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Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook in “Predestination”

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Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook in “Predestination”
Image credit: Pinnacle Films & Stage 6 Films

I watch two to three movies per week, sometimes more, but rarely do I get inspired enough to write a review. I kept dozing off watching Gone Girl (I read the book before seeing the film), The Hundred Foot Journey was warm-hearted but fell short as a true-blue foodie film, A Most Wanted Man (read the book more than a year ago) and The November Man were thrilling but not thrilling enough to send me flying to my keyboard. But as soon as the the closing credits of Predestination started to roll, I knew I would write about it.

Predestination is a sci-fi film with time travel as its central theme. The plot is reminiscent of The Butterfly Effect, Twelve Monkeys, Looper and a little bit of The Minority Report where the protagonist travels through time to right some wrong. But Predestination introduces a different approach to the time-space loop phenomenon and to call the result a mind bender would be an understatement.

Sometime in 1985, time travel became possible. The Temporal Bureau has a roster of Temporal Agents who travel back and forth in time to prevent certain crimes from being committed. They succeed but one criminal eludes them. The “Fizzle Bomber”, responsible for the death of 11,000 people in New York in 1975, remains at large.

In the opening scene, a Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) stops a bomb from exploding but gets severely burned in the process. An faceless stranger helps him and he is able to travel to 1992 where he undergoes reconstructive surgery. He will get used to his new face, he is told. Having recovered, the Temporal Agent resumes his hunt for the Fizzle Bomber.

Working undercover as a bartender, he strikes up a conversation with a customer. The customer tells him that he was born and raised as a girl in an orphanage but, giving birth after an unplanned pregnancy, the doctors found out that he was hermaphoditic. His female reproductive organs had to be removed to save his life after excessive bleeding. The child was kidnapped from the hospital’s nursery and he never knew what became of the little girl.

Still bearing a grudge against the man who got her pregnant then disappeared, The Agent offered the customer, John, a chance to meet the man once more to kill him. The Agent takes John to Cleveland in 1963 on the night that he — then a young woman named Jane — first met the father of his child. To his utter shock, he realizes that he is the father of Jane’s child.

The Agent travels to 1964, kidnaps Jane’s baby and leaves her in an orphanage. He then goes back to 1963 and reveals to John that he is an older version of himself.

A preposterous proposition, really, if we stick with our definition of reality. A hermaphroditic woman gets pregnant by a man who is an older version of herself after undergoing a complete sex change procedure. The meeting was set up by the Agent who is an older version of both of them. Add to that the Agent’s role in how the baby ended up in an orphanage and it’s really one hell of a screwed story. But then that’s what science fiction is about — offer a different interpretation of reality and challenge us to think out of the box.

But, watching the film, I never felt that any of it was ridiculous. I like mind benders to begin with. So, yes, I love The Butterfly Effect, Twelve Monkeys, Looper and The Minority Report (despite Tom Cruise) but I especially love The Matrix. It’s not really surprising that I gaped at Predestination. The performance by Hawke was magnificent but it was his co-star, the relatively unknown Australian actress Sarah Snook, who really stole the show. The bar scene where John tells his life story to the Agent/Bartender was a very lengthy one. In a combination of oral story telling and flashbacks that lasted for 45 minutes, my awe grew bigger and bigger at how Ms. Snook pulled it off. An innocent pretty young woman one moment and a not-so-young man the next, how she changed her speech, her facial expressions, her mannerisms… they were nothing short of magnificent.

Predestination was written and directed by Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, a.k.a. the Spierig brothers, whom I had never heard of before. Reading up, I learned that their earlier works dealt with zombies and vampires (yawn). With Predestination, they’ve certainly levelled up.