Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Predestination

"You're the only one given to the world through a paradox."

"What came first the chicken or the egg?"





There are no specific spoilers, but the following article does discuss conceptually the ideas in play for Predestination. Thus, you may glean information concerning the film which may impact your own viewing experience. But, truth be told, images included in this entry may provide spoilers---though some have been removed. Proceed with caution if you must. Read ahead despite the risks if you have not seen this film. But, the preferred avenue would be to see this film first and revisit Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic later. This is a film worth your... time.



To spend time attempting a summation of this virtually unknown little science fiction film, Predestination (2014), would be a pointless exercise and an injustice to the experience of seeing it for yourself. After all, this blog post, every word of it, was meant to be as it was meant to be. I sat to watch the film with no intention of writing about it. Like so many other science fiction films I simply cannot resist the urge to offer some reflection on it. And thus this post came to pass as it was always meant to.



The perfectly coined title of the film captures the thematic play of its story. On offer is the idea or the myth of free will versus predetermination---that free will is contradictory or antithetical to God's plan---the paradox of free will. There is the concept or belief that no matter what we do our lives, our very fates and eventualities are theoretically mapped out for us. Everything is inevitable, but is it?



That conundrum is in play throughout the film be it the causality dilemma of the chicken or the egg metaphor or the film's approach to very difficult questions. Proposed to The Agent is, "Do I have a choice?" His response is, "Of course, you always have a choice." But later he speaks to the film's Unmarried Mother character, "It's a mistake to think we can change certain events ... some things are inevitable." The question of the free will of choice is further complicated when The Agent notes, "You'll have to make touch choices. You'll influence the past. Can we change our futures I don't know." Predestination indeed offers a complex weave concerning this dilemma, and as timeless as the dilemma, offers no easy answers but indeed thoughtful reflection.



Predestination specifically contends with the predestination paradox or causal loop. This is a paradox of time travel whereby a future event is the cause of a past event resulting from time travel. The past event is causally connected to the future event, which is the cause of the past event thus the causal loop resulting from time travel. Is your head spinning yet? The mind may boggle.

This is why the Ethan Hawke character, The Agent, asks the question what came first the chicken or the egg? Is the endless cycle initiated by the egg or the chicken? If the egg, what of the chicken that provided the egg. Yet we can't have the chicken without the egg first. Right? Or is it the other way around? Analysis of the dilemma could result in madness.



Australian directors the Spierig Brothers, despite a limited curriculm vitae, seem to have a strong grasp on how they wish to approach the look and concepts of their films within science fiction. Daybreakers (2009) was certainly a fine example of that vision.

Circling back to an earlier short by the duo called The Big Picture, the directors appear to enjoy the marriage of time and events. Predestination is such a fine outing one can't help but wonder what might be next for the duo.

Predestination is a short story based on Robert A. Heinlein's All You Zombies (an adaptated film without actual zombies for a change). It is a time paradox tale surrounding a temporal agent played by Ethan Hawke. Predestination, with the little I've seen, is perhaps the directing team's finest hour or 98 minutes.



The film is a tight, well-penned, well-constructed and exquisitely complex and woven plot that makes it the latest in a long line of the greats in science fiction.

This time travel tale, despite similar jumping effects, was a far superior story to Rian Johnson's time hopper known as Looper (2012) just a few years earlier, a film, despite a potent second half, was slightly overrated. In fact, the underrated Predestination likely has far less action than the aforementioned film to its detriment in reaching cinemagoers. But Predestination is a dramatically and narratively superior picture. It is a much stronger, smarter and sharper film with more in common to the dramatic strengths lent to television.



Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic recently discussed a great admiration for the successful time travel narrative bestowed upon Stargate Universe, S1, Ep8, Time here. Predestination, in film, is easily on par with its quality script.

Predestination was easily the best in intelligent science fiction since Joseph Kosinski's Oblivion (2013) and Bong Joon-ho's Snowpiercer (2013). Sorry, but the big dumb fun of Pacific Rim (2013) doesn't count for me here people.

The film is relatively speaking a low budget sci-fi thriller applied with a judicious use of special effects. The success of this story, surprisingly also written by the Spierig brothers themselves, rests first on a well-honed script whereby the story itself jumps in a non-linear fashion and second on a credible casting call.



The Spierig brothers unite once again with actor Ethan Hawke from their previous outing Daybreakers. Hawke is typically solid in his work here and looks the part beautifully. The prolific Hawke has indeed had a long and varied career. With his list of credits impressive and the number of quality films, almost too many to count, surprises yet again. It's clear Hawke never shies from risk-taking as an actor. Dead Poets Society (1989). A Midnight Clear (1992). Alive (1993). The Before series (1995-2013). Snow Falling On Cedars (1999). Training Day (2001). The Purge (2013). That list goes on and each different from the next. And add Predestination to that extraordinary list.

In many respects, Predestination is the kind of unexpected science fiction film treat to arrive in the fashion of Gattaca (1997) by director Andrew Niccol. Gattaca arrived quietly out of left field, with little to no fanfare and yet became an inspired sci-fi experience and remains as such. Predestination had a very similar effect on me that reminded me of my initial viewing of Gattaca.



