For his final assignment, a top temporal agent must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time. The chase turns into a unique, surprising and mind-bending exploration of love, fate, identity and time travel taboos.
“A man walks into a bar…” is such a deceptively simple phrase to start a joke or story, yet in reality, it can become host to a number of endless possibilities as to where the author leads us.
In the case of writer Robert A. Heinlein, it serves as the setup of his short story “—All You Zombies—”, which starts with a man walking into a bar to only later evolve into a web of paradoxes, time travel, free will and fate.
Heinlein, considered part of the “Big Three” of English-language science fiction literature, along with Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, wrote it in only a day and later published it on March 1959 in the Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine.
Throughout the years, it has become one of the most influential and beloved time travel stories, praised for its deft and easy handling of complex ideas such as paradoxes. Ripe for adaptation due to its simplistic presentation yet mind-bending story, filmmakers Michael and Peter Spierig announced in 2012 they would write and direct a film version of Heinlein’s iconic short story.
For their third film, the Australians twins brought back most of the same crew from their second feature, the (highly enjoyable) vampire tale Daybreakers, including its star Ethan Hawke. For the lead role of Jane/John, the directing duo cast relative newcomer Sarah Snook.
With a budget of under $5 million dollars, filming began on April 8th 2013, lasting for six weeks. Because of its relatively small budget, all filming took place in Australia. After more than 50 years of the publication of Heinlein’s original short story, the adaptation would see its release in 2015 under a new name: Predestination.
Playing dual roles can go either way (just ask Adam Sandler or Eddie Murphy), yet Sarah Snook delivers a star making performance as Jane/John, a woman who is unexpectedly forced to change her gender and encounters a large number of painful events during her/his life. Careful to never turn the female and male characterizations into cliches, Snook clearly outlines the differences between Jane and John yet still makes the latter feel like the natural evolution of the former.
Besides being helped by some very decent makeup and costume design to change her feminine features, the young actress gives both a powerful heartbreaking performance as well as a transformation of her entire body language which fit the changes she goes through the story and also tells the story of the trauma she has suffered through it.
TRANSGENDER TIME TRAVELING
Next to horror films – and perhaps more so – science fiction has always stood as a favorite genre because it often analyzes real, sometimes controversial topics that are worth looking at through the lens of the fantastical.
Although the events that take place in this film are nowhere near reality given the story behind our main character, the fact that it deals with a transgender protagonist accepting themselves in a way that never becomes preachy yet whose message still comes across is an interesting proposition not only in a science fiction movie but film in general.
Thanks to Snook’s excellent work and the Spierig brother’s script and direction, the exploration of the characters gender never feels condescending and the movie still gives its place to talk about what it means to feel different in this world, all told within in a story about time travel.
WORK WITH WHAT YOU HAVE…
A genre film with higher ambitions and lower budgets than most, Predestination makes the most with what they have, never letting it hinder their storytelling, rather finding ingenious solutions to the complex science fiction ideas they present.
From the use of sets, makeup, special effects, clever editing and stylish camera work, the Spierig brothers use every film making tool and idea they have at their disposal to lend the film with the “Hollywood” production scale they are going for.
Easily, my favorite of these tricks is the time traveling itself, offering as simple a solution as actors popping in and out of the frame and the assistance of wind machines and basic editing. However, this feels like an elegant solution that fits within the narrative of the story being told rather than a limitation.
LOVE THY SELF
If the above warning wasn’t clear enough and you’re still reading this but haven’t seen the movie yet (also taking into consideration you actually want to watch it), spoilers for the film’s reveal will be discussed below. If you’d like to remain free from knowing the ending, I’d suggest you skip this paragraph and move on to the next section.
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Now, I have seen and heard (and partly understand) the criticism that it must take an extremely self centered person to fall in love with and impregnate themselves (and perhaps slightly gross).
Yes, the movie could have expanded on this detail so it made more sense and this believable but at the same time I feel this is related to the point it’s trying to make. It is called Predestination not only because the Bartender’s/Jane/John’s life is predestined from a cosmic point of view to follow the same path every cycle but also because it wonders whether the character’s human nature and hubris is what is forcing that fixed path.
After all, the possibility of John loving and sleeping with Jane asks the same question The Bartender faces when he realizes he is also the Bomber:
Even if you know the outcome of an action, would you still make the same decision?
Thus, emotion takes precedence over reason, which is something we all encounter plenty of times during our lives. We all know the possible negative consequences of certain actions we take, yet choose to ignore the logical answer.
Predestination leaves logic aside for a moment to serve its thematic needs and force us to self-analyze. I can understand how this plot point bothers some but it’s a fundamental part of why the film works for me.
It asks an uncomfortable question with an impossible answer, as expected from all great science fiction tales.
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Because of its limited budget, director Peter Spierig also took on the role of film composer, using only digital scoring (music made in a computer). This works in favor and against the movie as the uncomplicated electronic sounds lend the story a heavy science fiction vibe and nicely balance the complex story line, making sure the music is present but not overpowering.
However, this also means that nothing in the soundtrack stands out as particularly memorable. No real themes or melodies come through and stay with you as a viewer. Again, it’s not a bad thing and it’s certainly understandable given what Spierig had to work with but it would have been nice to see the music match the artistic ambitions laid out by the film.
- Ending Credits – Peter Spierig
I see you’ve had some disciplinary problems in the past.
I’ve had nothing but straight As in all my classes since the first grade.
Yes. Have you ever been with a man?
And what happens when that day comes, when I have no knowledge of my future?
Well, then, like everyone else, you’re just going to have to take it one day at a time.
The snake that eats its own tail, forever and ever. I know where I come from. But where do all you zombies come from?
- Heinlein’s original short story was rejected by Playboy magazine.
- Sarah Snook spent more than four hours every morning in the make-up chair for being turned into John.
- The Fizzle Bomber was not in the original short work. Presumably, he was included in the film to provide additional conflict and fill out the runtime. Aside from this addition and a few changed background details, this film is a rigorously faithful adaptation of the text.
- Making Of Documentary (WARNING: Spoilers are openly discussed and this should only be watched AFTER you have experienced the film)