TransTalk -- Predestination

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Joygirl

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Predestination was a movie that I, overall, did not like. It did an impressive job turning a fairly reasonable and easy-to-grasp style of time travel (the Stable Time Loop) into something so convoluted and incomprehensible that it gave me a headache trying to piece its logic together. The motivations behind the actions of its characters were hazy at best and outright nonsense at worst (why in the world would John hook up with Jane when he knew exactly how the scenario would play out?).

I don't recommend this movie. As such, I'm going to be including entirely open, unmarked spoilers for the whole thing over the course of this review – except that this isn't going to be a review.

“Wait, it's... it's not...?”
“Wait, it's... it's not...?”

Nope, y'see, I don't actually give a damn about this movie. I'm content to let it suck in peace. The issue is the way this film handles gender identity and transition – that's what I'm going to be talking about.

“But Lexi, it was based on a Heinlein book, and he's ooooold so you can't blame the movie for having outdated social concepts included in it.”

Yes I can. If the source material is offensive, it's the job of the filmmakers to fix it. If they choose not to, then I'm well within my right to criticize those decisions. In the case of Predestination, those decisions were very, very poor. Let me try to first explain why this movie required the plot devices that it required.

Predestination was about Ethan Hawke becoming his own father. And his own mother. Take special note that this was premeditated, not accidental.

Everyone in this movie has had sex with everyone else. The kicker is that there's only one character.
Everyone in this movie has had sex with everyone else. The kicker is that there's only one character.

Let's, for now, ignore the genetic impossibility that this creates (how does his genetic makeup work, besides not?). Let's also try to ignore the flaw in the concept itself (how did they know that the child would be intersex/why was the child intersex at all/why did they do this in the first place/what the actual f***?). Instead, let's focus on what this says about gender identity.

Jane Doe (Ethan Hawke's character's original name) is left on a doorstep (by future Ethan Hawke... ugh) to live a hard life in the 60's, a tough time for any woman. She grows up as a cisgender woman, entirely content with her gender identity but with superhuman strength -- punching a headlight out as a small child -- because of her internal male sex organs (...oh my God...). She's incredibly apt and intelligent, also entirely fertile as a woman, and eventually has sex (with herself...) and gets pregnant. After having a daughter (herself, again) her female sex organs are somehow totally destroyed.

Easier than you might think?
Easier than you might think?

Naturally, upon noting that she has some extra equipment inside of her, the doctors take it upon themselves to totally turn her into a man. This begins with reconstructing her urinary/sex organs with the male counterparts, which were apparently mostly-formed inside of her. Bizarrely, this is the first thing they do, then move onward to mastectomies and hormone replacement (or... just addition, I guess, since they never mention estrogen blockers) therapy.

What ensues is actually a very compelling tale about gender transition that's (sort of) realistically handled. The bizarre part is that it way more closely emotionally parallels the experience of being a non-transitioned transperson than a person moving towards the way they want to be. Jane (now John) hates the way she has to present herself, hates her clothes, hates her voice, hates the person she sees in the mirror, and it takes until she magically becomes Ethan Hawke for this inverted rage and despair to miraculously fade away.

The cure for all ills.
The cure for all ills.

To sum up, Jane has her gender appointed to her as a result of surgeons giving her (without her consent) male sex organs. She is then forced to go through all of the torment and therapy of a transperson with none of the reward for doing so.

This has some extremely unfortunate implications. Jane's gender is assigned to her. She has no choice in her sexual reassignment surgery, and then because of that reassignment and the new changes in her “equipment,” she is forced to transition despite not identifying as male. She has to change herself to reflect what society expects of her, despite the fact that she never genuinely identifies as male until her transformation into Ethan Hawke.

Predestination pulls no punches when it comes to showing the audience how horrific the process of gender transition can be, both physically and emotionally. It lets you know what kind of hell Jane goes through, and frequently makes it clear that her “life has been ruined.” And it's right. Her life had been ruined.

So why the hell was she made to transition?
So why the hell was she made to transition?

While it isn't outright stated, the idea that this conveys is that society's perception of you is more important than what's in your heart. It conveys the idea that any amount of suffering is worth fitting in with what everyone else expects of you. It makes the point that your sex organs are equal to your gender identity, and that choice does not enter the matter. That other people have the right to decide how you express yourself.

And that's super messed up.

I understand, of course, the contrived reason for all of this. The movie needed to make sure that the Jane/John character was fertile both as a male and as a female, and therefore used intersexism and transgenderism as plot devices. But in its (nonetheless flawed) attempt to be grounded and realistic, it touched way too closely on the actual anguish (and occasionally trauma) that genderqueer people go through – while also invalidating their struggles.

A small price to pay for something you never wanted in the first place.
A small price to pay for something you never wanted in the first place.

