Morgan Kraljevich is a freelance writer by profession and a video game addict by self-diagnosis. An avid reader and amateur coffee connoisseur, she can often be found at the local cafes reading and writing in her worn-out journal. Hoping to one day set her sights on each square inch of the world, she often spends hours globetrotting in reverie. A lover of all things fuzzy, fantasy, and all things between here and infinity – which she hopes to completely understand, one day. Follow Morgan on Twitter.
Time travel movies are, tricky. But you knew I was going to say that; because I’m destined too, right? Therein lies the rabbit hole that is, trying to follow time-based storylines. Predestination – a 2014 film based off of a short story titled “All You Zombies”, directed by Michael Spierig and starring Ethan Hawke, Sarah Snook, and Noah Taylor – embodies the enterprise thoroughly, giving viewers enough mystery to keep them head-scratching, but adequate enough explanation to keep their eyes from going cross.
There’s the inevitable, unanswerable, query of origin; the trope of incest that peppers paradoxical stories curiously often; and the inescapable reality that everything happens regardless of what characters try and do – in fact the attempt at changing them is often why they happen in the first place – because I never said that watching this would be easy.
Uncommitted spoilers are imminent, but that doesn’t automatically mean the movie will be spoiled – as it stands, I’m not even sure if I understand it wholly.
Let’s start with the people; the story follows four main characters, with off-shoots and supports that play roles that are ancillary, and perplexingly central concurrently. There is: the bar tender (Hawke), bar attendant (Snook), young woman (Snook), and Mr. Robertson (Taylor), respectively. As each layer of the story unfolds, the viewer finds that the characters are more deeply connected than ever expected, and by the last scene our minds are sufficiently blown (and still recovering from said information explosion).
We start off with an enigma and the classic grim tale of a man who’s been scathed. There’s a terrorist on the loose and a fire, and in the meantime two men are talking in a bar. One of them is a duel rebel-hunter, drink-slinging cool-guy, and the other lives a double-life writing advice as a female columnist under the name of The Unmarried Mother – and that’s just the beginning. The man parked at the bar has a hard life, and he knows it; so much so that he’s willing to bet the bartender it’s the saddest life-story in existence, and so begins the catalyst for the remaining 99 percent of the story.
I can’t promise chronology because it doesn’t exist in a time movie anyway; at least I’m off the hook there. But it’s the details that we discover about the bar patron’s life that are the story, so that could be considered a beginning point – if there was such a thing.
So the man at the bar started out as a woman (which explains the career), who went from orphanage to college to dream career to columnist to man in that order; technically. After a somewhat messy pregnancy resulting from a brief love encounter in which a mysterious man tells her she’s beautiful and thinks the same thing, a medical team decides fate for the young female character by concluding that two sexual organs is one too many, and that life as a man is better suited for her. Her struggle turns to his, which leads to the eventual depressed bar visit.
But there’s something peculiar about the girl’s baby; it’s stolen! And what’s more, it’s taken to an orphanage; by a set of very loving hands. Catching my drift? Not yet; ok. Well the baby grows into a girl who goes to college; that eventually meets a boy and falls in love; and then winds up pregnant losing her a chance at a choice career; winding up inevitably as a man because again only one sexual organ is preferred, thanks. So she’s her own mother. But let’s talk about her life as a man.
Now that she’s a new person technically, the main character applies for her dream job again in her identity as a man but is denied again – so he goes on that bender. Which is where he meets the bartender that promises him revenge on the stranger who loved and left him (as a woman, remember), asking nothing in return but trust. Having nothing to lose, he agrees and follows the bartender to an obscure backroom while the jukebox plays a song plays with the words “I am my own grandpa” in the background.
