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Predestination Movie Unpacked Discussed and Explained
Predestination is mindjob to end all mindjobs. It's inside out script and it's mobius devolutions will have you scratching your head long after this thing is over. IMDB
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I was very quick to see this movie originally. And, as it is definitely a movie that is in the center of my wheelhouse, I even created a post for it. But I never actually published it. When I went back to find my post all I found was a link to the short story “‘—All You Zombies—'” by Robert A. Heinlein which at first was baffling until I realized, ah, that is the short story that the movie is based on. Which, you can download and read from here if you’d like. It’s a very slim 9 page story, but it’s interesting to see the internal framework that made up Predestination.

The reason my not writing about Predestination is so baffling to me is because this movie is nigh on inscrutable. Even with my graph paper and my rulers I am having a hard time pulling all the pieces of this thing together into a coherent timeline, and I would assume that many of you would appreciate the help! hahah. Well, now I am finally going back and righting this wrong. Needless to say, this is a spoiler filled walk through and discussion of the movie Predestination. If you haven’t seen this movie… please… back slowly away from this page – go see the film, and then come right back.

After deciding that I needed to do a review again I decided I definitely needed to watch this mind-job of a movie all over again. And so, for all of you who have lost your way and arrived here without having seen the film… here, watch this trailer which will give you a quick overview of what we are talking about here:

So to kick off the unwinding of this fantastic Mobius strip of a movie, why don’t we just do a high level walk through of the movie’s events. Might help some of you remember what exactly happened through the progression of the film.

Predestination Movie Overview

The movie starts in the middle with the quote: “What if I could put him in front of you, the man that ruined your life. If I could guarantee that you would get away with it, would you kill him?” Then we see the Fizzle Bomber placing a bomb in March of 1975 and leveling 10 blocks of New York and killing over 10,000 people. And more importantly, we see someone in a hat, raincoat and gloves have their face caught on fire. Reconstructive surgery fixes their face and the doctor says, “Your grafts are healing nicely, it’ll take some getting used to.” And then the person who underwent the surgery says, “I’ve changed so much, I doubt my own mother would recognize me.”

Which, is the definition of irony.  But we’ll get to that.

And that is when John begins to tell ‘her’ story as Lucy (Sarah Snook) at the bar to the ‘Barkeep’ (Ethan Hawke). She was a foundling. Dropped off on the doorstep of an orphanage. As she grew up she had a multitude of problems, but she realized she was unlike others around her. So Lucy applied to work for Space Corp. Her job would be to service men in space who apparently couldn’t handle the stress of space sans servicing?!? But let’s not get bogged down on this point, shall we? Because that only turns out to be a fairly lame cover story.

But during her physical health testing at Space Corp. something came up that disqualified her for the job even though she was the number one candidate at the time. Lucy then left the program and decided to go to school. And it was during this time at school that Lucy met a man, and this man was exactly like her. She understood him. They apparently made love, and Lucy became pregnant. And it was during her pregnancy that Robertson from the Space Corp. program came back and told Lucy that he wasn’t truthful about what they did at Space Corp. Which was to “fix wrong doings.”

After she delivered her baby the doctor came in and told her that they discovered her internals were completely jacked up. That she had had two sets of sex organs, 1 female and 1 male. But during delivery they had to give her a complete hysterectomy and remove her ovaries. They then needed to create a male urinary tract. They also told her that she would need to become a male through extensive therapy and more surgeries.

So, John, her new name, decided to call her baby Jane… naming her after herself in order to pass on her female legacy. Then a man came and snatched the baby and there were no clues as to who did it or why. So Jane has become John. The baby is gone. And John reapplied for Space Corp. once again, but was yet again denied. Eventually John arrives at the bar with the “Barkeep” and they begin talking. And eventually the entire story is played out. Woman meets man, has a baby, that is stolen and then has surgeries to become a man.

