Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #563
Number of Views: One
Release Date: March 8, 2014 (SXSW Film Festival)
Country of Origin: Australia
Box Office: $4,300,000
Running Time: 97 minutes
Directors: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Producers: Paddy McDonald, Tim McGahan, Michael Spierig
Screenplay: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Based on “‘—All You Zombies—'” by Robert A. Heinlein
Special Effects: Samantha Lyttle
Cinematography: Ben Nott
Score: Peter Spierig
Editing: Matt Villa
Studios: Blacklab Entertainment, Screen Australia, Screen Queensland, Wolfhound Pictures
Distributor: Pinnacle Films
Stars: Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, Noah Taylor, Madeleine West, Christopher Kirby, Freya Stafford, Jim Knobeloch, Christopher Stollery, Tyler Coppin, Rob Jenkins
Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Peter Spierig “Predestination”
 Emma Bosworth “Is It Over”
Have you ever wished you could travel back in time and change past events? I’m sure we all have at one time or another, whether that means revisiting an old school bully and seeing how they like having their underwear hoisted into the crack of their ass or backing out of a particularly toxic relationship before the first kiss. I’m comfortable enough in the knowledge that life trundles forward and you have to take each rough with its smooth compatriot but admittedly I spent my whole adolescence saving up for a DeLorean so I’m just as guilty as everyone else on this count.
However, imagine if a series of unfortunate events had left you irreversibly altered. No point searching for the silver lining in these circumstances as one doesn’t exist and, as a direct result, all your hopes and dreams have been left in tatters. Suddenly, arriving at that predestination is looking mighty enticing right? Now envisage being offered the exclusive opportunity of standing face to face with the one person responsible for your dip in form and being able to gain sweet revenge. Getting caught is not a concern and, as long as you tow the line, the space-time continuum will suffer precious little in the way of knock on effects or wear and tear. We’re talking absolute discretion and the retribution you spent years scheming up but never dreamed of carrying out. Some of us have had wretched lives and would regard such a chance as way too good to pass up.
One such individual is the exceptionally gifted but terminally downtrodden Jane (Sarah Snook). After growing up in an orphanage, Jane soon discovered that she was significantly different from her peers and possessed a certain aptitude for science and a physicality that could open doors unavailable to most. The moment she was old enough, she enlisted to Space Corp, with the hopes of one day becoming an astronaut. While she passed most tests with flying colors, a last-minute physical revealed a medical anomaly that disqualified her from the programme and all that hard work and perseverance amounted to nothing.
While one door shut firmly in her face, another soon opened and, after a chance meeting with a mysterious and charming stranger, Jane fell head over heels in love. For a brief while, things were better than she could ever have dreamed, particularly given that her new beau seemed to understand her unusual temperament better than she did herself. Alas, her bliss proved short-lived as the object of her affections seemingly disappeared into thin air, leaving poor Jane with little more than morning sickness to look forward to. That’s right, this cad sure knew how to say the right things and also had a fair idea of how to access her ovaries.
With the baby bump becoming harder by the day to disguise, something totally unprecedented occurred. One of the recruiting officers for Space Corps, the kindly Mr. Robertson (Noah Taylor), paid her a visit and informed Jane of another organization that her credentials fitted perfectly. Unfortunately, her pregnancy ruled her out and insult was swiftly added to her list of prior grievances. To compound her agony, after a particularly demanding C-section, her precious newborn was lifted from its crib and never seen again. It’s fair to assume that Jane broke a mirror or two to encourage such a rotten run of misfortune. So what could possibly make things worse I hear you ask. Well, finding out you are intersex and the complications of the birth leave no other option than trading in the name Jane for John is a hard one to trump.
Anyhoots, despite the unsightly testicles, John is determined not to throw in the towel and makes the best out of a bad situation. Writing confession stories under the pseudonym “The Unmarried Mother”, he finds another niche and, if nothing else, paying the bills is taken care of for the foreseeable. However, inside is a scared young girl, battered and bruised by the knocks that life has dished out and now trapped in a man’s shell for good measure. If you’re looking for reasons for an outlook to become somewhat pessimistic then Jane/John has more than sufficient to explain her perpetual melancholy. It is at times like these that drowning your sorrows looks like an increasingly attractive proposition and, desperately desolate, she/he does precisely that.
