Studio: Blacklab Entertainment; Screen Australia; Wolfhound Pictures
Publisher: Pinnacle Films
Format: Cinema (Reviewed at Sony Theatrette)
Release Date: August 28, 2014 – Tickets Available Here
Science Fiction as a genre has always been about exploring the deeper intellectual conundrums which plague the minds of humanity about the nature of technology and reality. Good Sci-fi especially can be experienced both as a story and as a thought experiment. The written works of Robert Heinlein are a prime example of this mixture of philosophy and narrative with Starship Troopers being one of his most well known, largely due to the less than faithful film adaptation of the same name. The film was written by the directors, Michael and Peter Spierig (who have also directed Daybreakers), and based on Heinlein’s short story All you Zombies. With this pedigree behind it and two very talented directors at the helm, I don’t think it should come as a surprise that Predestination is actually pretty darn good.
The narrative of the film is surprisingly complex considering that the action we see is quite simple. I apologise if the synopsis I’m going to give is shallow, but it is difficult to go into too much detail without inadvertently spoiling one of the film’s many twists. The film opens with an unknown figure walking into the basement of a building and attempting to disarm a bomb. They’re attacked by an unknown saboteur and are grievously wounded by the limited explosion of the partially defused bomb. After undergoing facial reconstruction and skin grafts in a futuristic facility, we are finally given a rather macabre view of the figures face (played by Ethan Hawke). The action then jumps ahead and we see Ethan’s character preparing to embark upon some sort of mission. As he outfits himself with 70s style clothing, it is revealed that he is a temporal agent who travels through time to prevent terrible crimes from happening.
Once again, the film takes a different turn as we next see him working as a barman in a dive bar in New York. An androgynous looking John (Sarah Snook) comes in to drink and for a bet agrees to tell Ethan’s character the most incredible story he’s ever heard of. The temporal agent takes up the bet and we begin to hear John’s life story. We learn how John is in fact an intersex individual and was originally identified as a girl called ‘Jane’ in her younger years. We see how Jane grows up, attempts to find work as a space prostitute (seriously), falls in love with a stranger and becomes pregnant to them.
Due to complications with the birth, the doctors discover the male organs which Jane possesses and make a snap decision to give her a complete hysterectomy and sex change. To compound the discomfort of this sudden change, the baby is stolen soon after. After hearing this story, Ethan’s character offers John the chance to find and kill the stranger who caused her so much grief; the stranger who impregnated her. It is at this point, that things start really complicated.
I cannot stress enough just how complex this narrative becomes as we see the action unfold, and many a seasoned reviewer walked out of the session scratching their heads at what exactly (Not counting yours truly, of course). The film does foreshadow its twists quite heavily and astute observers will pick out fairly quickly what’s going to happen. All the same however, regardless of whether you’ve read the story, a synopsis on Wikipedia, or a spoilerific comment on the internet; the film paces the narrative so effectively that you’ll be able to enjoy the story even with forewarning of the twists.
The script is definitely one of film’s strong points and the performances of Snook and Hawke help to bring life to the words. The chemistry between these two actors is great with Hawke’s charm as the temporal agent matched by the cynical scepticism of Snook’s John (At least for the first act). You might feel that the film is just meandering around in its first half, but trust me everything comes together quite nicely. Snook in particular deserves kudos for her portrayal of a character who undergoes the transition in gender from one identity to the other. Where lesser actors generally over-act in their portrayal of a different gender (sometimes to the point of parody), Snook plays the role with a more subdued performance which is more realistic and affecting.
Visuals & Audio
The directors do a good job of visually demarcating the different stages in the film narrative with contrasting sets, lighting and filters between scenes set in the past and present. There are also some cool special effects with futuristic tech and the make-up on Hawke and Snook in several scenes help establish the sense of time changing these characters in subtle (sometimes drastic) ways. The soundtrack composed by Peter Spierig does its job of setting the scene, but doesn’t leave the audience with anything particularly memorable. Most certainly, you can see that the directors focused more on the script and performance than on anything else.
Instead of focusing on CGI or other special effects, the directors littered the first half of the film with visual and audio clues as to the film’s big twist. I guarantee that you will want to watch this film again to find all these cues and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone is already compiling a list of all these cinematic Easter eggs.
This is sci-fi fare at its best. A smart script with an interesting premise, strong actors to bring it to life, and directors who are brave enough to not shy away from the heavy themes and complex narrative make this a must-see film. This film which will stick in your mind for a long time as you mull over the details and their implications, similar to the way that Inception did way back in 2010. I understand that not everyone will enjoy this film due to its muted action and heavy themes, but I honestly cannot recommend enough that you do go see it anyway to see how the genre of sci-fi doesn’t just have to be special effects and spaceships. This film could have had so much go wrong, but it gets it oh so right…
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