Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Spoiler Space: Predestination

Thoughts on, and a place to discuss, the plot details that can’t be revealed in our review.

Predestination is based one of the most famous time-travel yarns of all time, Robert Heinlein’s 1959 short story “—All You Zombies—.” It’s kind of remarkable that it took half of a century for someone to adapt the work, as it contains one of the wildest, weirdest twists ever committed to paper. This is the strange tale of a person who becomes her own mother and father—a paradox that hinges on time travel and the anatomical impossibilities it causes. To grossly simplify the convoluted narrative: A woman has a sex change operation, travels back in time with the help of an older version of herself/himself, and impregnates a younger, still-female version of herself/himself, who gives birth to a still younger version of the same person who is spirited away to the past by a still-older version of the same person. Confused? Perhaps it makes sense that it took so long for someone to bring Heinlein’s pretzel-logic origin story to the screen. It’s like the proto Primer, only much more psychosexual in nature.


The filmmakers, Michael and Peter Spierig, don’t just preserve the basic, confounding architecture of their source material. They actually add another wrinkle: The older version of the character—played here by Ethan Hawke, whose lack of physical similarity to the younger version (Sarah Snook) is explained away through facial reconstructive surgery—is also hunting a terrorist bomber. Naturally, this rogue is none other than an even older version of the same person; the big twist allows for a simultaneously impactful and amusing scene of Hawke confronting his future self, a bearded, Mr. Glass-style supervillain.

The addition of an action-thriller angle, which may well have helped secure funding for such a bugfuck film, doesn’t much change the overall effect of Heinlein’s story. Really, it just strengthens Predestination’s thematic undercurrents, adding another layer of disconnect between the characters—just about all of whom are, of course, the same character. Put another way: Setting aside the time-travel mumbo jumbo, this is the story of someone trying to reconcile the person they are with the person they used to be and the one they will evidently, eventually become. None of the four versions of the protagonist ever recognizes the one they’ll grow into—a sly commentary on how much people change and how little control they have over the process.

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