If you’re a twisty-time-travel-movie junkie like me, you’ll turn loop-de-loops over the Spierig Brothers’ Predestination, in which “temporal agent” Ethan Hawke jumps among different periods doing ... something ... It’s not clear until the last minute of the film, and “clear” in this context is still a trifle murky. But if time-travel is your thing, you learn to shrug off inconsistencies. You debate chicken-egg questions over drinks or dope and mull over all the permutations. You graph it. You wish like hell you had a time machine. You savor every discombobulating, ludicrous, thrilling second of Predestination.
Orienting you at all would constitute a spoiler, but it can be said that there’s a semi-coherent first scene in which Hawke shoots at someone or gets shot at by someone and appears to be partially incinerated in an explosion; that he undergoes futuristic plastic surgery; and that he wants to jump back in time — risking his sanity, which bends under the stress of too many temporal jumps — to capture a mad bomber dubbed “the Fizzler” before 1975, when he or she is destined to kill thousands of people. It can be said that he comes into contact with a mordant, rather pretty young man at a bar who tells him a long, long story (with flashbacks) involving an orphanage, a top-secret intelligence agency partly overseen by cryptic Noah Taylor, a broken heart, and a sex change. Hawke asks him if he has a purpose in life, and he says, “I’m workin’ on it.”
It can also be said that to solve the mystery of how these events all began would require a thorough understanding of Einstein, Hawking, and the Big Bang. I’m guessing even Robert Heinlein — whose story All You Zombies this is based on — had trouble grokking everything. Thank heaven he never let that stop him from writing a good yarn.
Hawke plays it low-key, solemn, enigmatic, his emotions kept in check for a Reason to Be Named Later. He throws the movie to his principal co-star, a mesmerizing, redheaded Aussie actress named Sarah Snook whom I didn’t know before but sure do now — and will know, I trust, until the end of time. She’s playing a thoroughly out-of-sync, alienated person. Her rhythms are slow, wobbly. She barely makes eye contact with her co-stars. Those eyes are in any case encased behind a pair of cheekbones that seem to be putting out a force field of grief. What’s eating her?
Don’t expect car chases or crowd scenes. The Spierigs — German boys, Michael and Peter (they made Daybreakers) — keep things moody and intimate. This is a deeply solipsistic movie, but how deep is something you’ll need to find out for yourself.