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Predestination (2014) Film Review: Time Travel Can Be Disorienting

Updated on February 27, 2018

Have you ever wondered if you are the maker of your own destiny or is everything predetermined? If you are alive and conscious, chances are, you have.

Predestination is a fascinating contemplation on free will and destiny. It will stay with you long after you've watched it - the best films always do. And although the story is philosophically and temporally complex, it's well worth plunging into.

"Predestination" is a sci-fi thriller about a time-traveling secret agent.
"Predestination" is a sci-fi thriller about a time-traveling secret agent. | Source

Cerebral Time Travel Thriller

"A tourist is someone who travels across the ocean only to be photographed sitting next to their boat. I have no intention of being a tourist." -- Predestination

Time travel flicks are a delicate genre. One wrong plot move - and the whole thing is ridiculous (and there's a legion of time travel movies - from Timecop to Black Knight - that prove that). But Predestination successfully avoids this trap. It navigates the many philosophical twists and turns with intelligence and authenticity, weaving a perfectly elegant conclusion to an intricate storyline, and leaving a lot to ponder on.

Based on Robert A. Heinlein's brilliant short story "—All You Zombies—", Predestination will keep you guessing until the very last moment (when the key to the story is revealed and the whole narrative is spun into an even wackier version of itself), but I'm sure that more savvy sci-fi fans will see it all coming from a mile away.

As a concept, predestination refers to an idea of fate or divine will that dictates the future. Predestination cannot be altered.

The Plot

It's hard to write about Predestination without spoilers. So many twists only make sense once you've watched the whole film, picked your jaw up off the floor a few hours later, googled it (the film - not the jaw) and discussed it with anyone who'd listen.

In this fictional narrative, time travel was invented in 1981. Using transformer-type time machines disguised as violin cases, agents of the (secret) Temporal Bureau travel to the past to prevent crimes and large-scale attacks.

Ethan Hawke plays a 'temporal agent' on his last mission to stop the notorious "Fizzle Bomber" who was responsible for killing 11,000 people in New York City in 1975, and other terrorist acts. Disguised as a barkeep, he meets an intriguing customer who says he can tell him the most amazing, most unbelievable story of his life. The barkeep (Hawke) bets a bottle of his best whiskey on it.

That's all I can say about the movie without spoiling it.

Ethan Hawke's Performance in "Predestination"

To be fair, all the actors in this film were impressive (Sarah Snook was phenomenal as Jane/John), but I've been "team Hawke" ever since Dead Poets Society.

Hawke's performance in Predestination is subtle yet powerful. He manages to make his presence known but he doesn't outshine his female co-star. He is convincing in every role he takes on, so give him an Oscar already! (Sadly, Predestination was snubbed by the Academy, like most indie films.)

Ethan Hawke at the 2009 Venice Film Festival.
Ethan Hawke at the 2009 Venice Film Festival. | Source

Spoilers Zone: Themes and Ideas Behind "Predestination," and Explanation of the Ending

Time travel can be disorienting. Don't ever exceed the jump limit. It can be problematic. -- Predestination

Predestination is essentially about man's search for purpose and meaning in a meaningless, deterministic, mechanical world. Being trapped in the 'time loop', much like being trapped in the prison of existence, is devastating, even though most people are not aware of their imprisonment.

To break free from predetermined existence means making a change, doing something different this time around. But the paradox is, whatever you do is already written into the history, and eventually leads to the same outcome.

The theme of time travel paradox is interwoven with solipsism motif: in this case, an idea that only you exist, and everyone you meet is a version of you.

The customer at the bar, John, is the bartender's younger version of himself. In turn, when John is recruited by the Bureau, he travels back in time to meet with his younger self, Jane (she later goes through an involuntary sex change operation, reluctantly becoming John). They fall in love and Jane gives birth to a baby who is herself. She is her own mother and father. The song playing on the jukebox is "I'm My Own Grandpa". Finally, the Fizzle Bomber's identity is revealed to be the bartender's older self, sealing the time loop.

Essentially, everyone is the same person (Ethan Hawke), and this person can only exist within this closed time-travel loop, perpetually recreating himself like "the snake that eats his own tail for ever and ever," becoming a man, becoming an agent, impregnating himself with himself, killing his older self, going insane and finally, becoming a mass murderer.

Although it's never clearly stated, the indication is that the Bureau created the time loop to have an agent that can endlessly re-create himself, and operate both inside and outside the loop. The Fizzle Bomber killings are likely considered collateral damage that ultimately serves the Bureau ("We all learned things from him, he’s made us better at our jobs") since Hawke's 'handler' seems to encourage him to continue using the time machine, even though he knows it will lead to psychosis. So the Bureau needs him to become the Fizzle Bomber to keep the loop going.

Time Travel Poll

Do you think time travel is possible?

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Predestination (2014) Interview with Ethan Hawke

"All You Zombies" and other stories by Robert A. Heinlein

© 2015 Lana Adler


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    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 3 years ago from California

      Well maybe I oversold the ending then :-) It IS a totally confusing movie, the ending does explain something, but not everything...That's why I still think about it.

      Btw, I also enjoyed Interstellar, recommended it to a bunch of people, and then received a lot of "wtf?" responses after they've watched it. It's not for everyone! Neither is this one.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 3 years ago from San Diego California

      I actually enjoy movies with crappy endings, so maybe this one is not for me. To me the multiverse scenario makes the most sense. Thanks for the great review, I'll probably catch this on Netflix. I've already seen my quota of time travel movies this year (Interstellar), and I was one of the few weirdos that enjoyed it, so you see how my tastes are!

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Adler 3 years ago from California

      I've rented it on RedBox, it just came out. I think you'll enjoy it. Thanks for stopping by Bill!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Somehow I missed the notices about this movie. I'm a big Hawke fan, so I don't know how it slipped by me. I guess I'll look for it on video. Thanks for the review.