed to. Predestination is very much like that. Naturally, a lot is revealed at the end, but it’s no big consolation because it raises even more questions, which could be part of the whole experience. I got the gist of the story, and I liked it a lot. It made sense in a senseless sort of way. It’s a movie overflowing with confidence. Will there be plot holes? Sure. Will I care enough to find them? Not really. Inception had a bunch of plot holes. No one seemed to care.
Having finished the review, I am still at a star-rating crossroads, but I’ve been thinking back. Sarah Snook delivers a world class performance, as does Hawke. The movie is beautiful, engaging, different. Yes, I think it’s also blisteringly clever. And also arrogant. I’m giving it 4.
Best Moment | Any one of Sarah Snook’s flashbacks scenes. She has a childlike face, filled with joy.
Worst Moment | Nope.