Time travel movies are a pretty popular sub-genre of the sci-fi world. Well-known films include The Terminator (1984), Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), the Back to the Future franchise, and most recently, Loki and within the MCU universe. One that is rarely brought up in discussion with these films is Michael and Peter Spierig’s 2014 film Predestination. Predestination may not be the best film, but it has a twisting story and one of the more cohesive time travel films out there.
Predestination is based on the 1958 short story “All You Zombies” by science-fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein. The film received mainly positive reviews, with New York Post critic Sara Stewart calling it a “stylish head trip.” The film ultimately garnered 84% on Rotten Tomatoes and was well-liked among audiences.
Although receiving mainly positive reviews, the film didn’t seem to make the lasting impact that other time travel movies had prior. Predestination is extremely underrated and deserves recognition for being a film that makes a topic that is often perplexing much easier to understand. Also differing from other time travel films, Predestination delves into paradoxes that can occur during time traveling, as opposed to ignoring them completely. The film also focuses heavily on character arc and development, and has a beautiful mise-en-scène, with the various eras so perfectly depicted with the use of clothing, production design, and cinematography.
Predestination chronicles the life of a temporal agent (Ethan Hawke) who is sent on hundreds of time travel missions to ensure his career at law enforcement. Temporal agents’ jobs involve having to stop horrific crimes before they happen, ultimately saving the lives of millions of people. For his final assignment, the agent must stop a criminal known as the Fizzle Bomber from instigating an attack that will kill thousands of people.
The film opens with Hawke’s character trying to break an explosive set by the Fizzle Bomber in New York. The bomb blows off in his face, burning him terribly. The film then goes to its first of many flashbacks, a scene in which Hawke is working as a New York bartender during the 1970s. On the job, he meets an androgynous man who goes by the name “The Unmarried Mother” (Sarah Snook).
After some small talk, the customer begins to tell Hawke his life story: He was actually born a girl named Jane who grew up in an orphanage, always getting bullied by the other girls. She was recruited to the SpaceCorp as a young woman, a government agency known for bringing women into space to have sex with astronauts. She eventually gets kicked off for an undisclosed medical reason, but one of the people in charge, Mr. Robertson (Noah Taylor), is still intrigued by her. He offers to recruit her for a different type of agency, but this is before Jane meets a man, falls in love, and gets pregnant, which doesn’t allow her to join.
The father of her child ends up mysteriously leaving her, competely vanishing from her life. After she gives birth, it is discovered that Jane is intersex, with internalized male and female sex organs. Complications during the birth forced doctors to remove her female sex organs, making her undergo a gender reassignment surgery, enforcing her into a world as a man named John. Furthermore, John’s life was thrown into another loop when his baby was stolen by a strange man, and since then, John has been living a sad life under the pseudonym “The Unmarried Mother”, writing confession columns. Having characters part of the LGBTQ+ community in this film is also what makes it a unique and intriguing film, being one of the first in this sub-genre to do it.
As John tells his story in a series of flashbacks, the movie always returns back to the scene between Hawke and John at the bar. That, among other elements, is what makes Predestination unique from other time travel films: its use of time. The film goes at a much slower pace compared to other movies of the genre. Many time travel movies are criticized for being extremely fast-paced and hard to follow, which makes an already unfathomable concept more complicated.
Although the plot may seem like a lot to take in, the pace of the film makes it easier for viewers to grasp. Being a little over an hour and a half, almost the entire first hour is the intimate scene between John and the temporal agent (Hawke) at the bar, as John is telling Hawke his life story. Most time travel films would’ve started delving into intense action sequences and the use of special effects, but Predestination doesn’t need to rely on these, as it is already an extremely captivating story and relies more on narrative and character develpment.
Predestination also stands out due to the factual elements it contains and the lack of plotholes, which time travel movies are so famously known for. After John finishes telling Hawke his story, Hawke offers him the chance to go back in time and alter his past. As John is about to kill the man who impregnated him as Jane, it is shockingly revealed that he is actually the man, meaning he is a temporal agent as well. It is later revealed that Hawke’s character is the mysterious man who stole Jane’s baby. In fact, John, Jane, Hawke, and the baby are all the same person: revealing a predestination paradox.
Along with the factual scientific elements, the Spierig Brothers and crew took their time to make every time era as factually correct as possible. Costume designer Wendy Cork does an amazing job with her clothing that was devade-specific and the production designer Matthew Putland uses different lighting techniques and colors to depict different decades. The 1960s Space Corp had cool whites and blues in the interior design; Jane’s school uniform perfectly depicts the 1960s, with her white and blue uniform and bob cut.
Although Predestination didn’t get the attention it deserved, the knock-out performances from Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook remain. Hawke was already a well-established actor, with huge roles in films such as the Before Sunset trilogy, Training Day (2001), and Daybreakers (2009), but it was Snook who really cemented her acting abilities in this film. Hawke delivered an amazing performance as a man who appears tough but is actually very lost, and Snook’s pulled off her performance of a tortured soul brilliantly.
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