Forgotten Films: Predestination (2014)

The Australian sf film Predestination isn't old, but it may not have cropped up on your radar screen.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 153rd in my series of Forgotten, Obscure or Neglected Films

This week we have a film that is again not very old but may not have cropped up on the radar of many of our readers. Predestination is an Australian film that was screened at South by Southwest in 2014 and opened in the U.S. in January of last year.

It is a tricky film with lots of twists and turns and I will try not to spoil too many of them. The story begins when a young man named John (played by Sarah Snook) enters a bar in 1975 New York and encounters the bartender played by Ethan Hawke. John reveals that he writes confession stories for the various true confessions pulps. There follows a bet with the bar tender where John says he has a weird story and bets a bottle of booze versus $20 that it is the wildest he has ever heard.

The story begins when John says, “When I was a little girl …” and goes forward. He had been a foundling, dropped at an orphanage where he was named Jane. Jane excelled at math and physics but failed miserably at relationships and getting along. Upon leaving high school, Jane applied to work for SpaceCorp, where young women entertain spacers on their return from missions. Essentially, this is a brothel for spacemen seeking intelligent women. But Jane has trouble getting along and eventually is kicked out of the program.

Jane then took a job as a servant for a family and enrolls in classes at a charm school. Here she meets a strange man whom she falls in love with and, in a fit of passion, has sex with. When he disappears, she chalks it up to experience until the skirts get tighter and she finds herself on the road to motherhood. When the child is born, Jane is informed that the delivery was a caesarean section. The doctor informs her that she was an unusual case. She had two sets of organs within her body — male and female. They were both underdeveloped. The pregnancy has messed up her female organs and she has had to have a hysterectomy. To save her life, the doctors make her a man. Also, while she was in the hospital, the baby is kidnapped.

Jane (or John) is now a fish out of water. A person with few social skills and no experience in her new identity, John becomes a secretary and, while typing up a true confession story, decides that he can do better at it and begins to write a column as “The Unmarried Mother.”

So far, it’s a pretty odd story. But the bartender offers John a chance to kill the man who caused her all this grief, made her pregnant, and cost her the life she knew. She leaps at the chance and finds out that the bartender is actually a time traveler for the Temporal Bureau and takes her back in her life.

If this sounds familiar, Predestination is based on the story “All You Zombies” by Robert A. Heinlein. And if you read that story, you know where this is all going. And, if you haven’t, you should.

Sarah Snook is great as Jane and John in her various incarnations. She is a lovely young lady and not a bad young man (bringing to mind a young Leonardo DiCaprio). There is a story about the “Fizzle Bomber” whom Ethan Hawke is tracking. The bomber has blasted him at least once, burning his face significantly in the early moments of the film. Overseeing it all is Mr. Robertson (Noah Taylor), acting strange and mysterious in much the manner that William B. Davis’ Cigarette Smoking Man handled the X-Files weirdness.

I enjoyed the film. I had initially heard about it on Facebook and found a Blu-Ray copy for less than $10 at Amazon, which still lists them at that price. It’s not a perfect film, but it is fun and odd and well worth your time.

Series organizer Todd Mason hosts more Tuesday Forgotten Film reviews at his own blog and posts a complete list of participating blogs.