The first review of 2015 is here and what we have here is yet another time-travel movie, something very apparent from its title. Directed by Peter and Michael Spierig, and starring Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook; Predestination is stylish in its ambience, with a strong performance from Sarah Snook, who channels a certain Jodie Foster-like flair to her character. The pitfall and failure of the movie is in the ‘destination’ of the plot, which is apparent after a point. Though invoking intriguing concepts of the time-paradox, Predestination loses out on pacing as the exciting parcel waits until half the movie to start unwrapping itself.
It is hard to discuss much about this movie without revealing the many twists and secrets that are embedded within. While along a similar line as many films on time-travel and paradoxes, Predestination does seem more intelligent than most, not falling into blatant illogic; but it certainly does create a sense of déjà vu in anyone familiar to the genre. It is worthy to mention that the frequent use of hidden faces throughout the film does clue in the viewer on the inevitable climax. It is this abundance of obvious clues that reveal themselves with a hard glance that takes away from the film and in the end, reduces the impact of the whole picture. If you remember how the climax of Fight Club was alluded to throughout the movie which therefore gave rise to a rewarding second viewing, this will not require that. All the clues are thrust in our faces, and this makes the potentially clever ending a low-fare affair.
The film starts off with pleasant confusion, setting up several things that seem inviting to venture onward for. We catch a ‘temporal agent’, a dignified time-travelling cop, whose latest mission ends with his face charred beyond recognition. Given a new face, he sets out for one last chance at the mission, which was to take down a dangerous ‘Fizzle Bomber’ who plans to bomb New York in 1975. The new-face, played by Ethan Hawke is then seen bartending and striking up a conversation with a man named John Doe. This suddenly mismatched atmosphere would not have disappointed me if not for the length it stretches out for. After some friendly banter, the customer, a writer of confession-stories for women’s magazines who goes by ‘The Unmarried Mother’, starts narrating his life story to the bartender. What unfolds next is the longest unnecessary flashback, telling the tale of her struggles as a little girl, who then gets picked up by a mysterious company ‘SpaceCorp’ for selection as an astronaut, her eventual elimination, love, giving birth, sex-change and writing career. This is the down-point of the movie, which although at the time does feel engaging, is unnecessary to a large extent in terms of the big story.
The essential point of the over-stretched tragic narration is the man who John met when he was Jane, whom she fell in love with, and in turn whose baby she gave birth to. The baby is stolen from the hospital itself and thus starts the tragedy of her life, moving on to becoming a man, on account of her hermaphrodite-organs. Once this painfully long back-story tides over, the bartender reveals that he knows John/Jane’s story and offers a chance to kill the man she resents for destroying her life. Jumped and taken by the opportunity, he follows the bartender/temporal agent to the basement where he explains his time-machine which looks like a violin case. Yes, there are many elements you will need to wrap your head around or spend hours thinking over and the best strategy, I have found with this movie, is to just let it go and enjoy the story. They travel back to the day when Jane met her lover and the agent directs John to the place where she met her lover.
Now if I were to talk of the subsequent events of the film, the reader’s watching it would be pointless. Hitting out twist after twist, the final arc of the story seems too jammed and convoluted to react in co-operation with the rest of the film. What the film attempts to do, frustratingly so, is draw the meaning of a time loop, and emphasize the point of inevitability, but unfortunately the manner it chooses for the same is nerve-wracking and groan-worthy. While it may translate to a better-than-most time adventure, the ‘shocking’ twist that is set up throughout the course of the movie serves to lessen the lustre of the experience rather than magnify it. There is an evidently jagged pace to the film, as it starts out confusing, moves on to immersive with its narration and interaction, and then undoing the constructed atmosphere with a lazily thrown-together sequence, which could have been the major plot of the movie. There are far too many obvious secrets left lying around to credit the ending, and if that was not enough, there is exposition abound through the appreciable voice of Hawke explaining in gruelling detail the plot that is unfolding beyond our very eyes.
[SPOILER: To those who don’t mind the end being spoiled for them beforehand, I would just like to provide the plot in brief – A man fails his time-mission, travels back in time to meet his younger self in a bar, takes him back in time with the help of a time-violin so that the younger self may impregnate his even younger self from when he was a woman, to give birth to a herself, who is then stolen from the hospital by himself so that he may deliver himself to an orphanage and then retires to find that he grows old to be the same fizzle-bomber he failed to stop from bombing New York in 1975. Now try to wrap your head around that.]
Where I may be able to credit the movie is in its thematic, indeed the strange nature of tweaking time as well as surprisingly gender conflict, are both given enough room to play out. The performances are quite good over the board, and it is clear that Ethan Hawke is putting his all into the faulty script he is given. I do also have to say the make-up team did a fine work, especially with Sarah Snook as the male John Doe, who in fact, I did not recognize for quite long. But the outstanding gem out of all this is most definitely Sarah Snook, playing a character undergoing gender crisis, as she portrays a woman-turned-man, struggling with his/her identity after all the people in his/her life have left her. It is unbelievable how much Snook reminded me of a young Jodie Foster, with very masculine characteristics about herself, and this reflected in her excellent portrayal of the man born of gender-change. The original awkwardness with her character is redeemed when her story is told, and apart from the training sequences with SpaceCorp (which I think is a silly name for a company trying to hide itself as a space agency) the narrative is solid and rewarding in the building of John’s character. Where I do appreciate this character exploration, it might have been handled with better management of time, as the long narrative comes at the cost of the actual time-travel aspects of the story, and the theme it tries to draw out. I feel the film might have been tuned well with a narrowed down explanation of her training and other struggles, including writing; in order to advantage the time-travel by providing a more cohesive and flowing presentation of the numerous twists, which I do appreciate despite their cluttered telling.
I have never had so many mixed feelings for a film since I watched Chef, and at the end of the day I am undeniably pleased to not start off the year with a terrible movie as I would probably have, if I had chosen to watch Woman in Black instead. And it is not as though Predestination is a bad movie; rather it presents its audience with an intriguing plot of tweaked time and paradoxes. It is directed in style and does offer thrill-worthy cinematography, while meandering between atmospheres. Where the movie loses out on is the painfully transparent secrets it tries to insert through hidden faces, which immediately has us taking a mental note of those very scenes to be unveiled later in the movie. And revealed is exactly what happens to those, and it really is an awful note when the upcoming twists and mysteries are unravelled earlier on through sheer carelessness. The fact is that the twists may have been much more hard-hitting if not for the rushed up delivery they are given. While the climax does seem interesting and exciting, it is certainly something borrowed from tales we have heard before, but perhaps bettering them. I leave that open for you to decide whether good or not.