Predestination: Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook Reshape the Time Travel Genre

By Nguyen Le · January 19, 2015

Future past, present then, paradoxes, etc. – films about time find joy in giving you a headache and the search for Advil. If so, Predestination is an anomaly for it’s both pain and remedy, a genre entry that first taxes the brain and then soothes it by being strangely heartfelt.

The adaptation of Robert A. Heinlein’s short story '—All You Zombies—' tells the tale of a Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) looking to apprehend a terrorist named “The ‘Fizzle’ Bomber.” One day on the job, in his “The Bartender” cover, he meets John (Sarah Snook) who is famous for writing magazines’ confessional testimonials under the pen name “The Unmarried Mother.” Some drinks and much chatter later, our Agent discovers that John used to be Jane, until an emotional tragedy forces her to be who she is today. Strangely enough, correcting the events of John’s past will also prevent the future from more disasters…

Here’s how I found out about Predestination: a random “local movie showtimes” search. With such little fanfare upon release, be expected to see confused faces upon mentioning the film. Shame – considering Predestination is more than just a “time-traveling film” or a “let’s-pick-apart-the-logic” opportunity, this is a surprisingly competent exploration into the themes of identity and purpose. And it’s really gorgeous too.

It’s a definitely commendable fact that the Spierig Brothers approach the material with restraint. Had they used the Daybreakers card, also known as using exquisite visual tricks whenever possible, Predestination’s human aspect would have been non-existent. Do take note of how the directors give the film a futuristic vibe – the vibrant colors of Wendy Cork’s era-appropriate costume, Ben Nott’s steady cinematography and Peter Spierig’s (one of the brothers) foreboding music that primarily contains low-key pulsating beats. There’s no showcase of fancy tech here, just simple editing to demonstrate the power of the time-traveling device and even the device itself: a black violin case.

Ethan Hawke works here being the Agent, his presence has adequate weight to carry viewers along this twisty ride. Yet, despite its stupendously complex scenario, the screenplay (also written by the Spierig Brothers) can be predictable to those experienced in the whodunit genre or simply eagle-eyed viewers. As a result, the film’s magic rests on its one crazy surprise at the very end, which can either be considered as genius or, as a person in my showing puts it, “weird.” Personally, it’s been so long that I’ve seen a film reaches its climax via a satisfying revelation instead of the traditional explosions and/or shootouts.

Speaking of revelations, my my, I sure want to give a pat on the back to the person who casted Sarah Snook. The red-haired Australian wonderfully pulls a double act as John and Jane, clearly distinguishing both characters through the way they sit, walk, talk and express emotions. That said, Snook unites both personas with a subtle display of sadness, the product of being regarded as an outcast and a miserable life. In a way, Snook is the heart of Predestination… and by the time the film ends, you’ll realize it is a strong and beautiful one. Jessabelle aside, the future is bright for this actress.

There’s no better New Year gift than Predestination, but it’s sad to think how few people will show up to receive it. Usually, my general rule with time-related films is to “just roll with it.” For this film, however, I’d add “and prepare to be moved” afterwards.


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