Time travel – my least favourite science fiction trope, and yet I seem to find myself watching films like Looper, Source Code, The Butterfly Effect etc. Of all the films featuring time travel, the only one I really enjoyed was Donnie Darko. That said, Predestination blew my mind for all the wrong reasons.
*SPOILERS AHEAD – YOU’VE BEEN WARNED
The life of a time-traveling Temporal Agent. On his final assignment, he must pursue the one criminal that has eluded him throughout time.
Firstly, the temporal agent thing has been done. Looper – the movie to which many reviewers compare Predestination – already did this, and countless novels have used the same word, or slight variations thereof, to describe the shady characters governed by an even shadier organisation that sends people flitting through time to alter or influence events, which they inevitably end up messing up or unable to alter which the movie then presents as a mind-blowing twist. *yawn* The other thing almost every time travel film gets horribly wrong is the science. While real-world physics don’t technically have to apply considering time travel is fictional – and at best, a quantum theory – I’d like to think that basic logic still applies, and yet screen writers think they can create a logic loophole by getting philosophical and meta and spouting quantum mysticism. I’m all for quantum mysticism, but not when it’s used as justification for bad science.
So in Predestination – as if the title wasn’t clue enough – we have this guy who is supposedly the product of a predestination paradox who must go back in time to stop a criminal (yawn again) from killing lots of people only to discover 97 minutes later than he can’t actually change the course of his life because ‘predestination!’ Really?? This film didn’t even attempt to provide some more profound explanation or reasoning behind what was going on. Perhaps I’ve just seen too many of these sorts of films that the ‘twist’ seemed more like an excuse than a revelation.
Dodgy science aside, the film largely describes the life and transformation of a transgender or intersex character – I say ‘or’ here because the person never actually identifies themselves as either. This is where the film will likely be lauded for being progressive and LGBT friendly and diverse, but the story contained within is pretty damn horrific!
A child identified as female at birth is raised a girl while never truly fitting in and displaying certain tomboyish traits – this is set in the 1940-70s after all so a girl having a brain is seen as tomboyish. At some point, Jane is examined and the doctors discover she is intersex. They keep this information from her. In fact, they blatantly lie to her!
Later, Jane falls pregnant and doctors perform a C-section. When Jane wakes up the new doctor reveals to her that she was, in fact, internally both male and female and that during the C-section they had to perform a full hysterectomy. And, as if that isn’t traumatic enough, the good doctor took it upon himself to start the process of sex reassignment, because Jane – now devoid of uterus – can clearly no longer be considered a woman. Jane is then forced to endure several more surgeries to finish what was started and become a man although she has never identified as a man nor ever identified as anything other than a straight cis female – other than being physically strong and intelligent (traits not common in woman obviously). This woman is entirely stripped of agency and mutilated by medical professionals without her consent! The biggest crime in this film isn’t the bombings they’re trying to stop, but this unwanted sex reassignment that Jane neither wants nor agrees to. I almost stopped watching the film, but morbid fascination kept me going, hoping they would somehow redeem the storyline.
It only gets worse. Language like ‘freak’ is used to describe the intersex person before and after surgery and as the film progresses it is shown more and more that Jane – now John – has never had any form of agency and is simply being manipulated by said shady temporal organisation for what purpose I have no freaking idea because the film basically undoes itself in the last 2 minutes. The film is all about Jane giving her life purpose and yet the film’s purpose flies right out the window in the final scene. Sigh. I’m not even surprised. I figured out the twist – twists, there were supposed to be a few – a mile away and kept hoping the film would do something other than what I expected. More sighs.
The biggest problem I have with this film is that they used an intersex person without any consideration for gender identity or sexuality to create the predestination paradox. Jane, a straight woman who believes she is cisgender, falls in love with a man and becomes pregnant. After the birth, Jane is forced to become John, who is then manipulated into going back in time to meet Jane (an earlier iteration of themselves). Jane, forced into becoming John, is now a straight guy who falls in love with his earlier female self and even gets her pregnant. My mind boggled – not with all the time travel nonsense – but with the flippant treatment of sexual identity. It gets worse.
The baby Jane and John conceive is then snatched and taken back in time to 1945 where said baby grows up to be Jane… welcome to the predestination paradox causal loop thingie the writers think is so clever but is so messed up I can’t even! This could not possibly have worked unless person A could become person B and then impregnate themselves, so let’s just use an intersex person! What could’ve been a really cool and progressive exploration of gender identity and sexuality against a sci-fi backdrop – rarely done on the silver screen – instead turned into an absolute farce that reiterates sexist and genderist ideaology.
The rest of the movie and the resolution of the bombing subplot isn’t even worth mentioning because it honestly does little for the story or characters other than to reiterate the predestination theme ad nauseam.
I think Sarah Snook did a pretty good job of acting the parts of Jane and John and breathing life into an abused character, but that’s about all I liked about this movie. Can I give a film no splats? I don’t want to give this movie any. Nope, not even half of one. I was appalled and disappointed by this film. No stars for Predestination.