From the directors of Undead and Daybreakers
Identity, belonging and reality – the literary works of Asimov, Clarke and Dick and their contemporaries have been attracting science fiction filmmakers for decades. Predestination, the new film by The Spierig Brothers is based on the Robert. A. Heinlein short story ‘All You Zombies’, which, curiously enough, doesn’t involved zombies at all. The film engages in, and to a degree contributes productively, to a film discourse that began as far back as German Expressionism, in the works of Murnau and Lang, and has been maintained through films such as Blade Runner, Dark City, Looper and countless others, to varying degrees of success. Science fiction has always been a popular avenue for exploring considerable ideas and there is arguably no bigger objective than exploring our sense of self.
Like a snake eating its own tail, we spend much of the film catching up to ourselves. A nameless Temporal Agent – a time-travelling crime fighter – played by Ethan Hawke, heads back in time on his final assignment to track the one adversary that has persistently dodged him, The Fizzle Bomber. While biding his time working undercover in a bar, the agent encounters a mysterious transgender customer (Sarah Snook), who claims he has the most amazing story the agent will ever hear. The agent wagers the customer a full bottle of whisky on the claim and the two sit down to examine the chronicle in question.
To discuss in depth the narrative and concept that The Spierig Brothers explore Predestination would be to ruin much of the film. It is a movie that keeps you guessing for nearly long enough, but not quite. Films with big ideas are usually more powerful when the idea is masked by story. Predestination may have benefitted from allowing plot to superficially triumph over thought, rather than trust in the conceit to be a powerful enough payoff. By the time the final moments of the film roll by, we’ve been anticipating the outcome for some time and the revelation comes with expectation rather than astonishment.
Film noir and science fiction are compatible to such an extraordinary degree that a film like Predestination feels not like an emulation of a style but rather an absorption of an approach that has been developing for nearly a century now. The strength of the Spierig Brothers is their enthusiasm for building filmic spaces. Daybreakers, their previous film, mingled horror and science fiction to develop a scenario in which vampires are the prevalent species. Predestination is saturated in noir, from the hard-boiled nature of the characters and plot to the hard-lit grit of New York City.
Ethan Hawke has the uncanny ability of being able to inject weight into the fanciful, and brings an appropriately grizzled attitude to his character. Sarah Snook is nothing short of extraordinary in her role, seamlessly altering her manner between feminine and masculine. It is one of the best performances of this year so far.
The Spierig Brothers are remarkably ambitious filmmakers, with an admirable ability to push their budget and their means to an absolute limit. Their passion fills every frame of Predestination, and is enough to sustain curiosity for almost the entire running time. There’s certain courage involved in tackling a film like this, so open is existential science fiction to scrutiny. Christopher Nolan’s Inception countered any inspection or perceived flaws in logic by layering complication over complication. Predestination is a fun film, but the Spierig Brothers may not have endorsed their compelling concept with enough consideration toward its potential.