It’s very common for modern-day science fiction films to be more interested in showing off high tech studio CGI and focus less on the story and its meaning. Unfortunately, this doesn’t give a good name to the genre and we are subjected to the same repetitive storyline again and again. And that’s what makes new Australian film Predestination so different: it’s captivating, thought provoking and obscure in a way that contemporary science fiction films rarely are.
Based on Robert A Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies”, Predestination centres on a time travelling “temporal agent” (Ethan Hawke), travelling by time-warped violin case, who attempts to prevent a mass terrorist, the Fizzle Bomber. During an undercover bartending shift in the early seventies, he becomes involved in listening to the tale of a young stranger (Sarah Snook) who may or may not be the terrorist he is searching for, but nonetheless whose amazing story frames the rest of the film. Despite featuring a long and complex storyline, Predestination is one of those thrilling films where going in knowing the bare minimum results in a more satisfied viewing experience.
It’s a bizarre premise to work upon and, though limited in its narrative possibility, Predestination shines as more than a time-travelling flick by doubling as an allegorical film exploring the paradoxes of time travel. Its bold and epic sci-fi anecdote on a smaller scale works in its favour and the film brings the atmospheric feel of the short story to life. Helmed by talented Australian sibling filmmakers Peter and Michael Spierig (Undead, Daybreakers), the film evokes classic noir and crime fiction features, succeeding in making an entrancing science fiction drama. The production design, score and costume design all deserve a nod too.
Hawke is fantastic as the “temporal agent” and clearly understands the tone of the film, which in turn characterizes the mysterious “temporary agent”. His handling of the elevated fight scenes and the emotional sections of the film are a testament to his acting skills, easily enriching the story portrayed on screen. It is Snook, however, that carries the film and whose performance is truly unforgettable. Turning the film away from its cliché time-traveller vs. terrorist plot, Snook outstandingly becomes the protagonist of the story and becomes the most compelling actor on screen, even enchanting through narration. Topping all her previous work, Snook’s control of character development throughout is exceptional. Watch the film for her, if nothing else.
The build up of the plot, with its meticulous planning of the twists to come, is the best part of Predestination. Though many of the twists and turns are relatively easy to notice early on, it does not rely on the shock value to continue the narrative, but for the twist to enhance the meaning the story is trying to convey. Regrettably, the fast and convoluted ending mystifies the meaning of the film and the questions it raises.
As Inception and Looper teased the brain and provided enough meaning for an audience to connect with, Predestination’s themes are far more humanistic and rooted in wider concepts. Examining identity, destiny and volatility, the film observes these notions with the backdrop of time-travelling science fiction fun. A well-handled film by its writer/directors, a sharp script and a canvas for the amazing work by Snook, Predestination is a positive step for the Australian film industry and a satisfying science fiction film.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10