Predestination (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Predestination (2015)

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If someone wronged you and you had the option, consequence free, to kill the one who sinned against you would you take it?  A mysterious man is part of a time travel agency who can make this happen, and meets a lonely boy in a bar with this offer.  Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig write and direct Predestination, starring Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook

Detective I'm my own son mother father at your serviceTime travel films will always deal with plot issues because, by virtue of time travel existing, the characters can always go back in time and fix their mistakes.  Sure, there's the standard issue of paradoxes and alternate timelines, but the question is always in the back of my mind when watching time travel films.  They require a deft hand in the screenplay or an audience willing to embrace the complete absurdity of the situation in order for them to work properly.

This brings us to the unusual case of Predestination.  It's, to my knowledge, one of the only time travel films which functions as an ouroboros.  Predestination is so carefully constructed to reveal bits of information at specific times, yet it could also start its plot at any point in the film and end up in the same place.  It doesn't surprise me Predestination is based on a short story, "-All You Zombies-" by Robert A. Heinlein because Predestination is so tightly plotted.

But watching Predestination and reading "-All You Zombies-" reveals the problems in adapting the short for cinema.  The original short story is perfect fodder for a fifty or forty-five minute movie where the revelations can come at a consistent clip and when the big surprise is finally revealed we can feel exhilarated.  Predestination moves at an infuriatingly languid pace, doling out information so slowly I grew frustrated as new data is introduced and the implications sluggishly suggested.

There are plenty of hints sprinkled throughout Predestination about the twist.

There are plenty of hints sprinkled throughout Predestination about the twist.

A languid pace is fine, but the exposition doled out in Predestination's opening act takes a whopping forty-five minutes before the true "action" begins.  All of this takes place in the same yellowish-brown bar with the bartender (Ethan Hawke), speaking with a mysterious young man named John (Sarah Snook) who says he has a story that is the best the bartender will ever hear.  This bartender, like all good bartenders, has probably heard it all but there's no way he's prepared for John's story.

Here is where I must tread carefully because I have an "all spoilers, all the time" philosophy when it comes to reviews.  If we're going to talk about movies intelligently then we need to talk about the movie, plot and all.  At the same time, when John starts his story we've seen some science fiction shenanigans going on involving the bartender that lets us know strange things are afoot at this bar.  The extent of that strangeness is such that when I was describing it to a friend of mine last night he looked like I told him I bred chupacabras in my apartment to feed to the army of unicorns I plan on storming Atlantis with.

Predestination's plot is so weird and the twists so unique I am going to adopt a spoiler policy just this once, and only because it's something you have to experience for yourself.  But if the film is so strange, why is my rating an Indifferent?  It goes back to the fact there's simply not enough material in Predestination for an hour and a half movie and the performances suffer for it.

When Predestination isn't shoveling exposition out, it has some fun with its design.

When Predestination isn't shoveling exposition out, it has some fun with its design.

Hawke, despite his nomination for the Best Actor Oscar, has always been dependable instead of exquisite (give or take a Tape).  He delivers his lines slowly, like a teenager trying to read The Fountainhead to a toddler, doling out information which is extremely complex but wants to make sure every bit of this is understood.  Snook is almost as bad as John, but makes up for it by approaching their entire relationship with a certain detached bemusement.  But whatever Hawke and Snook do to try and make the information interesting it doesn't change the fact that it is forty-five minutes of pure exposition with only slight detours into John's past to liven up the film.

It's these detours, not the extensive conversations, that give Predestination some life and I like the analog twist directors Micheal Spierig and Peter Spierig put on the time travel tech.  The device itself looks like a suitcase with those old rotary dials, conjuring up the image that with just the right combination of numbers you could unlock a better past or future.  I also loved the unusual space uniforms cadets for the time travel academy have to wear, they look like the bastard offspring of the blue bird of happiness and the troop uniforms from Francois Truffaut's Farenheit-451.

There's one aspect to Predestination that points toward a better, more daring, and difficult film.  Several issues of sex assignment come up and contribute to the convoluted plot issues in Predestination.  John, in details I will spare, was raped of his sex and identity and never had the choice to become who he wanted to be.  In this space Predestination hints toward a character study where sexual trauma is revisited on others as a way of coping with their own pain.  Instead, we get a film with some strong ideas but dull execution.  Promise is better than nothing, and I look forward to what the Spierig's do next.

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Tail - PredestinationPredestination (2015)

Screenplay written and directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig.
Starring Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook.

Posted by Andrew

Comments (2) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Good review Drew. Had a solid story going for itself for the first hour or so, and then dropped way low once the sci-fi elements were thrown in there.

    • Thanks for the reply Dan. Funny thing is I was the opposite, when the exposition-heavy first half was over with my interest perked up as the pieces fell into place.

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