Entertainment » Movies

Predestination

by Kilian Melloy
Friday Jan 9, 2015
Ethan Hawke stars in 'Predestination'
Ethan Hawke stars in 'Predestination'  (Source:Sony Pictures)

It's impossible not to come out with the obvious snarky pun when reviewing "Predestination," the new sci-fi Ethan Hawke vehicle, based on a short story by Robert Heinlein and brought to you courtesy of The Spierig Brothers (who worked with Hawke when he starred in "Daybreakers," their 2009 satire of the pharmaceuticals industry).

This movie, true to its title, feels completely foreordained -- not mention forced and contrived. The theatrical trailers tell us that Hawke's character -- a "temporal agent" who hops around different decades to track down and head off a clever bomber -- is, himself, the result of a "predestination paradox." Couple that with the film's broad winks -- Hawke singing "I am my own grandpa," among other none-too-subtle bits of cleverness -- and the movie spoils itself for anyone who's been paying a modicum of attention.

Or, really, anyone who has ever seen a movie or read a story that involves the cause-and-effect warping effects of time travel. "Predestination" takes a huge delight not only in bending the mind's natural inclination to order things in a linear fashion, but also in bending other givens -- gender, identity, the nature of human life.

But it just doesn't work. Is this a procedural about tracking down a mad bomber, a wily fellow who keeps frustrating Hawke's temporal agent by "changing the date" of his March, 1975, bombing attack in New York City? Or is this a quieter, darker fable about how secretive institutional forces unthinkingly intrude into the life of a woman (Sarah Snook) who, after having been raised in an orphanage, finds herself recruited for membership in a space-borne cadre of comfort women, her brilliant mind all but disregarded in favor of her feminine physique, a commodity sorely needed by macho space truckers?

The answer is that it's both, but the movie spends far too much time on the latter story (which is told in flashback as Hawke, posing as a bartender in 1970, chats up an embittered customer). By the time we get around to addressing the chase to stop the bombing, we've almost forgotten that was even a thing; if the perp's trail hasn't gone cold, our interest certainly has.

The film does possess some entertainment value, both for its production design and its well-judged, intriguing rewriting of history. The movie sticks with Heinlein's conceptions from 1958, when he wrote " -- All You Zombies --," the story the film is based on. In the parallel universe of the movie, commercial endeavors in space are commonplace by the 1970s and time travel is invented in 1981. It's a fascinating exercise in alternative history, and the most intellectually stimulating element of the movie.

All that is to say that you could enjoy "Predestination" if you completely shut your brain down when the movie begins. And why shouldn't you? Story logic and scientific analysis won't matter, really, because this movie is confusing as hell. If you take the time to parse what it's presenting as a spaghetti-tangle of actions and consequences, you realize that its logic doesn't even work -- but then again, the story's contortions feel like they're meant to hide the impossible plotting. (They certainly don't do much to heighten tension or enhance the film's impact.)

"Predestination" is a dreary, convoluted mess, temporal loops nested raggedly inside of temporal loops. The film spends an hour and a half coyly revealing everything you suspected but hoped wasn't going to be the case, and then simply drops you at the end, leaving you to wonder why you bothered. It's a pity, because it didn't need to be this way.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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