Culture & Criticism Since 2003
Robert Anson Heinlein is, without dispute, one of the greatest science fiction writers that America has produced. Best known for his strong characters and unsurpassed ability to spin a yarn, his plots tended to be fairly linear and not particularly complex. There was, however, one exception to the straightforward plotting: in 1958, he wrote (in one day!) an extraordinarily convoluted short story that involved not one, but several time travel paradoxes.
And nearly fifty years later, nobody has found a flaw in this most meticulous of stories, one told with the precision and complexity of a Swiss watch. The story was “All You Zombies” (title whited out for those who may have read it and don’t want spoilers; highlight by dragging mouse to read).
Originally, the story was considered unfilmable because of its complexity, and the necessarily non-linear style of the narrative. However, Australia’s redoubtable Spierig Brothers, Michael and Peter, finally decided to have a go at it. They had one previous major movie release, “Daybreakers,” a vampire movie that brilliantly reworked the standard tropes of the genre to produce a fresh, authentic plot.
To succeed at all would have been remarkable. But they have succeeded brilliantly. The movie, like the short story, is both intelligent and demanding, and probably shouldn’t be watched by the sort of people who lack the patience to allow the story to dictate the pace.
The movie stars Ethan Hawke as “The Bartender” and rising new star Sarah Snook as “The Unmarried Mother.” Hawke, who was also in “Daybreakers,” turns in a laudable job here, while Snook’s performance is simply breathtaking. Think Tatiana Maslany in “Orphan Black.” It’s that type of power.
The genre-savvy might think they have the plot sussed in the first half hour, and at that point, they will have. But this is a time-travel yarn, and the main plot pivots await.
I finished the 97 minute movie with a feeling of immense satisfaction, and the conviction that this was a breakthrough effort by both the Spierigs and Ms. Snook. It’s a film that shouldn’t be missed.
Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.