How it could have been fixed: Easily. Jane/John was already established (albeit indirectly) to be bisexual. The entirety of the “has sex with/births her own self” plotline could have been kept entirely intact by reassigning Jane's sex and not having her unnecessarily transition. They still could have had the pair of Janes bump uglies and give birth to baby Jane, and they could have still made the reassigned-Jane fertile (it would have made just as much sense as it did the other way). Having a ciswoman and a differently-equipped woman enter a relationship would have been as progressive as forcing Jane to transition was backwards.

In closing, Predestination would like us all to know that gender identity is as simple as having your gender issued to you, and cannot be in any way contested or defied. I've never seen a movie that was so realistic about its handling of gender transition, that was also this thick-headed about the nature of gender expression and identity. I don't think this film's implications were intentional – I think they were the product of ignorance, rather than malice (though I could always be wrong). Nonetheless, if you're going to use an important and underrepresented topic as a plot device, actually research that topic and make sure that you aren't going to totally screw it up.

-------------------------

For other reviews and articles by me, make sure to check out the Joy Reviewz Library.

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Straight-Fire

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I'll check this out anyway. You know, it wouldn't hurt to watch a bad movie every now and then. :p

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deactivated-097092725

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Ugh. This sounds awful

Having a ciswoman and a differently-equipped woman enter a relationship would have been as progressive as forcing Jane to transition was backwards.

I guess it was more important to have Ethan Hawke in the film (or any other socially acceptable looking "guy") to avoid being thought of as a "chick flick". What you suggest above would not only have been more progressive, but brave as well.

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Darling_Luna

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@ms-lola: Well yeah, did you see Training Day ?

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Cream_God

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That gave me a headache reading

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laflux

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@joygirl: Is it one of the those movies I can laugh to in a type of bad comedy way :) ?

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deactivated-097092725

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Darling_Luna

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Joygirl

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@laflux: Maybe some awkward shouting at the screen. Not really laughter so much.

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kyrees

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ah the movie that f*cked with time and genetics literally.

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Mandarinestro

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That movie gave me a headache and sore eyes.

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willpayton

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I'll check this out anyway. You know, it wouldn't hurt to watch a bad movie every now and then. :p

I didnt think this movie was bad, in fact the opposite. It's based on the Heinlein short story "All You Zombies". While there may be some points where things dont make the most sense, overall the point is the interesting aspects of the temporal causality loop. Heinlein was trying to show the most extreme case of a predestination paradox... and he succeeded. Nitpicking the plot and the motivations or stuff like that misses the point.

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dngn4774

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#14  Edited By dngn4774

@joygirl: Don't you find your position a little hypocritical? If the whole point of being transgender is allowing individuals the freedom to express their gender roles, why would you criticize someone for making a choice in gender role that you don't agree with? I agree that the writers put Jane in a sh*tty position (like all writers do to create conflict) but does that necessarily imply that they secretly want all transpeople to make Jane's (i.e. traditional western society's) choice?

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Saren

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Have you perhaps considered that creative works reflect ideas presented by their creators and are not claiming to be definite and unquestionable in those stances? Plenty of films have unpleasant implications about plenty of different people --- but given that no two people experience life in precisely the same manner, there is no absolute way to represent something.

You could call it an irrelevant nitpick, but I wanted to go into choice or agency in anything being such an increasingly important theme as ultimately meaningless given that everyone of every type is molded to varying degrees by assorted brands of social perception, whether they know it, like it, agree with it, or not; a theme inserted more to massage the human ego than to reflect any sort of reality. There is no such thing as a socially unmoored human being whose decisions stem entirely from their own agency, no one whose decisions aren't at least partially shaped by aspirations from and to other lives around them, but this discussion seems headed in a different direction.

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gallifreyan100

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#16  Edited By gallifreyan100

@joygirl: Hey, I'm like an hour and sixteen minutes into the film and I know this post is over two years old and you probably aren't reading, but I just have to get my thoughts out. You give a fair perspective on this but personally I see it slightly differently. There's two ways to see it; an mtf transition in reverse (you touched on that), or late "corrective" surgery on an intersex person.

With the mtf transition, you can clearly see a woman dealing with all kinds of dysphoria after the surgery. But from what I've heard about intersex people, a lot have to go through "corrective" surgery and ultimately end up feeling like Jane does. You know, like they were cheated out of their gender and forced into what society wants so that it can feel comfortable.

In regards to the whole Ethan Hawke thing, I think that's a coping mechanism. It almost seems the face transplant allowed him to distance himself entirely. Like he's obsessing more and more with his job so he doesn't have to deal with dysphoria. It still feels like there's a bit of pain there. I mean, he looks on as Jane and John are together a bit too long, almost like he's trying to relive his old life. Basically, I don't think his dysphoria ever ends, it just changes into something else. I mean all he had left of Jane was her face and her voice, now they're both gone.