If I was a blogger with a good sense of timing I would have posted this on Valentine’s Day but instead of writing this post, I had lunch with a close friend and, later, played poker with my family. Romantic? Not really, but it was one of the best Valentine’s Days I’ve had in a while. The experience seemed to underscore the meaning of the movie I watched just a few days prior to the holiday – PREDESTINATION.
As with Into the Woods, I knew I’d likely do a blog post about Predestination because I kept thinking about it long after I watched it. But Predestination is no fairy tale, not even a subversive one. Its themes are mature and provocative and written with an adult audience in mind. My post is tame but not spoiler free. If you haven’t read the source material or watched the movie, skip the orange section below.
I’ve mentioned before how plague movies never get old with me. But time travel movies… eh. I have to admit, when I first saw the description for Predestination my response was, “another time travel movie?!” But then my husband suggested we watch it AND pointed out its Rotten Tomatoes rating (81%) and I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.
Predestination is the story of a time traveling agent who is trying to stop a mass murderer – the “Fizzle Bomber.” It stars Ethan Hawke (who I loved in Gattaca but haven’t seen much of since; I haven’t seen the Before Midnight/Before Sunrise/Before Sunset movies… yeah, I know, I should see them too…) and Sarah Snook (who I’ve never seen before, but hope to see more of in the future).
The movie starts in medias res with a mysterious figure trying to stop a bomb. The bomb fizzles but the stunted explosion is still powerful enough to completely disfigure the person. They then travel back to the “future” (1992) where the story’s basic premise is established.
The injured mystery man is a Temporal Agent who works for the Temporal Bureau, a government agency that sends people back in time to prevent crimes before they happen. That part felt very “PreCrime”/Minority Report-ish to me, which, combined with the fact that time travel was discovered in 1981 [would we have traded MTV or the IBM PC for time travel?] gave the story a slightly dated feel, but it wasn’t until later in the movie, when Space Corps (and its ridiculous “female companions for male astronauts” search) appeared in the plot that the story’s 1959 origins became fully apparent.
(I found out later that the movie is based on Robert A. Heinlein’s “ ‘—All You Zombies—’ ”. And my gripes about Space Corps’ dubious side mission are relatively minor. All I’m sayin’ is that it felt laughable to me that a contemporary non-dystopian sf story would feature a would-be respectable space program that disallowed female astronauts while searching for women streetspacewalkers. And yet… I came to see that searching for companionship, as well as what happens when you find it and lose it, was one of the themes of the story.)
So back in futuristic 1992 the injured agent tells us part of his story as his face is reconstructed. When he’s finally healed enough for his bandages to be removed, he looks in the mirror and declares, “I’ve changed so much, I doubt my own mother would recognize me.”
He’s then sent on another mission – NYC in 1975 – to stop the Fizzle Bomber from killing 11,000 people. He goes undercover as a barkeep and one of his customers insists he tell him a joke. After first refusing, the barkeep opens the next part of the story with, “A man walks into a bar…”
Maybe it’s that I love tricky, trippy plots. Maybe it’s that I know storytellers love to leave clues for people who are paying attention. Maybe it’s because I’d made a late afternoon Starbucks run that day so I was working with more late night caffeine than I’m used to. All I know is that about halfway into it, my husband and I both shared our theories about what was really going on. Both theories were interesting and backed up by story clues but I thought, “it would be impossible for us both to be right.” And that’s when I knew… We were both right. And that’s when the story got really interesting. And heartbreaking.
But this is not a heartbreaking post, I promise. In fact, now would be a good time for those of you who don’t like spoilers, or dark tales about transformative journeys, to jump ahead to my warm and fuzzy closing.
If you’re sticking around to read this part of the post it means you’ve read the story or watched the movie…
And so you know that the story revolves around the identities of the barkeep/agent, his customer, the customer’s past/future lover, and the Fizzle Bomber.
Due to the aforementioned mid-afternoon mocha and my husband’s alternative theory of Who Was Really Who, we got it all sorted out pretty early on. But that doesn’t mean the movie was predictable. Seeing a snake eat its own tail isn’t going to be boring even if you know it’s going to happen. I thought the movie’s use of the ouroboros symbol was well done. The movie’s not just about identity, it’s also about reinvention and transformation. Yet that transformation isn’t always welcome or good. Unlike the symbol of the mighty phoenix, which rises triumphantly out of the ashes to begin its life anew, the ouroboros consumes itself. It isn’t kind to itself. It is its own worst enemy.
I condemned and hated the final iteration of the main character. Who wouldn’t? But, oh, how I sympathized with the young, uncannibalized version.
But cannibalized by what is the question. What ultimately destroyed Jane and created the Fizzle Bomber?
Too many time jumps? Maybe. There were all sorts of references to the fact that too many jumps could wreak havoc on one’s mind.
But I think it was loneliness (exacerbated by the character’s repeatedly betraying him/herself) that ultimately destroyed Jane. In the end, the Fizzle Bomber says something like “by killing me, you become me.” So sad. Honestly, I, like everyone else, was blown away by Sarah Snook. Her portrayal made me want to give Jane a huge hug and kick the crap out of everyone who was giving her so much grief. But then I also kind of knew Jane wouldn’t thank me for it. Because this was the same character who willingly admitted (if only to herself) that she was better than everyone else.
Ah, Jane. How could I fix your story? How could I give you an HEA? Leaving aside the perilousness of attempting to tinker with Heinlein, it’s still interesting to contemplate. Reunite her with her parents? Nope. Let her grow old with her one true love? Nope. All the horrible things that happened to her storywise had to happen in order for her to be born, have the childhood she had, live the life she had, etc., etc. because taking away any one of those things would jeopardize her very existence.
So, yep, Predestination is a very good time travel movie. Definitely better than a Plain Jane plague movie.
My final thoughts? One day a year isn’t enough. And it doesn’t always have to be about hearts, chocolate, and roses. It can be about tapas or sushi, poker or pedicures, a walk in the woods, a trip to your local animal shelter, complimenting a stranger, or simply smiling at them. You can and should deepen your connections to other living things every day throughout the year and you should be kind to yourself. That doesn’t mean be egotistical or narcissistic. It just means, don’t be your own worst enemy.
Want to read more about Predestination?
Did you do anything fun for Valentine’s Day? Are you doing anything fun for President’s Day today? We’re headed to see Jupiter Ascending later. Tomorrow? Gah!! Looks like it might be another snow day…!? At least my commute is short. Lol. Stay safe and warm, people. Here’s wishing you more than romance – I wish each of you HAPPINESS. 🙂