Like that pesky little strand of fabric dangling from a lone sock that when pulled destroys the elastic, or the one on the sleeve of a favorite sweater that likewise creates a gaping hole, the narratives of time travel films practically beg to be dismantled with the slightest of thought given to their illogical construction.Predestination, the third and best feature length effort from the Australian directing duo the Spierig brothers is no different, but unlike many of its contemporaries it goes all in on its premise with reckless abandon without looking back, unless it’s to squeeze in one more surprisingly twisted revelation from the story it lays out.
Predestination can easily be divided into two different parts, an initial first half that purposely drowns itself in exposition, to the point that I was surprisingly on the verge of hating what I was I was seeing, and a second half that cashes in on every previous nondescript moment by diving head-on into the rabbit hole of space-time. After a head-scratching opening that conventionally establishes the structure of the film as progressing towards a return to that moment, Predestination has the audacity to spend forty of its precious minutes with two characters sitting in a bar, a customer (Sarah Snook) telling their life story to the bartender (Ethan Hawke) as it revolves around a secret government agency trying to recruit Temporal Agents. The tale gets increasingly tall, almost snapping the bands of credulity, taking bizarre turns you would never expect that begin to dabble in emotions far stronger than the film seems able to bear the weight of. And then the exposition is over, and you’re left to wonder where the film could possibly go next, at which point it becomes a series of non-stop time travel escapades that are so relentless in their deconstruction of every previous plot element of the story that you almost have no choice but to put your jaw on the floor.
I’m being intentionally vague because I want you to have an experience similar to mine. Some films are best left going into as cold as possible, and when it comes to Predestination the plot twists deserve their reveals unencumbered by preconceptions. I’m pleased to say that Sarah Snook’s performance as the customer is terrific, proving that my praise for her in the little-seen southern gothic horror yarn Jessabelle was not misguided. And Ethan Hawke is dependable as usual, and given much more to work with here than in the Spierig brothers’ last film, the forgettable Daybreakers, where he was too passive. It’s important that you care about both characters, because this film does more with just two people than perhaps any other film ever made. There, I’ve probably gone and said too much.
For cinephile and time travel enthusiasts alike, don’t give up on the first half. Sure it’s exposition-heavy, but it pays off. When it’s all said and done Predestination is not something that will survive too much thinking about it, but it practically begs to be re-watched, and in the back end is a non-stop “oh no they didn’t” thrill ride.
The Verdict: Rave