Why is predestination film so confusing

Criticism from the FILMSTARTS editorial team
By Lars-Christian Daniels
Which came first: the hen or the egg? This much-discussed question arises again and again in the captivating time travel thriller “Predestination”, which celebrated its European premiere at the Munich Film Festival in 2014. The twin brothers Michael and Peter Spierig ("Daybreakers"), who were born in Germany and now reside in Australia, who are responsible for the direction and script of the film, adapt Robert A. Heinlein's short story "All You Zombies" and send their audience in the best "Looper" - Manner of an exciting trip through the decades. Four years after Christopher Nolan's masterpiece “Inception”, which “Predestination” is reminiscent of not only because of its gloomy soundtrack, the filmmakers are staging a similarly nested Mindfuck - a confusing paradoxical thriller drama with high entertainment value. The hitherto rather unknown Australian actress Sarah Snook delivers an impressive application letter for further cinema engagements with her strong performance.

The plot is only roughly outlined in view of the many twists and the complex characters: A bartender (Ethan Hawke), who used to work as a time travel agent and searched in vain for the infamous "Fizzle Bomber" in the past, lets himself off at the bar persuade a nondescript man named John to bet. The guest, who works as a writer under the name "The Unmarried Mother", claims that he has the most extraordinary story up his sleeve that the bartender has ever heard. That arouses his curiosity: He offers John a bottle of whiskey as a bet. After just a few words, it dawns on him that he will soon be poorer for this bottle: "When I was a little girl ...“Begins John (Sarah Snook) - and then reports on his unhappy childhood, puberty and young adulthood in the body of the gifted girl Jane, who has become a bitter, lonely man after a momentous affair, a life-threatening childbirth and an inevitable sex reassignment . The bartender's answer comes promptly: he offers the storyteller the chance to kill with impunity the person who has ruined his life ...

Anyone who has seen Steven Spielberg's “Minority Report” should experience a déjà vu with “Predestination”: “We prevent crimes before they happen“, Explains the HR manager of the time travel company Space Org. To the perplexed Jane, who has no idea of ​​the company's activities and, thanks to her exceptional physical and intellectual qualities, is still facing a great career. At this point in time, the red-haired teenager did not yet know that jumping through the decades would be her main task in her new job - unlike the viewer, who often thinks they are one step ahead of the main characters. This is also evident in John's first appearance: While the bartender overlooks the feminine facial features of his counterpart in the haze of the pub, the audience immediately notices that the likeness of the talkative guest hides a secret. The internationally still rather unknown newcomer Sarah Snook ("Sleeping Beauty", "Jessabelle") already indicates her acting potential in this sequence and in the middle part of the film then has ample opportunity to see figurehead Ethan Hawke ("Training Day", "Boyhood") temporarily stealing the show. Hawke, who also convinces as a time-traveling action hero with a bartender disguise, belongs to the final third.

The conversation in the pub, which follows the action-packed prologue of the film and which the viewer can only vaguely put into context at first, forms the narrative framework of the story, which develops into a winding hunt through the decades and a fascinating game of confusion. While the thoughts of the audience turn more and more in circles with each new discovery, the Spierig brothers continuously tighten the tension screw: After the filmmakers initially trace at a more leisurely pace how the highly talented outsider Jane becomes the bitter John after a momentous affair The story soon jumps diligently between the temporal levels and leads deep into a paradoxical web of frustration, revenge and an inevitable catastrophe. In the end, it is the bartender who holds the strings in his hand: His search for the “Fizzle Bomber”, whose atrocities are to be prevented by a journey into the past, drives the action into the final minutes.

“Predestination” is one of those films that you should definitely watch a second time. On the one hand, this is due to the complex, nested narrative technique with which the Spierig brothers keep the viewer's brains on their toes and demand the maximum amount of attention. Above all, however, the cheeky closing punch ensures that the previously raised questions are answered with a bang, but the central one is asked again: is it the hen or the egg? To accuse the logical weaknesses that undoubtedly reveal themselves afterwards of “predestination”, however, misses the topic: the Spierig brothers are less concerned with telling a story that is conclusive from A to Z than with exploring the limits of human imagination. In the end there is consequently a twist that completely unhings what you have seen - and it is just a lot of fun to think your way into the confusing chicken-and-egg paradox and to search in vain for an unambiguous answer.

Conclusion: Gripping sci-fi thriller drama with borrowings from “Inception” and “Looper”, which offers excellent entertainment and is still a topic of conversation long after the credits.
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