*this review contains massive spoilers, and a bunch of extra random discussion of the film*
Reading the Wikipedia article about this film, there is a quote from the writers/directors, the Spierig brothers, saying that if a hole were found within the Heinlein short story that forms the base of this film, it would have been found by now. Thus they rest comfortably that this twisty time-travel tale’s internal logic will hold. Well, I’m not sure about everyone else, but I didn’t struggle to find a weak point in the logic of the film, a matter of simple biology. Even if we assume an intersex individual has sufficiently developed sexual organs of both sexes that they can both in turn be fully viable at reproduction (I’m not entirely an expert on this, but what I do know would tend to lean toward infertility, not dual fertility), the logical problem is a much more simple matter of biology, namely that a sperm cell is half of one’s DNA code and an ovum is half of one’s DNA code. Each sperm and each ovum is different because it splits the various chromosomal pair in half in different ways, most notably in males splitting the X from the Y to ultimately determine, with some allowance for variation, whether the child will be male or female. Given this tendency toward variation, the odds of two genetically identical people from naturally producing a genetically identical child is vanishingly small. And yet that vanishingly small probability is the pin holding the entire logic of Predestination together.
Still, if I allow it this one fault, there is something impressive in this notion of completely closed loop wherein genetic material manages to exist without an external source. It works the mind as a paradox. I’d say the meaning of the story then is to create this device as a way of short-circuting discussions of genetic destiny, destiny being a point of discussion in this film, and most time travel films that recognize certain events as becoming hard-wired into reality. It takes temporal destiny to create this freedom from genetic destiny, so there’s a touch of irony involved. It is fun to think about, but ultimately, I’m not sure the rewards are quite there.
The one thing in the film that I think deserves unambiguous praise is the performance of Sarah Snook as Jane/John. Even if I critique the film a bit for acting like Sarah Snook is convincingly not good looking, able to immediately gain our sympathies for her ostracized orphan, I can’t critique the performance that must shine through pretty heavy make-up at times. Now does the film say much about gender? At this point I’m not sure and that is one part I’ll have to consider before I make a final decision on the film. For now:
As to [the question of gender], transgender is probably the wrong word to apply to the film, though I suppose it may still have relevance on that front, but in this specific case, the character is intersex. Jane expresses herself as a bit at odds with being a woman, certainly showing divergence from gender expectations of the age in being tougher and smarter, but she never really expresses it as a mismatch. In truth, she only really shows discomfort when forced into life as a man, and at this point also expresses divergence in taking up a more emotional profession writing confession stories. Becoming a male seems to open her up to her feminine a bit more.
I guess if I wanted to go really deep, the film is the story of God creating us in his/her image that also serves as the creation of God. Instead of the turtle that the world rests on standing on turtles all the way down, this theory would manage that closed loop creation. It suggests that there is male and female in all of us (and the fact that Jane is born as a “girl” reflects the fact that we are all female until hormones activate to create a male) and maybe could call out gender constructions. But I don’t really want to give the film more credit on the issue than it really merits. You could paint a fall from grace narrative starting with the innocence of a woman and ending with the violence of a man, but that would be fueling gender stereotypes.
One scene that maybe I should watch again because it didn’t have any impact on me was the attempt by John to justify his bombings to his younger self. It went by a bit quick. Frankly, the early scenes of the film I described in my mind as anti-world building because the whole Fizzle Bomber set-up did nothing for me so I guess I remained confused about that whole thing. It feels like a red herring that is just useful to the creation of the loop.