But that is when the story kicks it up a notch when the Barkeep tells John, “What if I could put him in front of you, the man that ruined your life. If I could guarantee you that you could get away with it, would you kill him?” John says yes, and the next thing he knows, is that he is time traveling backwards to April 3rd 1963. And just like that – this movie went from a strange story to a complete mind-job of epic proportions. And from there John goes, accidentally meets Jane in his attempt to kill the man that screwed him up. And in so doing realizes that the guy he was going to kill… was himself. Meanwhile the Barkeep bounces out to March 2nd 1970 and has a shootout with the Fizzle Bomber attempting one more time to catch him. But after being knocked out, he sees that John also jumped to this time and had his face blown off. The Barkeep assists John to get to his time machine device.  And he jumps out to Feb 2nd, 1992 in order to repair his face and heal.

The Barkeep then jumps back to March 2nd 1964 in order to nab Baby Jane and deposit the child at the orphanage on Sept 13, 1945. And this Mobius strip is a Mobius strip of a Mobius strip eating itself, eating itself, eating itself. And on goes the Barkeep to June 24, 1963 in order to pick John back up (after impregnating Jane)… and then jumping forward to 1985 to meet Robertson. John is now picked up as a temporal agent (or whatever the heck fancy name Space Corp. calls their employees.

Barreling down the home stretch… the Barkeep ends his commission and decides to retire 2 months before the big bomb goes off. Except, the time machine doesn’t decommission at all. And as John’s first mission is launching (on August 13th, 1985) the Barkeep goes after the Fizzle Bomber with the information he found earlier about the bomb switch. Finding the Fizzle Bomber he realizes that it is himself… OF COURSE IT IS, that has gone mad from all the jumping. Roll Credits.

Predestination Relationship Infographic


Here, I’ve designed a Mobius strip of my own to show the relationship of the players throughout the entirety of Predestination:

The Rules of Predestination

Most of the time, when it comes to time traveling movies, there are lots and lots of rules. Don’t look at yourself. Don’t touch yourself. Don’t jump more than 3 times consecutively without an infusion and a diffusion. Right? Think about even the simplest of time traveling movies, Back to the Future – there were oodles of written and unwritten rules that held that movie together. But here? I think there is one that I can figure out. Time jumps can only happen 53 years plus or minus of 1981. So, in essence travel is possible between 1928 and 2034 if I have my math straight. Wracking my brain and trying to come up with another one. But no – not only do all the normal time traveling rules get broken here, they get shattered here. Obliterated.  Not only does the world not end if you are near yourself, but on more than one occasion we have characters having sex with themselves. Seriously. So let’s get to that…

The Details of Predestination Explained

If you came here wondering what hit you… then this next paragraph is for you. I’m going to try and explain this movie to you as succinctly and simply as possible. Ok? I’m going to jump straight to the point of the movie and skip all the extraneous nonsense:

In Predestination – Space Corp. is constantly in search of the perfect Chrono-Cop, one that leaves as little a wake of chaos on their comings and goings as possible. And to do that, Robertson comes up with the idea when he meets Jane that he is going to create a person that exists solely inside a paradox and not inside time at all. And by using his ability to let someone time travel he creates someone that impregnates themselves, gives birth to themselves, and then gives them reason to exist by giving them their own cause or problem to solve. And in so doing, Robertson then is able to task this person with extraneous and side time traveling jumps that will constantly give him the perfect time jumper to solve his riddles and the crimes that have haunted the century.

Did that make sense at a high level? And because it is a paradox, it’s nearly impossible to explain in detail. Let me give you a high level timeline:

1. Baby Jane is placed in an orphanage
2. She leaves the orphanage and meets ‘John’
3. They court over two months
4. John impregnates Jane and then disappears
5. Jane gives birth and converts to a man (John)
6. John time travels back to kill his nemesis
7. John meets Jane and they court
8. John impregnates Jane and disappears
9. In trying to catch the Fizzle Bomber his face is destroyed
10. Cosmetic Surgery changes how he looks (Barkeep)
11. The Barkeep goes mad trying to find the Fizzle Bomber
12. One day Barkeep catches the Fizzle Bomber only to realize he is the bomber

Is that more clear? Some of you guys like exposition more than timelines and some vice versa. Maybe one of those will clarify exactly what happened in this movie.

