Review, “Predestination” – **1/2 stars (out of ****)
Released January 9, 2015 (U.S.)
Written Directed by The Spierig Brothers (Michael and Peter)
Cinematography by Ben Nott
Starring Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor
WARNING: This review is RIFE with spoilers. I waited a while (obviously) to post a review of this, so at this point you were most likely not going to see this movie — unless, maybe, it got a rave review in this space. Why the spoilers? Well I couldn’t help myself, okay? It’s very hard to talk about “Predestination” without ruining its very, very convoluted surprises, that hinge on a big violation. That makes sense, right?
As the warning above alludes to… you should SKIP THE ENSUING LONG RAMBLINGS UNLESS YOU’VE ALREADY SEEN THIS MOVIE (which I doubt most of you have) OR DON’T REALLY CARE ABOUT IT (the movie’s good but not great so.. you don’t really have to skip this part, honestly, unless you’re interested in seeing a weird time-traveling movie with Ethan Hawke with an entertaining-if-implausible twist).
ARE YOU GONE?
I REALLY AM GOING TO SPOIL THE FUCK OUT OF THIS MOVIE IN A SECOND, NOT SURE HOW MUCH I HAVE TO SPELL THAT REALITY OUT FOR YOU. SCROLL TO THE NEXT MOVIE ON THIS LIST.
So, in the universe of “Predestination,” based on a 1959 Robert A. Heinlein short story called “All You Zombies,” and adapted for the screen by the Spierig Brothers (who worked with Ethan Hawke before, in the hit 2012 vampire flick “Daybreak”), Ethan Hawke is a time-traveling spy, tackling a very unique temporal paradox. During the last mission of his career (which is to catch an evasive terrorist code-named “The Fizzle Bomber”), he poses as a bartender in 1970 New York City (his listed character name in the credits is, in fact, “The Barkeep”). He meets a cagey young man at the bar, who in turns finds himself opening up to Hawke. He writes articles in a true confession magazine under a pen name. Even the pen name begins to give stuff away, although it’s revealed maybe 15 minutes into the movie, if that.
ARE YOU QUITE GONE, IF YOU HAVE ANY LINGERING INTEREST IN SEEING THIS MOVIE WITHOUT MY UNRAVELING THE WHOLE PLOT?
I’M GOING TO SPOIL IT NOW.
ARE YOU READY?
HERE IT COMES. POINT OF NO RETURN COMING UP…
He has travels back in time to grab his former self, a post-op transgender man (Sarah Snook — great last name, right?), then take that former self back to a time when he/they were in college, where the transgender man will run into HIS (and by extension Ethan Hawke’s) former self, at that time a young college woman (Sarah Snook). Post-op man Snook will seduce female Snook, for some reason (the movie says it’s because.. they think alike? I guess?). Then he will abandon her, pregnant with their child. THEN there will be complications during childbirth, compelling the doctors to perform a C-section, but there will be too much bleeding, causing said doctors to remove Snook’s ovaries and urinary tract. BUT that’s okay, because she has male and female organs internally. So they connected her male urinary tract. Why they couldn’t just connect it to her presumably-still-in-place female genitals, I don’t exactly understand. Even if they weren’t functioning as legitimate sexual organs, at least she could still keep her femininity, the identity she had known and been comfortable with for her entire life up to that point. I needed WAY more than a little throwaway explanation from the doctor to buy this transition. This stands as a HUGE gender-identity violation and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, though it’s the key crux of the whole damn enterprise. IF it had worked (big “if”), this would have gotten a much more positive notice.
