I’ll warn you straightaway, Predestination is a mind-bending film. For those looking for linear, passive entertainment, carry on.
*** Spoiler Alert
*** Long Post Alert
Whenever time travel is introduced into a plot, it opens the story progression to many different paths. Swallowing the notion that someone could travel back in time to meet a younger version of themselves is challenging but appealing. Go ahead and suspend that disbelief now, since situations become very complicated very quickly.
You’re first introduced to Ethan Hawke’s character, The Agent, an agent of the super secret government entity responsible for going back in time to stop crime. The Agent is initially sent back to the 70’s to stop a bomber from destroying a 10×10 block area of NYC. In the 70’s he poses as a bartender when he meets John. John tells the bartender a story about how he used to be Jane, a person born with both sexes, raised as a woman but later changed to a man after some complications with a pregnancy. John relays his disgust at having to become man after the pregnancy resulting from a brief romance with a man who left abruptly. The Agent recruits John to travel back in time to the 60’s to seek revenge on the man who left abruptly, John accepts.
In the 60’s John meets his former female self, Jane. This is where the complications arise and I might add, it gets a little creepy. John and Jane have a brief affair before John leaves abruptly with The Agent back to the 70’s, Jane finds out later, back in the 60’s shes pregnant. She has a little girl the following year, who The Agent kidnaps, travels back in time to the 40’s and leaves at an orphanage .
The Agent, back in the 70’s, foils the plot of The Bomber but doesn’t kill him. Instead he pushes a violin case towards him, which turns out to be a time travel device, which The Bomber uses to escape to the 90’s.
The Agent, travels forward to the 90’s to find The Bomber, aged and still plotting more destruction. You’ll notice The Bomber looks like an older version of The Agent. That’s because he is. The Agent kills The Bomber, his older self.
If you haven’t pieced it together, here’s how it works. The Agent has to kill The Bomber because The Bomber wants to stop the cycle. The cycle? Yes, remember Jane, she gives birth to a girl. That girl is Jane herself. When The Agent kidnaps the infant Jane and transports her back in time to the 40’s, he is returning Jane to her correct birth year. Jane grows up, becomes John and they produce another Jane. John becomes The Agent and The Agent becomes The Bomber. Yes, that’s right, they are all the same person.
Why does The Agent continue the cycle when it would be easy to kill of an earlier version of himself or just let The Bomber carry out his mission? Because he is told by The Agency that its his destiny and purpose and if he doesn’t it will wreak havoc on the world, hence the title – Pre-destination. This dredges up a timeless philosophical question – Do you have free will and even if you do, does exercising your free will change your fate?
Premise and philosophy aside, the acting is stellar. Ethan Hawke nails the nuances of The Agent and Bomber, the weary reluctance to continue with his ‘destiny’ playing tug of war with his accepted purpose. However, Hawke is absolutely outdone by Sarah Snook, who is extraordinary playing Jane and John. Makeup and wardrobe helped to create John, but she had mannerisms, vocal tone and range of man. She beautifully projected rage and vengeance as John, while occasionally letting the confusion and abandonment of Jane out as a historical reminder. The transition period from Jane to John, gaping plot holes notwithstanding, was absolutely riveting. For me, Snook gave an Oscar-worthy performance.
Whether you’re a fan of cinematic puzzles created by the injection of time travel and non-linear story lines or you just want to see a phenomenal performance from Sarah Snook as both a man and woman, Predestination is a good watch.