Without dropping spoilers right and left, how do I explain that I'm completely baffled by the Spierig Brothers' retro-futuristic thriller Predestination? So the she that's really a he is the earlier version of the he we meet later on, and the later version of the she who shows up near the beginning? Hope I didn't just wreck anything for anyone.
Actually, I'm pretty sure I get at least parts of Predestination, especially after reading the slender time-travel short story on which it's based, Robert A. Heinlein's 1958 "All You Zombies." Heinlein's story is elegant in its hardboiled spareness, and its brevity makes it all the more tantalizing -- it's the sort of thing you want to reread immediately. A narrator known only as the Bartender meets a despondent young man, a writer of true-confession pulp, who goes by the pen name The Unmarried Mother. After hearing the young man's sad, shocking story, the Bartender makes him an offer he probably should refuse. Like so much time-travel literature, "All You Zombies" isn't 100 percent logical, but a chilly poetry hangs in the air around it.
Predestination -- the third feature from the German-born writer-director team (and identical twins) Michael and Peter Spierig -- tries to be all of those things and more, and succeeds only in fits and starts. The Spierigs had the framework for something wonderful here, if only they'd trusted themselves to keep things simple. The twisty-turny clutter, Christopher Nolanesque in its aspirations, becomes wearisome, particularly when the Spierigs press us to believe the unbelievable. (You mean we're supposed to buy that Ethan Hawke, even after extensive plastic surgery, could once have looked like…oh, never mind.)