Anyway, the baby is immediately stolen in the hospital, by Ethan Hawke (the pre-op Snook AND the post-op Snook both have no idea that Hawke is the person who steals the baby). That baby is THEN taken back to Ethan Hawke’s pre-destined (get it?) birth year, 1946, where Hawke deposits the baby on the stoop to his/her childhood orphanage. Meaning… Ethan Hawke fucks himself to birth himself, whom he then steals. Thus, he is his own father and mother. Keep in mind, too, that this self-fucking/birthing/kidnapping mission Hawke is enacting is a mere side-mission, which he’s doing while in the past to ensure that he continues to exist. Eventually, in the future, Hawke is unable to capture the Fizzle Bomber before he is scheduled to finish his job as a “Temporal Agent” and retire to a random timeline. He decides to retire a bit before the Fizzle Bomber is scheduled to kill 10,000 people in an epic detonation (I think in the ’70s? Hard to tell), hoping I guess to catch the Fizzle Bomber before the mass slaughter can be enacted. So even when he’s retired, he’s still working. Of course, guess who turns out to be the Fizzle Bomber? That’s right. Future-Ethan Hawke, who’s gone insane after far too many time travel missions have left him with symptoms of psychosis and dementia. So, invariably, Ethan Hawke kills Fizzle Bomber-Ethan Hawke. He has thus alternately slept with, killed, and given birth to himself.
After post-op Snook is de-briefed by Hawke and his overseer (Noah Taylor) in their Temporal Agent HQ (set in 1985), it sounds like post-op Snook/pre-Fizzle Hawke is set to spend seven years on various epic time travel missions, ultimately saving thousands of lives. Of course, retired Hawke eventually destroys thousands of lives in kind, after cracking under the aforementioned influence of dementia and psychosis INCURRED by time travel. Apparently, Ethan Hawke was the ideal Temporal Agent for Taylor’s program because Hawke has no family and no connections in the past or the future. There are purportedly 11 Temporal Agents total, but we only see one of them in passing, and we don’t hear the stories of why exactly the other agents are traceless too. It can’t be because they all exist only through paradoxes in which they fuck and birth themselves, can it? How did this weird loop even start for Hawke, exactly? Where did Snook/Hawke come from in the first place, if s/he is their own spawn? And why did it have to be so extreme? Couldn’t there have been another way for Snook/Hawke to lead a trace-less life outside of being their own parents?
Anyway, the movie folds in on itself a lot, as you can see. It took writing all this out and sitting down with my thoughts for a minute to fully grasp the movie. It’s pretty good, really, but it just needed a bit more clarity I think, especially in explaining Hawke’s main mission and why he failed and why it didn’t matter to Noah Taylor that he failed. And also in explaining why, exactly, Hawke was so attracted to himself when he traveled back in time. I don’t know. The pieces do fit, but the fit’s awkward. AND, most importantly, why exactly the doctors had to turn Snook into a man instead of just keeping her external appearance the same while re-routing her masculine urinary tract through her no-longer-functioning-but-presumably-still-present lady parts. That being said, it’s all a very fun, loopy sci-fi conceit, and the reveals are fun because for the most part they’re tough to really anticipate. Well, some of the time, anyway. There was a lot (read: too much) of insanely complex plotting to decipher, centering around TWO separate stories – the Hawke/Snook genesis story, which quickly takes center stage against the backdrop of Hawke’s Fizzle Bomber tracking story. The Fizzle Bomber tracking happens so quickly that it’s a bit tough to follow amidst all the Hawke/Snook wackiness. Other recent goofy time travel movies, like “Looper” (2012) and “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014, re-branded as “Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow” on home video, a way catchier title) – which Noah Taylor is also in, by the way – both make a point to keep their fairly complicated plots as simple as possible, and not let too much chattiness overwhelm the action of the story. “Predestination” is so dense and over-packed with characters explaining the story to us (over multiple voice-overs) that it detracts from the experience of the thing as a whole. I DO like that it isn’t a typical, rote science fiction movie, and is so much more focused on so compact a set of characters and circumstances. And time-travel is always pretty fun. And it certainly has stuck with me. It just… doesn’t totally work.
The second biggest problem with the project is much more basic: Sarah Snook is a great actress when she’s playing a woman, but as a man, in that make-up, she is utterly unconvincing. If she were playing a post-op woman, that would be one thing, but this is supposed to be a character that we’re surprised was once a woman, and has had seven years and several operations and hormone treatments under his belt. Snook acts like someone still artificially trying to assume the basic behavioral tenets of masculinity, and the make-up on her face is frustratingly unconvincing, while Hawke, as the decades-older version of her, is completely comfortable in his own skin.