Cinematic Releases: Predestination

Predestination starring Ethan Hawke is in limited theaters and on demand today.

"I told you once and I'll tell you
again. Drop the gun and
step away from the
yummy sandwiches."
Based on Robert A. Heinlein's short story, All You Zombies, the Spierig brothers adapted the story, choosing not to cure the logic defying inconsistencies inherent in time-travel sci-fi, but embraced them. Predestination is the surprisingly romantic and equally smart result. It's Looper with more heart and Cloud Atlas with less fantasy. If you're a fan of either, make certain Predestination is your next watch.

When compared to other big sci-fi films recently, Predestination's budget of 5.6 million dollars is paltry, yet the Speirig brothers (Daybreakers, Undead) milk the budget for everything it's got. The very first thing that will grab you is the stunning art direction. Every visual element is sewn together with vibrant lighting, outstanding wardrobe that transforms through several decades, and set design spewing with personality. If you get nothing else from Predestination, it's engrossing just to let your eyes wander in the scenes.

Unfortunately, the trailers set up Predestination like an action thriller. Thankfully, it was so good that it won me over anyway. Essentially, revealed in the trailers, Ethan Hawke plays a man who works for a time travel agency bent on preventing one of the world's most brutal massacres before it happens. This core mechanic remains true, of course, but the tone established in the trailers is what should be ignored. It is first and foremost a story of loss, crushed love, and finding oneself that slowly burns into something teasingly spectacular. The opening set up is brain tingling, but winds back down to build its plot inch by inch. I was constantly fascinated by where it could be heading. How does this get back to the opening scene? Where does it all tie together? Who is this mysterious "Fizzle" bomber? How does a small, seemingly inconsequential romance lead to the massacre of 10,000 people? The Spierig brothers' screenplay constantly feeds you brain candy to chew on while the gorgeous sets keep your eyes busy.

"Everyone keeps calling me
R2-D2. I am not an astromech droid.
I am human and will kick your ass."
The characters are so intrinsic to the plot that simply exploring them in the slightest here would be spoiling the plethora of surprises in store for you. Even if you think you've figured it out, the screenplay rips it back from you and casts an entirely different perspective on it. I've read a couple of criticisms regarding the numerous sharp turns the time travel logic takes, but the Spierig brothers openly commented on this prior stating that, "...if there was a way to pick apart the logic [of the original short story], over that time it would have been done by now. We kind of say, ‘let’s trust the short story and trust that logic’, so we stuck very closely to it." It is what it is and you can't say they didn't stay faithful to the source. Everyone should know by now that the consequences of time travel in film should be taken with a grain of salt. It is, after all, an untested theory for obvious reasons. We can't time travel as of this writing, so no one has any idea how this stuff would or should play out. It's a tool for telling a cool story and if you have a problem with the logic therein, you can take it up with one of the greatest sci-fi writers of all time, not the Speirigs. Any problem you have with the logic, regardless, is tied up adeptly based on what you should expect from the title alone and proves the Spierigs knew what they were doing from the start.

One may say that Predestination's themes and aesthetic borrow too heavily from Looper, Cloud Atlas, and even Dark City, yet Heinlein's All You Zombies, predates all of these stories by roughly fifty years. You'll see superficial inspiration and similarities all over the place, but many of these elements made it all the more enjoyable to watch.  Predestination has arrived at either just the right time or just the wrong one. With unique sci-fi titles starting to make a small comeback, I adore catching gems like this one, and I hope this heartfelt piece doesn't get lost in the water while riding this new wave of great sci-fi. Hopefully, word of mouth instead of its misleading trailers is what will get Predestination its deserved audience.

-J.G. Barnes