A film beholden to details best whispered than shouted, but relishing them too much in their meaning than their function.
The slippery sinews of time, both greasily escaping one’s grasp yet steadfastly remaining strong, inform Predestination; indeed, with such a moniker, the movie could be about little else than what is meant to be. Brisbane brothers Michael and Peter Spierig trip through temporal boundaries in their third feature after Undead and Daybreakers, as well as exploring personal causality. A man tells a tale to a bartender; a girl grows from an outcast orphan into loneliness and longing; a secret operative charged with changing the past also looks to the future.
Names are nigh on irrelevant as categorisations aptly describe the players in a quest that becomes a conversation, then circles back again. Regular drinker (Sarah Snook, These Final Hours) relates his account of a life lived in pain to the eager listener (Ethan Hawke, Boyhood), the story sustained with each glass poured. The latter’s attention isn’t a mere trait of his job, however, but an attempt to corral his new pal into assisting with stopping a terrorist known as The Fizzle Bomber. The work of agents charged with trifling with history to ensure the best alternative goes to plan helps illuminate where it is all going. So too, the words chosen to start the man's report: ‘when I was a little girl’.
Indeed, enacting the obvious is the flaw in Predestination’s grand scheme and looping narrative, its game given away too early then laboured too often. Based on Robert A. Heinlein’s short story '"—All You Zombies—"', it remains faithful to the source material with an added dramatic complication presumably to support the feature-length running time, yet overplays its twists and trickery early through pointed framing and unsubtle exposition. The repetition of both that follows suggests the Spierig siblings, who write, direct and produce, assume the opposite, as does the lingering of the final reveal. Alas, even as the film retains significant interest in its arcs of self-destruction and self-acceptance, making its machinations transparent lessens the impact.
As such, the ambitious effort quickly becomes one that hinges on performances over plot – and over characters, too. As fascinating as the concept of shifting through time to shape identity proves, everything is a conceit of fuelling a narrative convinced of its own cleverness. None of the protagonists are given depth beyond their basic function in the story, an oversight all the more disappointing given the gender issues at play. Snook swiftly becomes the shining light in a role that asks for physical and emotional transformation, but her efforts offer the only signs of nuance among the blatantly apparent.
And yet, as a time travel tale with aspirations of genre grandeur in its staging, Predestination finds entertainment and involvement in its striving to convey its content with the right mood and tone. Just as the text itself conjures immediate parallels in its bar chat and journey of self discovery, so does the meticulous manner in which the Spierigs have elaborated and enlivened it on screen, drawing from an abundance of recent sci-fi efforts. The minutiae of how its components look and feel works well; what doesn’t is trying to whip it all into a bigger picture, as well-intentioned as that plan is. A paradox, perhaps, like the many that thrust its contents forward, is the end result of Predestination: a film beholden to details best whispered than shouted, but relishing them too much in their meaning than their function.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Director: Michael Spierig and Peter Spierig
Australia, 2014, 97 mins
Melbourne International Film Festival
31 July – 17 August