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Recently, a commenter turned us onto the film Predestination (2014) and the short story it is based on, “All You Zombies”, written by Robert A. Heinlein in 1958, so I checked them out.
Do not be misled by the short story title, neither the story nor the film have anything to do with actual zombies. The only mention of zombies is the same in each: “I know where I come from- but where do all you zombies come from?” Instead it has to do with time travel and paradoxes. The short story is a feat because, although these days time travel and time paradoxes are almost cliché, this was the first of its kind. Building off the fictional device created in the mind of H.G. Wells, the time machine, Heinlein creates a situation that is one of a kind.
The film starred Ethan Hawke and Australians Sarah Snook and Noah Taylor. Sarah Snook won the well-deserved AACTA award for Best Actress for it. The Spierig brothers directed and filmed it in Melbourne, Australia – though it takes place in America.
From here on, I will be spoiling both (but scroll to the end for a spoiler-free wrap up).
This film made my nose bleed. Not literally, of course, but it is the kind of movie that if you think about it too hard, you might have an aneurism and blood will shoot out your nose. This is not to say that it is a bad film, in fact, I enjoyed it, but things can feel a bit convoluted when dealing with time paradoxes or time travel in general. As the doctor says, “time isn’t linear…it is like a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey… stuff”, that is how this movie is presented.
Ethan Hawke’s character is a time agent who has just recovered from a serious injury while after his foe The Fizzle Bomber. He jumps back in time and strikes up a conversation with a man, who writes confessionals under the pen name “The Unmarried Mother”. Because of that strange pen name, we then get a bet for a bottle of booze and this man’s life story, which begins “when I was a little girl…”. Sarah Snook played this character, Jane when a girl – John as a man.
This story takes a while, and unlike the short story, we don’t really know why we are hearing it until after it is over. But after learning about a man that “The Unmarried Mother” fell for, was left by, bore a child by, and ruined him completely, Ethan Hawke asks, “if you saw him again and knew you would get away with it, would you kill him?” This sparks most of the time travel in the film and this is where it frays and makes your head hurt, in a good and crazy way.
We already knew that the woman from the story and the man that was in the bar are the same person, but when they go back so this man can find the man who ruined his life, the only person he bumps into is himself, or rather herself. Come to fund out, he dated himself and bore a child with himself.
Then Ethan Hawke goes to the hospital to snatch the child and drop it off at the orphanage, the same date and place where Jane was left. This means that the baby that this one person had by himself, the baby is also the same character. All Jane/John. Ethan Hawke recruits John to his time agency and says, “now that you know who she is, you now know who you are, and if you think about it you will know who the baby is and who I am.” Or something of the like, which would make you think that Ethan Hawke is the child, but if that is that case, he is also Jane/John.
To put the sprinkles on this swirly cake of madness, after he recruits himself, he is then decommissioned as an agent, and for his last placement, he chooses to go after his nemesis, The Fizzle Bomber. If you get the drift at this point, you would not be surprised when – BLAM – Jane/John/Time Agent is also, The Fizzle Bomber. The film basically ends with young Ethan Hawke killing his bomber self and claiming that he would never turn into that guy. But aren’t some things predestined?
Trying to connect all the dots and trying to think, “if he recruited himself then how…?” And just trying to tie all the ends together to make something more linear and comprehensible, but you really can’t. It just keeps swirling around in your head.
The film is really a great adaptation of the story, and I actually feel it improves upon it. The way the story is laid out, finding out who the child is and reveals like that are not as dynamic, but I watched the film first, so I knew all the twists. Still, I wondered if I would have understood all of it without having seen the film.
The film expanded on what was on the page, only changing a few minor things and adding in a few characters, like The Fizzle Bomber, who is just a Fizzle War that barely happened because of the time agents work in the story.
The film really understood the idea of a time paradox and played off it well, as well as the themes and tone. Once I got the idea of where it was going, I did predict much of the ending, but it did not make it any less enjoyable. It is all a bit mad, but I like a bit of madness.
I would recommend the story to everyone. The film on the other hand, although I do like it, might be too much to handle for some people (see meme below). The story is a bit toned down and easier to swallow, but the film is a bit more fun. However, I think I know where all the zombies come from… they come from watching this film.