Last night I was fortunate enough to attend the Australian red-carpet premiere of the Spierig brothers’ new science fiction film, Predestination, as part of the opening night celebrations at the Melbourne International Film Festival. Held at the Melbourne Arts Centre, the night commenced with a typically charismatic introduction by MIFF patron, Geoffrey Rush, and ended with a very festive after party.
I should probably begin by noting that I’ve not been particularly enamoured with the two previous efforts of the Spierig brothers, Undead (2003) and Daybreakers (2009). The former was far too uneven in tone, swaying haphazardly between broad comedy and horror elements, and the latter began with great promise before ultimately veering into far too generic territory. Having said that, Predestination, starring Ethan Hawke and Australian new-comer, Sarah Snook, is an uneven but above-average entry intro the time travel genre.
Based on Robert Heinlein’s well-known short story, All You Zombies, the film details the mission of a temporal agent (Ethan Hawke) of some sort, on a mission to travel back in time in order to stop an elusive psychopath, who goes by the name of the “Fizzle Bomber”, from completing his ultimate act of terrorism. Along the way he must solicit the cooperation of Sarah Snook, in order to change (or simply consolidate) the course of history in order to complete his task. Any more information than this will invariably result in a spoiler. Suffice to say, this a mind-bending tale that plays with that more confounding and entertaining of science fiction devices, temporal causality.
The directors make the wise choice to dislocate the film from contemporary reality by placing the events of the film within an alternate twentieth century, in which sophisticated scientific development is intertwined with the fashion and gender politics of the past. The result strengthens the film’s sense of a world in which many individuals live outside of time, and makes for a wonderful aesthetic.
Narratively the film plays its cards too early, and astute viewers will have a basic idea of how the film will end about thirty minutes in, leaving them with only the puzzle of how the plot convolutions will finally arrive at their (pre)destination. This becomes particularly distracting as the filmmakers insist on dropping a barrage of less-than-subtle clues, which at times verge on the patronising. Perhaps the most frustrating moment comes when the truth is “revealed” to the audience in a final montage. The device is entirely unnecessary, all has already been revealed, and it undermines much of the film’s dramatic impact up to that point. The viewer is left thinking, “did the directors think we wouldn’t know this?”
Hawke is excellent in the lead role, and Snook does a decent job with the exceptional challenges that are put in front of her. I don’t want to go any further on this, except to say that an unconvincing makeup job results in a pivotal moment of potential revelation being largely undermined. It’s not the end of the world, but it does create a sense of jarring disconnect between the director’s desired impact and the actual result.
It’s not La Jetée, but all in all, Predestination is a decent science fiction film just one solid edit away from becoming something special.