The Detailed Timeline of the Time Jumps in Predestination

I was going to give you guys another list of the dates and the details of each of the jumps so that you can walk this cat back and see all the details inside and out. But after I typed it out I realized it was utterly boring. So I figured. Let’s create an infographic of the jumps and the reason why each was made. There are a number of jumps that I could have added here – these are just the basic ones that I am showing you here. For example – I could have concurrently shown you how one side of the Mobius strip (Jane) connected in to another (John) while yet another one was still on going (Barkeep and even Fizzle Bomber). Because there are constantly going 4 different threads all happening simultaneously. So take what I have below and multiply it by 4, stagger them, and you then see how the time traveling works in this movie:


Predestination Final Thoughts and Theories

I’ve already given you my biggest theory – and that is that Robertson is the one that created Jane and her paradox from scratch. Seeing an opportunity I believe Robertson manipulated her into becoming his perfect Chrono-cop. I guess I’ll call this one the Robertson Theory.

But it is probably equally as plausible that it was just an accident. A Paradox that arose out of capability and also fortune. (It was after all Jane that had the parts necessary to make this happen. Whoops!)

I personally think that the movie was pretty predictable. Anytime you cover someone’s face from the beginning, that person will turn out to be you in the end. Right? And man, does the director and writer use shadow, and fedoras, and burnt faces to enormous effect throughout this movie to keep us from know who really is who.

I enjoyed Predestination the first time I watched it… in a sort of – oh, no they aren’t going to… yeah, they already did… way. It’s a fun little time travel movie that is fun whether you have it figured out in advance or not.

Edited by, CY

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21 Responses

  1. Shelby

    So here’s my question: you’ve seen so many time travel movies that you know covered face = protagonist. But did you predict that the man and woman and Ethan Hawke were all the same person? I understand being able to predict bandage-faced dude but, to me, it was all pieced together so perfectly that every time something was revealed I was like OH MY GOD I DIDN’T EXPECT THIS. In Terminator, Kyle goes back in time and fathers John Connor even though he was sent back in time by John, but Predestination was on a whole other level for me.

    • Taylor Holmes

      No. I had zero clue that the Barkeep was also John, and was also, Jane. Let alone the Fizzle Bomber to boot. I actually guessed the Jane/John connection the moment the moment Ethan starts singing… “I am my own grandpa!!” Hahah. But yeah, the Last third is a mirror image of the first third reveals, only backwards. And I just kept going… no they didn’t.

      It was a fun little movie. I enjoyed it a lot. Thanks for getting me to watch it a couple more times and really grapple with the time travel. Because I didn’t really understand what exactly was happening until I started taking notes. Now I need to go find that movie you recommended ata boy? Bad boy? Dammmmit. What was it! hahaha

      • Taylor Holmes

        Of course of course. I have it downloaded. Now I just need time to watch it. You really should just prioritize that big long list of movies I haven’t seen and ship me it reorganized by quality.

        Also, I do have a pretty big list of movies and my reviews if you are interested. I give it out rarely because it puts a big strain on the server. I need to break it up a bunch.


        You’ve probably found the bulk of them with your comings and goings. But in case there is one you may have missed.

  2. Jane

    Hi Taylor,
    Great infographic ! You should be hired to write up explanatory notes for this type of movie. We could use a “Explained and Simplified” printed version of the story sold along with the DVD.
    I watched this film recently after having heard about it a lot. If I earlier considered “Time Travel” to be impossible, then this film is impossible to the power infinity. Totally loved the madness of this story, and the way it reveled in the craziness of paradoxes.
    Robertson’s plan is impeccable – having multiple versions of the super agent in existence. The youngest of them, Jane,is innocent and manipulated. The next version, John, is just getting acquainted with time jumps. The third version, Barkeeper, is understanding and obedient to Robertson, the ideal agent. Final version is the Fizzle bomber, whom Robertson wants to be disposed of. So he gets Barkeeper to do it. Of course, when the Barkeeper would one day become too lunatic to be useful, John can be used to finish him off.. He he he. Infinite supply of agents.
    I have only one real question. What does the temporal agency really do ? They say that they prevent disasters, but in the film we only see them trying to stop the fizzle bomber – and I feel that doesn’t count as the fizzle bomber is the agency’s own creation anyway. So what is the net contribution of this time travel agency to society ? Was it worthy enough to tolerate the menace of the fizzle bomber ? Robertson seems to have no regrets at all about the Fizzle bomber being created as a side effect – if you are convinced that Robertson is a sane and responsible person . Personally I think he’s a crackpot – Just look at the idea he came up with..
    The barkeeper also mentions that there are 11 time travel agents. The only ones we see on screen, however, are Barkeeper and Robertson. I’d like to have seen a few of the others. It could give us a better perception of these time travel agency stuff..


