Monday, February 23, 2015

Predestination (Movie 2014) review

Predestination is a 2014 film by the Spierig Brothers.

I put this on the Netflix queue a while ago and forgot why I'd done it. A couple of minutes into it, STB, who was watching this with me, pointed to a piece of paper tacked up on the scenery in the movie with a quote on it: "If at last you do succeed, never try again." "That's a Heinlein quote," he said. I suddenly remembered why this was on my Netflix list and the whole plot unrolled in front of me, clicked into place, like tumblers in a lock. In a way I was able to see my future just by knowing that one fact.

For I remembered Predestination is based on Heinlein's 1960 short story '-All You Zombies-', a tiny piece that trots efficiently through every point needed to outline the ultimate time travel loop paradox.  I'm not going to summarize '-All You Zombies-', as it would spoil every minute of the movie except the introduced sub-plot about a Big Bad, the Fizzle Bomber, no doubt added for the Hollywood-style plot reason that there has to be an enemy, or at least a MacGuffin, or people will stop watching.

'-All You Zombies-' was tight enough that people are unlikely to stop watching the basic story, but the new chase plot doesn't interfere with the inevitable rolling-up of the time travel loops - a miracle, given there's hardly room to stick a fingernail between the workable paradox used and the sea of unworkable alternates around it.

The story and the movie both center around a figure - who presents as male - who tells his bartender a story. The man's pen name is the Unmarried Mother, because he writes True Confession Stories for the magazines at 4c a word, and he reveals to the bartender that he understands the Unmarried Mother angle better than most men, because he was one once. Things only get more convoluted from there on in.

It's a talky movie, but then the story is very talky as well. The Fizzle Bomber plot allows for some blowing-shit-up and choreographed fights that weren't in the story, but the majority is still dialogue/exposition. If you're in the mood for it, this should still be gripping, because you want to hear how all this came about and how it can all be resolved. Moreover, Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook inhabit their versions of the main character so well, I really felt for them. They know they are victims of a terrible past and you know that the future is not going to be bright for either of them.

Robert A Heinlein's later stories can feel creepy when he writes these dialed-in, claustrophobic stories of personal relationships, but this very early effort manages to stay on the non-icky side as well as being extraordinarily small and systematic, like a little pocket watch humming along with the speeding mechanism visible behind its face. You can read it in full here. (Beware the passage of time - some terms that were commonplace then are not used in polite company now.)

But if you're in a movie mood, Predestination is well worth a watch instead.

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