SXSW Film Review – Predestination
Science fiction is a pretty broad genre for films. They can include space, aliens, the future, some weird other-worldly element, and many other things. What was the last sci-fi film you loved? Did it make you think or try to figure out the outcome? If a sci-fi film can keep me guessing in a positive way, then it is doing something original and is not just sci-fi fluff.
Forgoing my no-late-night-screenings rule at SXSW, I saw Predestination. When a film does not have a trailer and has not been purchased by a distributor yet, you pretty much take a chance on a film based on who stars in it and the small synopsis provided. In this case, it was Ethan Hawke and something to do with time travel. By the end of the film, it had me floored at its simplicity and at the same time the confounding complexity when you figure the plot all out in your head (or try to).
Predestination was written and directed by identical twins Michael and Peter Spierig, who also directed Hawke in Daybreakers. The screenplay is based on the short story “All You Zombies” by Robert A. Heinlein (please note that there are no zombies in this film). In Predestination, we follow a temporal agent whose duty is rectify wrongs or huge catastrophes that have happened in the past. He is like a time police officer of sorts. He does not have a name, but is referred to as “The Bartender” (Ethan Hawke) because the main part of the story begins when he goes back in time to 1963 to find and stop the “Fizzle Bomber,” a person who has taunted and thwarted him every time. He poses as a bartender where he meets a man and listens to his life story. This man writes confessions in a weekly rag as “The Unmarried Mother” (Sarah Snook). It becomes evident quickly after his story begins that he is a woman and his or her story is the main focus of the film. The Unmarried Mother’s story has to do with abandonment, feeling different, love, and loss.
Predestination is one of those films where it is better to not know much about the plot. If the small synopsis is good enough to get you in the theater, you will be pleasantly surprised by the trip Predestination takes you on. It is a convoluted story best left to experience firsthand. Any review that explains much more is doing a disservice to the experience of seeing the film fresh and unspoiled. The major reason why I loved it so much is that it will keep you guessing. Even if you think you have figured it out, it throws you for a loop with another part of The Unmarried Mother’s story.
Ethan Hawke is the major “star” of the film and the draw, but he is not the actor that will blow you away. That belongs to Sarah Snook. Snook does not have many recognizable projects under her belt. She almost got the role of Lisbeth Salander in David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Her role as The Unmarried Mother is the breakout role for her. Snook’s journey in Predestination takes her from a young, aspiring girl to a man with a hard soul filled with misery and regret and all the points in between and she hits all of the emotional points and physical qualities splendidly. I cannot say enough about her performance. It and the story will stay with you long after you walk out of the theater.
While this is a sci-fi film, it is rather low key on special effects. The before and after of the time travel is really the only special effects I can remember. The headquarters of the temporal agents is in 1985, so there is no need for a futuristic set. Time travelling to the 1960s and earlier keep the film grounded in an environment that is not foreign to the audience. The film instead focuses on the story and the characters.
The Spierig Brothers have made a great sci-fi film that does not overdose you on the sci-fi. Low on special effects and high on character development and story, Predestination should be thoroughly enjoyed by the masses when and if it hits theaters worldwide. This is not some low-budget, throwaway film like some seen on SyFy. I might have had those fears walking into the screening, but walking out, I cannot wait for everyone to see this beautifully-made film. The actors’ performances and the original story make this a film that should not be missed.
(To those who will ultimately complain about it not being an original story once a trailer debuts, Predestination’s short story, All You Zombies, was published in 1959.)