In the room, the bartender reveals his ability to travel time, and says that the patron can travel back to kill his former self’s ex-lover so long as he promises to take over as time master, so to say. The patron’s been burned, so he agrees. And they go back in time. To the night that his previous female-self met the love of her life. He waits to see the abandoner – intent on killing him – but no one shows. Unable to resist seeing his younger – woman – self at a closer glance, he approaches her. Then he says some line about her being beautiful, and they think the same thing about time and waiting. Suddenly, his love for his former-self is obvious; who better for her to make a connection with then, him? (Ego cries out at full-volume).
They’re in love, and one thing leads to another and soon she’s pregnant – but he won’t leave this time. He’ll be a good father – and technically mother, too – to the baby that will eventually be kidnapped, and left on the orphanage front steps. . . But he has to leave; he made a promise to the bartender who’s pretty strict on the details of their bargain, so he leaves without so much as a goodbye and she’s alone again, with a baby and one too many organs.
Meanwhile, that bartender – who also controls time and hunts terrorist – is given the last mission of transporting an abandoned baby to its proper place in an orphanage, so he sets out and kidnaps the infant girl before retiring – thanks to his new replacement and their fulfilled transaction. Mr. Robertson – who pops in here and there to remind the viewer that there is still some sanity and control in the otherwise out-of-hand storyline – reminds him that his time traveling device will decommission when his help is no longer needed, which is why it’s so curious to him when the briefcase doesn’t quit! It’s a sign; he sets out to hunt down that one last terrorist, and discovers something: he’s the terrorist he’s been hunting this whole time.
An older version of himself (time travel remember) admits to being the bartender’s most wanted, and laughs when the bartender assures him that he’ll never wind up the same. If the bartender shoots his terrorist form, he sets in motion the acts of terror (according to his terrorist self anyway), but he can’t seem to resist finally devouring his prey and kills him anyway. But in another time the attacks are still happening.
He sniffs out a new lead for this era’s rebel and hunts him down, cornering him in a dank warehouse. It’s someone he recognizes – the bar patron! And he’s hot on his trail – too hot! There’s a fire. And just before the terrorist burns to a crisp, the bartender recognizes (remembers?) that the burning man is him, and gives him the still-functioning time travel device to escape to safety with.
In a mirror, a burn victim contemplates his reflection, and realizes what the doctor means when saying he wouldn’t recognize himself. His body is withered, and his face is entirely different – but familiar; it’s the bartender’s face now. But surely we can’t be the same? He thinks. Pulling up his shirt though, he sees a long scar on his lower stomach. The same type of scar – hypothetically – that’s left behind by a messy pregnancy and an operation to reduce a body’s organ count. So he knows. And he sets out on a mission to listen to his younger self tell a sad story at a bar while hunting down terrorists and traveling through time.
So it’s story with too many twists to count, and if you can completely follow it the first time through then good on ya’, because it took me a few tries and a lot of extracurricular reading. And if you didn’t get it, well neither did the actors right away, so what does that say anyway?
It’s an immensely clever plot with plenty of hints and playful details throughout. *add in about how the hints are clever before explaining the hints* There are obvious instances like in the bar, when the two characters briefly discuss the chicken and egg paradox and the snake that eats itself while “I’m my own grandpa” plays in the background, but some were much more subtle.
The orphanage for instance is a logical place for an orphan child to go, but it also reflects on her lack of a clear beginning (much like the story, which can’t have a beginning because the snake eats itself, see?). And when the bar patron says the line, “I doubt my mother would even recognize me,” at first it seems like a simple expression, but when we later see the reality it becomes something special.
Any movie that plays with the idea of time lends itself to endless questions and plot-hole assumptions, but if you accept the infinitely repetitious nature of the plot’s progression, the loose-ends are tied relatively sufficiently. At the end of the day, it’s a story about a person who’s their own parents, driven to madness and terror by their tormented life, who also happens to travel through time. But the extremely tight plot and provocative dialogue coupled with a highly talented cast and detailed production quality, take it beyond just another time travel flick.
It’s hard to follow, but once you stop trying to figure things out and let them unfold for themselves it becomes something wonderful.