Australian cinema, as a whole, can be a bit paint-by-numbers. With films that focus on heavy themes such as disillusionment, family/relationship breakdowns, racism/oppression, etc. it can feel like you’re watching the same movie just with slightly different characters. This alone would make the Spierig Brothers’ new time travelling film stand out. But Predestination does more than stand out. It demands attention, deservedly so.
Based on All You Zombies, a Robert A. Heinlein 1958 six-page short story, Predestination follows a Temporal Agent (The Bartender played by Ethan Hawke) on a mission to finally catch a serial bomber who has eluded him throughout his career. He must also recruit an intersex man, The Unmarried Mother brilliantly played by Sarah Snook, to join the agency.
This is a film that’s difficult to summarise without explaining an awful lot of things. It’s as complicated as time travelling movies can be but this is part of its appeal. It doesn’t try to be historically accurate but rather captures a 1950s version of what the 1960s (and beyond) could be like. It keeps the wonder and naivety of what space travel entailed when such a feat was still in its infancy.
At the core of the story, however, are the characters. The Bartender is a man obsessed, unable to give up on his mission despite the increasing toll the time jumps take on him. Ethan Hawke, as always, gives a solid performance. Though it is Sarah Snook’s performance that makes the film.
Recently seen in the romantic comedy Not Suitable For Children and the end-of-the-world flick These Final Hours, the role of Jane (and later The Unmarried Mother) is so far her best. Both roles are entirely different and Snook nails them. It took a while to even register she was The Unmarried Mother underneath the make up and personality shift. A male actor was considered for the part but Snook brought such humanity and empathy to the roles that there was no need to hire anyone else. The film could have easily become gimmicky and overly complex for its own good but the characters really do ground the story and give us something more to care about.
Not only is it refreshing to see Australian cinema tackling genre films, it’s even more satisfying to see an intersex character in a role that doesn’t revolve completely around being intersex. The transition from female to male, although very important, doesn’t make up the character’s entire personality. It is the type of representation that is necessary in the media because it doesn’t single out a particular group, points a finger, and shouts DIFFERENT at them. They just are who they are and live as best they can like everyone else.
It’s interesting to note how ahead of its time Heinlein’s story is. Even today it is rare to see a similar story and characters portrayed in this way. It’s also remarkable how the film remains true to the short story. Obviously certain plot points have been changed and expanded on, but the events and even dialogue and passages are faithful to the text.
Overall Predestination is fantastic Sci-Fi film that offers more than technology far ahead of its time and special effects. It has a real and powerful human story at its heart. It also proves Australian cinema can explore important themes in a way that doesn’t feel like a carbon copy of all that have come before it.
Review by J. Alberto Vasquez Sanchez