    • Taylor Holmes

      Hey there Jane,
      Thanks for the compliment. Feel free to contact the Producers of Predestination and let them know that I’m their guy! Hahah.

      Now, as to your question – it’s a really good one. Personally I have a theory as to how Robertson is working it. You asked what the AGENCY does, and then you started talking about about what Jane/John/Fizzle is doing. They are different. The agency, I assume stops disasters, and they use John as cover for other operations. Like how Teddy manipulates Leonard in Memento to cover for the extensive work he wants done on things completely unrelated to Leonard’s case. Right? So if I am right, then Robertson is constantly sending John on a hunt for things that are “related” to the Fizzle Bomber, but aren’t actually. The Fizzle Bomber was just a creation of Robertson’s in order to keep a time agent constantly going and working in spite of the rules and regulations. But maybe I’m off there? Otherwise there would be absolutely no point for Robertson to do it in the first place. No?


      • Jane

        Okay, so the Fizzle Bomber is a red herring ?
        Yes, that makes sense, and also ties in with the name “Fizzle”.. There must be a reason why they picked this name.
        Clearly the protagonist is being manipulated by Robertson, from beginning to end. He has no real idea what the true mission is.
        Since Robertson is the only person in the know, what the “temporal agency” really does is anybody’s guess.

        Either Robertson is an omniscient benevolent genius who is saving the world. Or else he is a mad genius who wants to explore how far time travel can be engineered. Somehow I’ve got the idea that Robertson is a bad guy – The failed decommission of the time machine cannot have been accidental (If you know enough create a time machine, sure you can turn it off). Perhaps even the fizzle bomber was created deliberately – Robertson does sound proud of the bomber when he speaks of him.


      • Taylor Holmes

        Hey there Jane (Maya? So many Janes running around today I can’t keep them all straight.) Fizzle, from a bomb standpoint is seen as a … here… let me quote the official definition:

        “In nuclear weapons, a fizzle occurs when the testing of a nuclear bomb grossly fails to meet its expected yield.

        So Fizzle is an appropriate name if the Fizzle Bomber was hoping for an even bigger explosion but failed to pull it off. Now, as to your idea that Robertson is a bad guy… I’m totally with you there. I totally think he’s evil and manipulating Ethan Hawke and the rest of them (singular?). Definitely.

    • EL Ritter

      I believe the Temporal Agency may have started recruiting people to prevent disasters. As time went on they relized certain cause and affect issues could not be avoided like Time Machine or Final Destination. They needed agents that were completely outside of the system to truly affect the system.

      The creation of Jane/John type agents is their answer. Jane/John is one of many agents they created as a self-contained bubble person to use in their operation.

  3. Maya

    Hi Taylor,
    So we agree that Robertson is the villain here ? Great ! The only thing I liked about Robertson in this film is that, he too, did not turn out be another avatar of Jane/John. The second time I watched the film, I was half expecting that to be hinted somewhere 🙂

    I am the “Jane” who was debating universe/God/ ex-nihilism etc with you. Time for me to come up with a more unique pen name.

    You have added a whole lot of mind bender films to the blogs while was I away. Thanks for updating my to-watch list !

    • Taylor Holmes

      AHHH Jane. Yes. That seems like a forever ago. Welcome back. That was a fun conversation. Definitely miscalculated at the beginning by giving you The Problem of Pain to start out the conversation. hahah. But yeah, I remember that conversation well. No one comments on that post because it was our conversation. haha.

