Predestination Explained: The Complex Time Paradox Solved
Time travel movies are always super-complicated, whether you pick Christopher Nolan’s recently released Tenet or the less action oriented 2009 release The Time Traveler’s Wife. There is this whole dilemma about the past, present, and future clashing together, meeting our younger or older versions, accidentally setting off a chain of events that changes a timeline, and whatnot. But none have been as complicated as Michael and Peter Spierig’s Predestination. Predestination creates one hell of a complicated time paradox that is not easy to understand in one go. No worries we have some help for you.
One of the main reasons that make time-travel films confusing is the different events from the past, present, and future happening in no real order. We as the audience become unmoored. When it’s a film like Predestination the lack of chronological order only serves to make an already complex plot more difficult to follow. But once you get the actual storyline of the film, the confusion doesn’t end because the film is fashioned after the famous unsolved question of who came first, the chicken or the egg. So, the best we can do is understand the paradoxical loop in Predestination.
The core plot of Predestination
Predestination is focused on four characters- Jane, John, the Barkeep (who is actually an agent of an organization called the Temporal Bureau), and the Fizzle Bomber. While the simpler (but still mind-boggling) part of the film explains that Jane and John are the same person. Moreover in reality all four of them are the same person! Yep, so keep that in mind as you proceed further.
The story starts with an agent of the organization known as the Temporal Bureau feverishly trying to disable a timebomb. But at the last minute, the person who planted the explosive engages in a fight with him and the agent barely manages to diffuse the bomb before it blows up in his face, burning him severely. Then another man (just his legs are seen) pushes a case towards him, something the burning man is desperately reaching for. He holds the violin case, puts in some numbers on the side locker, and disappears. Confused, me too. Just wait.
In this scene itself, John- the burning man, the Barkeep- who pushes the case towards him, and the bomber exists (a total of three people, all the same). How can that happen if they are the same? Well, they come from different points of time in the future and the past.
The Temporal Bureau
Before we proceed further, let me explain the Temporal Bureau. It has been described as an organization that has a complete history of deadly future and past crimes and its team of 11 agents are tasked to go backwards and forward in time to make alterations that stop them from happening. The task of time-traveling has its side-effects including dementia, increasing paranoia, etc. John is dedicated to his job and is on the lookout for a man named The Fizzle Bomber who has carried out various bombings across several years and killed many innocent people.
John (whose face got burnt) jumps to 1992 where he gets his face grafted, changing it entirely. After he recovers, he jumps to 1970 and joins a bar as its barkeep, where one day he meets his younger self, John. Remember, this John is yet to join the Temporal Bureau and obviously doesn’t recognize himself as the Barkeep as his face has been changed in the surgery. For the sake of clarification, this future form of John will be denoted as the Barkeep.
They begin chatting and John begins telling his life story to the Barkeep. He shares that he was born as a girl and left at the doorsteps of an orphanage. As a girl, his name was Jane. She grew up being disliked by others her age because she was too intelligent, smart, and physically active. Unlike the other girls, she is never adopted. After she grows up, she tries to join the Space Corps program headed by a man named Mr. Robertson but she is soon disqualified for having “odd” physiology, though she is not told about it.
To support herself, Jane starts working in the day and starts attending night school. This is when she meets a stranger, with whom she falls in love with. One day he mysteriously disappears, leaving her alone to tackle her pregnancy. The problems never stop for Jane. After she gives birth, doctors tell her that she had fully-formed male and female sex organs. When she delivered her baby, her female organs were damaged, prompting doctors to remove them. To repair the damage they needed to change your gender thus she survives as a man. With the subsequent surgeries and injections, Jane slowly became John over time.
John and Jane and the Stranger
One day, someone stole his baby from the hospital and no matter how much John/Jane tried, they could never find their child again. Returning to 1970 where John articulates that if he ever finds the man that got him pregnant, he wouldn’t hesitate to kill him. The Barkeep discloses that he can help him. He uses his time-travelling case to transport them to the exact point of time in the past when Jane met the stranger. After this, the Barkeep leaves.
This is when John bumps into Jane, and as they chat, he realizes that he is the “stranger” that his female self fell in love with. Though this is a rather baffling concept, John, the male version of Jane, is the one who fell in love with his female self and as he is a male now, causing the pregnancy as well.
The Agent and the Fizzle Bomber
Meanwhile the Barkeep/Agent/future John time-travels and tries to catch the Fizzle Bomber. He fails again and witnesses the time his face was badly burned when he was trying to defuse the bomb. It was him, the Barkeep, that helped his past self by pushing the violin case towards him.
He again time-travels and is seen as the man who kidnaps Jane’s daughter from the hospitals. Now, here comes another mind-boggling twist in Predestination– he jumps back to 1945 in the past and is seen putting the child outside an orphanage. This child will grow up to be Jane, then John, then the Barkeep. It is a time paradox within which this complicated conception of Jane/John exists, making him a self-created unique being.
The Barkeep then returns to John and tells him the truth. That he is John too, just with a different face and explains that he has to leave Jane to keep the loop of his creation intact. They then travel to 1985. In 1985 Barkeep/Future John, leaves John to recover from the massive time jump. He himself travels to 1975 as he is retiring from the Temporal Bureau. John then becomes a temporal agent. Seven years later he jumps to 1992 to nab the Fizzle Bomber that ends with him burning his face, the very event the film started with.
Meanwhile in 1975…
When Barkeep tries to decommission his violin case/time-traveling device, it fails to disconnect. Just then, he adds up the dots and realizes that at this point the Fizzle Bomber is at the Laundromat. He rushes there to confront him, only to realize that it is him. Yes, the Fizzle Bomber is the older version of the Barkeep/John. As a result of the excessive time-travelling, he now suffers from dementia. His excessive paranoia causes him to commit acts of terrorism. He believes these acts of terrorism are stopping future disasters. As his device was never decommissioned he had been using it to time travel and blow stuff up. Unable to accept that he eventually becomes the maniacal Fizzle Bomber, Barkeep kills the latter.
While this is where Predestination ends, it doesn’t mean that Barkeep/John won’t end up becoming the Fizzle Bomber. If the name of the film is not a dead give-away, it is obvious from the story that every event is predestined. Each will will take place. No matter whether the Barkeep decided he will eventually become the Fizzle Bomber.