Review: Predestination

Predestination offers up everything I love about low budget sci-fi. An intriguing film that doesn’t really have the luxury of relying heavily on crazy CGI shots, so instead, has to rely on the substance contained within its premise. Developing worlds and characters and letting them exist within the confines of their own reality, while It is within these confines that some of the most fascinating stories are told: Primer, Sound of My Voice and Take Shelter are just a handful of recent films that have captured the imagination despite a limited budget. These stories are made all the more rich by the fact that the story is front and center, and Predestination happily stands among them.

Predestination tells the story of a temporal agent (Ethan Hawke) who jumps through time at his bureau’s behest, stopping major and tragic crimes before they can be committed. The film opens with a short, action-filled prologue before settling in to a simple story of a bartender (Ethan Hawke) chatting with a one of his patrons, John (Sarah Snook) – a cynical, yet fascinating man who offers to tell him a wildly unbelievable story. The bartender agrees, and off we go.

John begins his story by revealing that he grew up in an orphanage, as a girl named Jane. Jane was a lonely, isolated child; she always knew that she was different, in some way, from the other children. Fighting and space travel interested her, and she always experienced a difficulty functioning in society and making connections. A lonely childhood segued into a difficult and often tragic adulthood thanks to a few very specific events.

Eventually, points A and B connect, and we jump back into the time travel story, with John’s past and future finally becoming one with the action-filled prologue we saw early in the film. John has had a great wrong done to him, and the nature of Hawke’s time travel bureau is the ability to set wrongs right again. And he offers John an opportunity that is just too good to pass up.

The thing that I have always loved about the Spierigs’ films (Undead and Daybreakers) is their ability to construct narratives within a fascinating premise. This is science fiction that, while not always super-polished, injects something unique into the landscape and offers up intriguing stories and engaging characters. And Predestination is no different. Sure, there are plot wrinkles that never quite get ironed out and a few bumps along the way, but they never derail the story or take away from the experience. Here, we have an examination of time travel itself, coupled with an incredibly fascinating character that the audience immediately (and gladly) empathizes with.

John’s story is compelling and grab’s the audience’s attention from the get-go. The awesome thing is that, even though you know this is a time travel movie, and even though it opens with an exciting segment before we settle in to storytelling at the bar, you are completely fascinated by John simply telling his story. The time travel component eventually picks up again, and it is equally fun, but even if it didn’t you would still be on board with the film, just on the basis of John laying his life out on the table for all to see. You connect with
his emotions, with the events of his life, with the person that he has become over the course of his journey. 

Sarah Snook plays the role brilliantly, portraying both the younger Jane, as well as the older, more cynical John. She fantastically gives a performance that conveys the individual aspects of each side of the character, each at a different point in a life, while still retaining a common core that connects each time period into the same persona, defying the boundaries of gender, while making the character(s) at once unique and united.

Predenstination is a shot of sci-fi that plays with the rules of time travel in an entirely new way. Your mind is going to bend in ways you didn’t think possible, and each new turn and revelation is another new and exciting moment. This is much more than a time-traveling Minority Report. There are moments and aspects of the film that you will be turning over in your head long after the credits roll. Predestination is a film that examines not only the nature of time travel, but the nature of personhood and of what makes us who we are.