Enter The Barkeep (Ethan Hawke), the ideal person to relay back your woes to and not likely to pass judgement, no matter how elaborate the tale. John needs a friendly ear and The Barkeep provides two, as well as a shoulder to cry on. The thing is, aside from cleaning glasses, replacing barrels, and being a damn good listener, he also has a tendency to moonlight. Moreover, he knows his subject far better than he first lets on and has another reason for soaking up her hard luck story. Also a temporal agent, he has been shanghaied by none other than Mr. Robertson into travelling between time zones in pursuit of the elusive “Fizzle Bomber”. Up until now, his best attempts have amounted to nothing other than nagging headaches and third degree burns but, with his new associate’s help, this could be all set to change.
By dangling the carrot before John of being able to return to the very day of being so unceremoniously jilted and gain sweet revenge, he gains John’s undivided attention. Naturally, there are certain conditions that must be met in order to assume such a unique position of empowerment but, with life sucking pretty hard, it doesn’t take a great deal of coercing before The Barkeep’s wristwatch is set to April 3, 1963 and history begins repeating itself, only this time with a fresh twist of lemon.
By this point, Predestination is guaranteed to have us firmly by the short and curlies and the exchange between John and The Barkeep, along with the extended flashback that accompanies it, is far beyond magnanimous. I knew little about this film on commencement and, having watched, enjoyed, and ultimately forgotten The Spierig Brothers’ last feature Daybreakers (which Hawke also headlined), was prepared for a rip-roaring action extravaganza with no intention of slowing up for its 97 minute duration. However, slow up is precisely what it does and it proves to be a shrewd move on the directors’ part as the protracted bar scene elevates this to a whole new level and one with far greater emotional resonance than I had been expecting.
There are a number of reasons for this and, predictably, Hawke is never less than a joy to watch in action, while Taylor couldn’t have been better cast as the peculiar Mr. Robertson. But it is virtual newcomer Snook as our beleaguered belle/beau who drives this forward so definitively. The born and bred South Australian’s performance is staggering and on so many levels that it is hard just knowing where to begin. Light and shade are effortless, her emotional and physical journey significant, and any transformation totally seamless on account of how well she understands her convoluted brief. Had this not been a science-fiction film, then I am convinced that an Oscar nod would have beckoned and it’s high time the Academy pull their ring fingers out of one another’s asses and give credit where it’s really due.
I’m not done yet, not by a long chalk, as I could wax lyrical about her star making turn until the bomb fizzles. Our investment rests on her dainty shoulders as, without Jane/John and the emotional heft she supplies, this would be little more than just another above par slice of sci-fi hokum. If there is any justice in the world, and after hearing her laundry list of woes I’m not sure there is, then Snook is heading directly for the stars, just like her character so desperately wishes. By the point Hawke calls time on their revealing tête-à-tête, an African elephant could have let off its excess gases right next to me and I would have been none the wiser until the lightheadedness washed over me.
Predestination is based on a short story by Robert A. Heinlein entitled “‘—All You Zombies—'” published as far back as 1959 and, while undoubtedly taking certain liberties with the source fiction, remains true in a number of key areas. Much of the dialogue is faithful and the themes it explores are all very much present and correct. Should the term “paradox” make you moist, then prepare to hand-wash your smalls as this one supplies a doozy and the closing credits are not where our story ends. Instead, it lingers on long afterwards and this is what classic science-fiction should do without exception. Given that a measly $4.3m was all that its limited theatrical release could muster, I would imagine that marketing was a distinct concern when bringing it to fruition. Thank the heavens above for hindsight as I believe time will tell an altogether more gratifying story.
What’s more, brothers-in-arms Michael & Peter Spierig have now graduated to the big time in my eyes. Their ascension has been steady and unspectacular, with six years between their first full-length feature Undead and Daybreakers and another five between points B & C. However, this has evidently not been in vain and their patient approach now looks set to pay dividends as Predestination is an excellent slice of noir science-fiction from stem to stern. In Ben Nott they have a talented director of photography more than capable of supporting their vision and he helps create a gloriously gritty retro look with enough futuristic bells and whistles to ensure one foot remains in the future at all times. Their screenplay is thoughtful, emotionally charged, and doesn’t over-complicate what is only ever a solitary thread of wayward logic from unraveling before our eyes.
Most critical here is Snook however and words don’t sufficiently convey what she brings to the table in a role fully deserving of remembrance. Predestination offers up a unique and thrilling experience that tests the grey matter sufficiently without ever once feeling impersonal. Whether or not it becomes the cult classic it should be now depends on word of mouth and hopefully enough of you will read this affectionate tribute to get the wheels in motion. As for me, I’ve already locked in my coordinates for its unveiling on March 8, 2014 and don’t intend on letting this one fizzle.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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