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Time Travelling Film Noir – A Review of “Predestination”

Predestination is a movie which rewards viewers for knowing as few details of the plot as possible, and yet it is hard to talk about this film without revealing at least something, so I will keep discussion of the plot to the first seven minutes of the movie – certainly sufficiently intriguing to whet your interest. The movie, written and directed by the Spierig brothers (Michael and Peter, whose other films include The Daybreakers), opens with Ethan Hawke in voiceover, asking an unseen someone, “What if I could put him in front of you, the man that ruined your life? If I could guarantee that you’d get away with it – would you kill him?” A character is then seen carrying a briefcase and a violin case as he rushes down some stairs into a boiler room. The briefcase morphs into a containment device for a bomb which he discovers almost instantly, as if he knew it was there. But, someone else is in the room with him, and a short firefight erupts. As the bomb ticks below 10 seconds, our character hurries to drop the bomb into the containment device, but he is too late. The bomb ignites. Our character’s face is covered in flame and he writhes in agony on the floor, crawling towards the violin case. The unknown assailant steps out of the shadows, and slowly pushes the case towards the injured man. Then, a single jarring sound and we are transported to a hospital room, with a man covered in bandages.

Once the bandages are removed, we see that our character is played by Ethan Hawke. As he reports his thoughts by talking into a voice recorder, we learn the context for the opening scene of the film: Hawke is a time-travelling agent tasked with disrupting the actions of a criminal dubbed, “The Fizzle Bomber”, who has eluded him for his entire career and is responsible for a devastating attack on New York in March of 1975. But now, as his wounds heal, he prepares for one last mission, perhaps the mission which will finally result in the capture of The Fizzle Bomber before he can kill thousands. The title appears in white over a black background, at the seven minute mark. If you’d like, you can watch these first seven minutes here.

Predestination is a time travel movie, and is based on the short story, -All You Zombies- by Robert A. Heinlein. But, what becomes apparent very quickly while watching this film is that it is heavily character-driven, and will use some very peculiar story-telling devices to accomplish its goals. An example of this which I have already mentioned is our main character speaking into a tape recorder. This, in one action, provides the audience with exposition and context for the world (always important in the science fiction genre) and raises an interesting question: who is Hawke recording this for? As this and other mysteries unfold, Predestination adopts a very film noir feel, which is entirely appropriate for the investigative nature of the story.

This movie is driven by the performances of Hawke and newcomer Sarah Snook, as the time-travel heavy plot is interspersed with a very human dramatic arc. This allows the audience to both marvel and wonder at the temporal gymnastics of the time agent Hawke, and empathize and connect with the characters in the story as it unfolds. More interestingly, Predestination subverts the traditional time-travel story, often fraught with paradox. We all know the form of this paradox, as it is as old as time-traveling stories themselves: “If person A goes back in time to change B, then in the resulting new timeline, there is no need for person A to travel back to change B”. Predestination solves this paradox in a unique and fascinating way, enticing an audience to revisit the film multiple times. While some of the plot points may be telegraphed or seem too ridiculous or convenient, when viewed in the lens of this paradox, Predestination becomes another in a long line of fascinating Indie science fiction films with a unique twist on time travel (such as Primer or Timecrimes). If you are at all intrigued by a noir-style investigation set across multiple non-linear time periods, and want to see the time travel paradox turned on its head, you owe it to yourself to watch Predestination. Probably twice.


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Derek Jacobs

Chicago,IL 60606

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