Predestination (2014) ☆☆☆(3/4) : That tricky paradox of time travel

small_Predestination  “Predestination” is a minor surprise to be admired for its clever handling of one classic science fiction idea which always intrigues us for that mind-boggling paradox inside it. You will certainly see through almost every cog inside its plot during its first 10 minutes, but the movie finds a smart way to intrigue and engage you as going through expected plot points, and that is where most of its fun comes from. Therefore, I sincerely recommend you at this point that you should watch this compelling science fiction film right now for your maximum entertainment rather than reading this review, which can unintentionally ruin your viewing experience.

I have not read Robert A. Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies” which the movie is based on, but I read other science fiction works based on similar premises, so the setting of the movie came to me with amused recognition during my viewing. While initially looking like the 20th century as we know, the world depicted in the film has a different historical timeline as a sort of parallel universe to ours, and we recognize a number of notable differences here and there in the background. Technology is more advanced here as shown in the scenes set in the 1960-70s, and they even invent time travel technology later around the 1980s.

Around that point, a mysterious government agency named the Temporal Bureau is established, and the main function of this secret agency is regulate the timeline in past and future. While preventing some bad incidents in the past (the movie is rather vague about how the agency knows that its missions are accomplished, by the way), it also puts lots of efforts to the maintenance of the timeline, and that is why it demands high degrees of integrity and discretion to its small number of special time-traveling agents.

small_Predestination03 At the beginning, we see one of those time-traveling agents going somewhere for the latest mission along with a time traveling device, which looks like a guitar case on the surface. The purpose of the mission is stopping and killing a very dangerous bomber nicknamed Fizzle Bomber, and this unidentified bomber somehow manages to keep evading the pursuit of the Temporal Bureau while terrorizing the citizens of New York during the 1970s through the series of massive bombing incidents which caused the death of many people.

The agent in question fails to catch Fizzle Bomber on the spot, but he manages to prevent the bomb explosion although he gets severely burned during his attempt to defuse the bomb. After returning to the headquarters, he goes through an extensive plastic surgery on his face and body, and, though he feels awkward about his newly constructed face when he looks at the mirror, he soon becomes ready for a new mission, which will probably be his last mission before his imminent retirement.

The agent goes back to New York in the 1970s where Fizzle Bomber continues to scare New Yorkers, and we see him working as a barkeep at some shabby bar somewhere in the city. While we are not exactly sure about the nature of his mission, he happens to serve some bitter customer during one night. We are told that this customer has earned some money through cheap confession stories of ‘an unmarried mother’ for Readers’ digest, and it seems this customer has one hell of real story which has not been told to anyone yet.

I will not go into details on what will be told next, but let’s say that it is the story of one woman who went through the series of ups and downs throughout her sad, messy life. The directors Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig, who previously made a flawed but interesting vampire movie “Daybreakers” (2009), did a good job of setting distinctive period moods for each temporal point along their increasingly complicated plot, and the result is compelling while also quite poignant sometimes as the plot gets thickened with more things to be told or revealed. As we see more of the woman in question, we come to feel sad about her frustrating struggle in the world which seems to have its own plan for her, and then those usual questions associated time travel stories accordingly follow: Is it everything determined from the beginning? Is it possible to change past or future? Is free will nothing but an illusion?

small_Predestination04 The movie basically revolves around a handful of characters, and its main actors find interesting things to do with their seemingly functional characters. Their performances keep the plot rolling even when it becomes quite shaky along with accumulating paradoxes to amuse and confuse you, and the Spierig brothers push it further with confidence as it is approaching to its inevitable point which will reveal something not so far from those cerebral ironies we observed from many other science fiction films about time travel.

Ethan Hawke, who previously collaborated with the Spierig brothers in “Daybreakers”, sets the tone well at the beginning, and he also brings a considerable amount of low-key intensity to his bar scenes as we come to sense something going on beneath these scenes. While only appearing from time to time, Noah Taylor is also effective as the shady head of the Temporal Bureau; the more we meet him, the more we senses that this guy may be the only one seeing the whole picture above everything. The performance by Sarah Snook, who surely deserves more attention and more good opportunities in the future, is the wild card of the film; she is simply marvelous as gradually taking the center as a precious beating heart of the story, and what this talented actress achieves on the screen is something you have to behold for yourself.

Science fiction films driven by ideas have been rather rare in these days, and it is really nice to watch a fun, intelligent science fiction film like “Predestination”. It is sometime pretty predictable as you can clearly see the cards held behind its back, but then it amazes you as shuffling them to generate more entertainment than expected, and you may want to watch it again as reflecting on that ever-interesting time travel paradox.

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