The synopsis for Predestination makes the film sound pretty generic, while the trailer sets the film up as a thriller; the film is anything but a generic thriller. Based on the classic short story ‘”—All You Zombies—”‘ by Robert A. Heinlein, Predestination focuses on a Temporal Agent (Ethan Hawke) attempting to track down the Fizzle Bomber, the one criminal he’s been unable to stop by the time of his retirement. To try and finally nab the Fizzle Bomber, the Temporal Agent has to recruit a male writer known as the Unmarried Mother (Sarah Snook) to help fulfill his mission. As a means of convincing the Unmarried Mother to join his organization, the Agent convinces the Mother to tell his story. The story turns out to be a fascinating, twisty tale of time travel across decades, and more importantly, a tale of self-discovery that only grows crueler as time passes.
It’s hard to talk about Predestination without getting into spoiler territory, and the film works in large part because of its twists. Without spoiling the film too much (yet), it turns out time travel plays an important part in the lives of both the Temporal Agent and the Unmarried Mother, both of whom go by other names depending on when we’re watching them. The scenes go back as far as 1945, when the Unmarried Mother is discovered as an abandoned orphan called Jane, and as far into the future as 1993, when the Temporal Agent reconnects with the Temporal Bureau as part of his mission.
And here’s where the bigger spoilers come into play, so if you read past this point, you’ve been warned.
As it turns out, the key to the film is the discovery that the male Unmarried Mother started off as a girl named Jane. As Jane eventually discovers, she is intersex, and her discovery of this coincides with a medical issue that forces her to shift her gender identity to male. Surprisingly (and refreshingly), the issue is dealt with in a matter-of-fact manner in the film, as it was in the original short story. Most films with this sort of subject matter make a bigger deal of it, and promote themselves in some way as tackling an “Issue” in promoting the film.
The bigger issue that Predestination ultimately tackles is the longing for connection, and how hard it can be to achieve from outside of what’s deemed “normal.” Early on, Jane says that no one is capable of understanding her except for her. As it turns out, she’s proven right, and that discovery isn’t sugarcoated for her or for audiences.
Ethan Hawke is the big name attached to the film, and many of his choices over the years should inspire confidence in the material. It’s well deserved here, and hopefully will draw attention to the film. But the film’s real marvel is Sarah Snook, whose work over the various time periods reveal a rich, multifaceted character. It’s hard to deny the trickiness of playing a character who’s both visibly female and male over the span of one film, and finding ways to make notable differences. As the Unmarried Mother narrates, she experienced some difficulties transitioning, and Snook sells these difficulties.
Predestination works best with a limited knowledge of what to expect going in, and even with the spoilers posted here, it should still provide some level of surprise. Based on its own merits, it’s a fascinating story that touches on issues rarely broached in films. Audiences should seek this film out.