Also important to Predestination's effectiveness is the inclusion of actress Sarah Snook. How events unfold and how they work for the viewer rest considerably on her performance and she delivers. I'm not certain the film works without her.

Finally, you have the always reliable charm of Aussie actor Noah Taylor. Along with Hawke I'm beginning to think whatever film Taylor graces is a film that I want to see. He has such a strong presence for such a diminutive looking performer in stature yet always captivates. Taylor continues to deliver great roles as a character actor. He is always a pleasure to see. His first big break came in a wonderful film called The Year My Voice Broke (1987). It's a coming of age picture that ranks among the best, at least internationally. Flirting (1991), too, was an excellent sequel that would follow. Since then Taylor has appeared in a number of great small films including Max (2002) among others. In science fiction he has the golden touch too. Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky (2001), itself, an intelligent, sci-fi thriller in its own right, Edge Of Tomorrow (2014) and a role in HBO's Game Of Thrones (2011-present) all include Taylor.



And now Predestination. He's a talent and a half. In fact, it was Taylor's credit that pushed me over the edge (of tomorrow) onto Predestination as much as I have always admired Hawke's work. All of this compounds an exceptional sci-fi outing.

Without giving a way a single spoiler Predestination is a film to experience and potentially watch again. I will say that Predestination succeeds as a challenging story in almost every way. Only once in the film did I have a moment of concern regarding a specific scene or sequence that takes place within a bar in New York City. The scene is indeed lengthy, and speaks to the intimate nature of the movie, but does cut to other moments in time throughout. All of it is entirely required. Nevertheless, it was extraordinary to see a film hold on a single scene within essentially one room for such a great length. Again, it is however necessary to the story. Every bit of information is crucial.



Personally, the time travel and/or predestination paradox is not one of my favorite subgenre categories in science fiction, as noted here, but if done well, as executed here for Predestination, it can make for a remarkably engaging and riveting story.

Of the time travel-based tales, and there are many in science fiction, this film contending with the predestination paradox is one of the truly exceptional.

Time travel stories and the effects of time travel have been explored in TV from the Star Trek franchise to Stargate SG-1. Some stories are certainly more noteworthy than others.



When it comes to film there are a few that are truly superior to Predestination.

As noted Looper (2012) works very much within this predestination paradox concept and is only marginally interesting subverting and supplanting the dramatic elements of its story in favor of action. The Planet Of The Apes (1968-1973) franchise is one of the most successful franchises to work within this arena conceptually. Minority Report (2002) and 12 Monkeys (1995) are two more of the very best to examine the paradox.



Here, Predestination delivers a story that offers the perfect closed loop with a truly, mind-bending paradox not unlike the chicken and the egg. How can it be? You really have to see the film for yourself. It's important to note that there are clever visual clues that are scattered throughout this intelligent thriller too. Seeing the film again offers the viewer a new perspective missed on a first viewing.



I will end with this (or am I beginning). In 2012, a massive, epic, sprawling film (much like its unruly running time) called Cloud Atlas (2012), also by two brothers, well, a brother and a sister (now), Lana (formerly Larry) and Andy Wachowski challenged us to consider the connectedness of humankind. That film mostly succeeds or is at least pushed the boundaries of science fiction forcing viewers to revisit deeper reflections about time and existence through sci-fi. Cloud Atlas was a big, bold, sweeping film that was far more satiating than most summer fare (The Avengers) that preceded it.



With Predestination, on a much smaller scale, we are given a film with epic aspirations that also admirably performs its own mind-bending and asks us to consider, like Cloud Atlas, how we are connected in its own way. Predestination was an unexpected science fiction treat and goes down, for me, as one of those unexpected science fiction classics alongside the likes of Dark City (1998), Gattaca while maybe not as big in terms of scope or effects. The film is mighty despite its size and its tale lingers with you. You will consider the film long after the final frame. As much as a film like The Matrix (1999) offers a perfectly executed bit of philosophical science fiction, Predestination, too, delivers a weird, self-contained piece of time travel-based, thought-provoking science fiction.



Certainly, Predestination is an intellectual consideration of the self and of identity, but beyond that it's even more. On yet another level too, and one noted only upon stepping back from it following a second viewing, this is quite possibly one of the strangest, most bizarre and even heartbreaking love stories in science fiction ever told or at least since director Mark Romanek's heart wrenching Never Let Me Go (2010).

Predestination is unquestionably layered science fiction at its smartest and best and one of the best time paradox tales I've ever seen committed to film. It is astounding, even mind-blowing just how strong quality science fiction can be without the interference of Hollywood, sound source material combined with real vision.
 

2 comments:

le0pard13 said...

Oh, I so agree with you, G. This was an unexpected treat when I watched it via iTunes. Yes, it was on sale at the time, but had heard good murmurs about it on the web (might have been JKM, at that). So glad I did. Wonderful review for a truly underappreciated sci-fi gem.

Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

It is a sci-fi gem. Great stuff. Thank you. Hope all is well.