The movie, "Predestination", directed by the Spierig Brothers, explores the story of an unnamed temporal agent's final assignment as he attempts to recruit his successor and go off mission to capture the one criminal who has eluded him through time. While many modern-day science-fiction aims to inspire awe rather than contemplation, this movie - based on Robert A. Heinlein's short story, "—All You Zombies—" - is different. Not only does it give viewers a knotty timeline to solve, it also contemplates the presence of a character who exists because time-travel and, in so doing, explores the profound nature of human existence and destiny.
Heinlein's story was first published in the March 1959 issue of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine and in many ways the Spierigs have captured the look and feel that you would expect of the genre of the time. The Spierig Brothers show two contrasting worlds, one with an optimistic future as humanity looks towards exploring space and the other under threat by a terrorist known only as the "Fizzle Bomber." The unknown Temporal Agent, played by Ethan Hawke, is severely injured during the course of a mission at the beginning of the film. With his face badly burned beyond recognition, he is officially given his final mission, meaning that he will soon retire and live in any time of his choosing.
The Snake that Eats Itself
The Temporal Agent is given the task of meeting his new recruit known simply as "The Unmarried Mother" (Sarah Snook) who goes by the name John. John is a bitter, formerly intersexed and sarcastic young woman's romance magazine writer who has been dealt an unlucky hand in life. It is here that the Spierigs drop hints and clues as to the possible relationship between the Temporal Agent and the Unmarried Mother as well as John's existence. Before the pair's first time jump, the Lonzo and Oscar song "I'm my own Grandpa," plays on the jukebox in the background. This 1947 song chronicles the unlikely marriages that leads a man to become his own grand-father almost as if to tell viewers the twist if they should have figured out.
The other is the reference to the Ouroboros, the snake that eats itself forever and ever, is mentioned more than once through the movie. This Greek symbol is a symbol of recreation and rebirth. The Temporal Agent offers the Unmarried Mother to travel back in time to avenge the broken heart he suffered when he was a young girl named Jane. The Unmarried Mother soon discovers that he is the man who fell in love and broke Jane's heart. The resulting daughter, christened Jane, of their union was kidnapped and taken to the past to become the elder Jane (the mother) thereby thereby creating a bootstrap paradox - a time-travel paradox where a person/object travels back in time to become the same object in the future - and repeat the cycle all over again.
The Physics of Paradoxes
Though this is not a major issue, the movie only works if you ignore the physics behind the story. One problem is that of entropy; the Temporal Agent's DNA will slowly degrade over time as he accumulates the typical mutations that everyone get during the course of their lives. This means that the baby Jane shouldn't have the same DNA as the Temporal Agent and, over time, will cease to exist and break the loop.
As if to address this question, the Temporal Agent, now going by the name John, references the Ouroborus and tells viewers, "I know where I come from but where did all you zombies come from?" This seems to remind viewers that he exists and was born as a result of time-travel while we ordinary viewers are just the coupling of our parents. Maybe the same process that brought the Temporal Agent to existence may protect him and keep his DNA unchanged with each cycle.
The Paradox of Destiny
The cyclic existence of these three characters who are the same person is one that the Temporal Agent examines through the movie and it is this that viewers will ponder in future viewings. There is only one time-line and, for a time-travel movie, this makes things simple. Though the events are "loopy" from the perspective of the Temporal Agent, this is one movie that is easy to follow and should be enjoyed by those who avoid time-travel fiction.
As all four characters - Jane, John, the Temporal Agent and the Fizzle Bomber - are all different but the same person, the Temporal Agent questions whether he has any choice or say in his own destiny while, at the same time, lamenting what he will do when he no longer knows the predetermined outcomes of his life. His mentor, Mr. Robertson (Noah Taylor), says that he will have to live each day one day at a time like the rest of us. While the Temporal Agent may feel trapped by the predestination paradox, there are hints that he can make different decisions and live an entirely different outcome. Whether this is actually possible remains another question.
The Spierig Brothers, by having two actors play the roles of the main character, highlight how different they are and, why they all fell in love with and continue to pine for the girl they once were. We see each individual, not as the same character but as different people, each representing different stages in their lives. In many ways we all go through a similar journey but how much of that are decisions we made or path we just followed?
This movie is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. Instead of a roller-coaster thrill-ride, this is a show that messes with your mind and what you think of free-will. This is a very nuanced movie and though this is not a movie for everyone, it is a must-see as it features what could be one of the most interesting and compelling characters in science-fiction.