I’d like to think that 2015’s Predestination is too twisty for its own good, but a film as methodically designed and smartly written as it cannot do much wrong. Like the best works of Philip K. Dick, it’s cerebral and weird and knotty in an attractive sort of way, ensuring that heads spin in a circle of boggling bedazzlement rather than tepid confusion. Adapted from the 1959 short story ‘— All You Zombies —‘ by Robert A. Heinlein, it’s a pile of head-spinning paradoxes stacked neatly and impressively. Heads roll but fascination remains; the film is a delicious concoction of knee jerking plot twists and performative mystification.
Predestination stars Ethan Hawke (continuing the hot streak that has inexplicably characterized his career since he hit forty) as an unnamed time traveling agent recuperating from several attempts to stop a 1975 bombing attack. After the weapon blows up in his face and he’s forced to undergo facial reconstruction surgery, he’s assigned, for reasons unclear, to bartend in an anonymous hole in New York City, circa 1970.
There does he strike up a conversation with one of his customers, known to us as The Unmarried Mother (Sarah Snook). An androgynous middle-aged male who wears his years of bitterness unabashedly on his weathered face, we learn that he grew up as an orphan named Jane, was briefly considered to become an agent for Space Corps., fell in love with a guy that deserted her and left her pregnant, found out she was intersex upon giving birth, and was promptly made to endure sexual reassignment surgery in an emergency procedure.
A heavy thing to reveal to a stranger, but as the film progresses do we come to understand that several commonalities exist between the bartending agent and The Unmarried Mother. Since this is a movie whose basic sense of diversion deeply relies on its uncanny ability to uncover monumental revelations, I will not say more about its wondrously complex storyline. Such would ruin the riveting tangle of mystery directors-screenwriters Peter and Michael Spierig so expertly craft.
Predestination is science fiction at its most challenging, but because the enforced sheen is more akin to the thrilling blockbuster than to the slowly paced existential haunter, it’s a movie exhilarating to behold. As the plot becomes increasingly byzantine and as its performances become mountingly layered, we find ourselves bothered by our agitated adrenaline valves as easily as we would watching a well-performed Fast and Furious high speed chase. In the Spierigs' bringing Heinelin’s story to life, nothing is lost in translation.
Made all the more magnificent by Snook’s bravura performance — if the budget were bigger and release were wider she certainly would have been an Oscar favorite last year — Predestination is an incendiary find deserving of repeated viewings (perhaps as a way to really grasp its many elaborations). A-