      And yeah, as far as Predestination goes – Robertson is totally the bad guy in this movie. It isn’t the Fizzle Bomber at all. It’s Robertson who has been looking for the perfect time traveler all along. One that can not cause ripples and can do his bidding. So yeah totally. Robertson reminds me of Dr. Hap on The OA actually (which has been my latest obsession if you haven’t noticed from my constant posting about it this past week.) Perfect corollary actually.

      Anyway, welcome back Jane/Maya. I think I prefer Miss Doraiappa! haha.

  4. Olivaro

    I don’t get why so many see a paradox in this movie. Everything is a closed loop. It seems surreal that a human could be both male and female in the way they showed but it is an assumption of the movie, not a paradox. Paradoxes happen in almost all other time travel movies/series episodes: loops are not closing, someome alters the past and thus should not have existed in the first place (like they/their world did). Here all that works out nicely.

    On Robertson:
    I don’t see how he is evil (at least not necessarily). We do not know what the agency does, if it does good or bad for humanity and by all indications of this movie it is all predetermined anyway (as is by the inner logic time travel should obey).
    One might say it is evil to manipulate the Jane/John/Barkeeper/Fizzle character but 1) the character does it himself, too and knowingly (John with Jane, Barkeep with John and Jane, Bomber with Barkeep and John). And 2) Robertson has no choice, possibly literally as it already happened. Any stopping or changing of events, even giving his agent more information could directly result in any part of the loop to be broken and no matter which part would break, it would break the whole existence of the agent.

    What I don’t understand: What makes the agent we come to know so perfect for the time agency? Agreed, it seems convenient to have someone operating who really knows his life depends on continuing the loop. But with a no paradox premise no one could really change the past only repeat what was already done (and necessary) to arrive at this point in the first place.

    It is not logical that any character would know of events that were changed as then they would have never happened, even time traveler would not have known about them. The agency can jump in time but they do not exist outside of time with a view on a multiverse (in this movie). So even if the bomber gets fed false information about lives he saved (e.g.from Robertson) where does the agency get any info about possible but avoidable events from? All what we see is a linear time with back and forth travel but all predetermined. I don’t see why this should only apply to a person who is his own mother and father…

  5. manny

    This a case of a “Shutter Island” remake with Robertson being the psychiatrist trying to save John/Jane’s sanity.

    • Taylor Holmes

      WHAT?!? You think Predestination is a remake of Shutter? Thinking. Robertson is a shrink and all of the movie is in John/Jane’s mind? You are such a… wait. That could work! hahahah. So, the whole movie is a covert-psy-op to recover John’s sanity? The whole “time travel” thing and the bomber thing? All in his/her mind? And the playing along bit is just in order to pull him out of his myopic fantasies?

      Well, I’ll be darned. That might just actually be air-tight. hahaha.

    • Maya

      Fantastic !
      I never thought of that.
      John/Jane is a narcissist (The only person he can love is a female version of himself). Guessing he had parents he didn’t like and so created this delusion of having brought himself into existence. And now everyone else is a Zombie !

      • Shishir

        Hi Taylor,
        Have been through several posts on your website. Loved many of them.
        I have three key questions and would love to know your thoughts,
        1) Does the bomb actually blow up? Somewhere in the movie, i think they have referred to things being predestined and hence nothing can be changed. So despite the barkeep killing his old self before the bomb, the bomb does indeed blow up? Or once the older barkeep is killed, the bomb doesnt go off?
        2) What is the end of our main characters life? I know there is a loop running. But is it safe to say, that our main character dies once his younger self kills him or because of several timelines our main character still lives?
        3) Is there a likelihood of Robertson also being John/Jane/Barkeep from another time zone? Thus Robertson also being the same person?

  6. Todd

    I’ll give my .02.

    1) The bomb that blows up NYC is not a fizzle bomber bomb.

    I’ll explain in a second, but first I want to clarify something in the summary of this movie. I don’t think they stated the purpose of the temporal agency was to “prevent” disasters. I think the word they used was modify or alter them. According to John at the end of his life all his small scale bombs killed less people than the disasters he prevented. The NYC bomb that kills 10,000 is not part of that MO and it is only Robertson that puts it in his mind that it will be/has been done by the fizzle bomber.

