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.