WRITTEN BY NATHAN LERNER/For 21st Century Media
“Predestination” is another sci-fi flick about time travel. It is based on Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 short story, “All You Zombies.”
“Predestination” boasts a boffo beginning, which is set in New York City, circa 1975. In it, a man, dressed in fedora and trench coat, is disarming a bomb. Suddenly, it blows up in his face. The severely burned man uses his mobile time machine, disguised as a violin case, to fast forward back to 1991.
Following the opening credits, the man, whose name is never specified, turns out to be an agent of a secret organization, known as the Temporal Bureau. Following extensive plastic surgery, the Agent (Ethan Hawke) emerges with a radically revised face.
It is revealed that the Agent had been dispatched back to 1975 to foil the plot of a terrorist known as the “Fizzle Bomber.” Otherwise, the latter was poised to set off a bomb that would have killed 11,000 people.
Upon recovery, the Agent receives one final assignment before he is decommissioned. He is dispatched back to Gotham of the ’70s in one last try to capture the Fizzle Bomber. Once arrived, the Agent assumes the cover identity as a bartender in a neighborhood bar.
One night, a customer wanders into the bar and pulls up a stool. The man (an androgynous looking Sarah Snook) introduces himself as John and reveals that he writes magazine confessionals under the byline, “An Unmarried Woman.”
Following some contentious colloquy, John makes a bet with the Agent, who as far as he knows is nothing more than a generic bartender. He offers to recount his life. If the bartender agrees that it is a great story, then John will win a free bottle of top-shelf liquor.
John recounts that he was born as a girl and raised in an orphanage. As a trainee at the Space Corps, she displayed impressive mental and physical skills. However, in a routine medical examination, doctors discover something troubling. Jane is booted from the Space Corps without the benefit of any explanation. She is crushed by the expulsion.
Jane, who was then a virgin, meets and falls in love with an older man. When she becomes pregnant, he abruptly abandons her.
During the delivery of her baby, Jane hemorrhages and the doctors are forced to do a hysterectomy. They discover the reason that Jane had been expelled from Space Corps. She was born intersex. In addition to having a full set of female reproductive organs, Jane has an internal set of male genitalia. At her doctor’s recommendation, Jane has gender reassignment surgery and assumes the identity of John. Her life as a female is now ended.
According to John, his life was permanently ruined by the man, who impregnated, then abandoned her. The bartender then reveals that he is actually Temporal Agent. He advises John that he can take him back in time to confront the man, who he feels destroyed his life. There is only one condition. John has to promise that he will kill the man, who wronged her.
“Predestination” was co-written and co-directed by identical twins, Michael and Peter Spierig. The twin brothers were born in Germany, but lived in Australia since they were four years old. Their 2003 debut feature was “The Undead,” a zombie horror comedy. They followed up with 2009’s “Daybreakers,” set in futuristic world, which is overrun by vampires. “Predestination” is not populated by zombies or vampires. However, both of the lead co-protagonists are outcasts from Society.
The film features a career-defining performance by Sarah Snook. She captures the sense of angst and disorientation of her gender-reassigned character.
“Predestination’ is compelling in its early going. However, as the film continues, the implausibilities and incongruities mount up. By the denouement, the film defies comprehension.
As with all time travel films, “Predestination” has an inevitable outcome. No matter how you try to unravel the plot, the film makes no sense conceptually.
“Predestination” ** ½ R (for violence, some sexuality, nudity and language) 97 minutes
Film critic Nathan Lerner sees more than 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.