    2) This Time Travel movie is not subscribing to the multiple world’s theory. It seems to imply that it is impossible to change the past that you are part of so Jane/John is unable to change his own past and the rest of the world including the first 10 temporal agent experiments were unable to change their histories. At the end of his life the fizzle bomber has a list of newspaper clippings that he had from his unsanctioned missions and I think he mentions that he saved 3000 lives or something.

    Both of the older versions of John are at the laundromat in NYC to prevent the bomb and John shoots the oldest version of himself which prevents old-John from stopping the big NYC-bomb (ironically just like young – John was burned unrecognizable by John’s first unsanctioned mission, by trying the same lead twice) . Johns life does not end when the bomb goes off because he uses the illegitimate time machine to go on unsanctioned missions like old-John described.

    3) I don’t think so.

  7. Brandy

    Here’s my theory on why Robertson created Jane/John/Fizzle Bomber in the first place:

    It is my understanding, the Fizzle Bomber is what made the Temporal Agency. Sort of how 9/11 was what made Homeland Security.
    It is my belief, Robertson had access to time travel technology, and wanted to create the Temporal Agency. In 1981, creating a government agency on the basis of going back in time to stop tragedies from happening, would have been a tough sell. If Robertson was a true believer in the cause, (which in his mind would be for the greater good) having his idea turned down or underfunded would have been a tough pill to swallow.

    In an attempt to be taken more seriously by the powers that be, he needed to create a major problem, only his vision of the Temporal Agency would be equipped to solve. By creating Jane/John, he created the Fizzle Bomber. (and possibly misleadingly fingered him as being responsible for a major terrorist attack, since the final bombing was on a much larger scale than any of the Fizzle Bomber’s past bombings) He also created a single hero whose only purpose in life was to hunt down and stop the bomber.

    As each time jump brought the agency closer to the identity of the bomber, the more funding the government would be willing to give to the agency. Since, Robertson has had decades to build his villian, the agency would have been created seemingly overnight. Again, much like Homeland Security.

    This could also explain why John was told he could only jump 53 years before or after 1981, since his purpose was to build the Temporal Agency that same year. I assume there is a less portable machine that enabled the “violin cases” to function. As time goes forward, the 53 year window would most likely be centered around the present day existence of the machine. Otherwise, the Temporal Agency would have an expiration date.

    Once an agency is given that much power, it would be nearly impossible to shut it down. Not to mention, agents could eliminate anyone who spoke against them…
    I think Jane/John was only a means to an end. Since he/she exists within a small window of time, they are a ghost who cannot be traced back, or forward, to anyone. Their entire life was otherwise meaningless, since they were trying to fix events of their own making.

    With full government support and funding, the other ten temporal agents are free to fulfill Robertson’s original vision for the agency.
    That’s just my two cents.

  8. Sajid Zahoor

    I have a doubt in this movie. When John travels back in time to meet Jane, why is it like he is surprised to know that he is the stranger that Jane met and had sex with?

    I mean since Jane had already met the stranger, she already knows him. John is nothing but the future self of Jane and so John would also remember and know the stranger. After all he has traveled back in time only to take revenge from the stranger. So why is he surprised and why is the revelation also depicted as a surprise?

  9. Solo

    I don’t understand how you all think Robertson is the creator of John/Jane. The movie is obviously a paradox in the fact that none of them would exist without each other. Jane wasn’t just a girl who grew up with all the works of male and female inside her. She was created by herself, Jane and John. If the barkeep didn’t bring the baby back in time, Jane would never have grown up to meet John, who then impregnated Jane giving birth to herself. The only reason anyone of these characters exists is because they all wouldn’t exist without one another. Robertson had nothing to do with it. The whole idea of the movie was based on what they had stated in the beginning… What comes first? The chicken or the egg? It’s a paradox. The way they made this movie was not to have it ever figured out completely, because there is no answer. It’s just a constant loop.

  10. Luke

    This movie was kinda nuts, in a good way. I wonder if I would fall in love with myself if I met myself after giving birth to myself, probably.


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