Predestination explained: Who is the Fizzle Bomber?

ethan hawke, predestination
Predestination explained: What's it all about?Signature Entertainment

Since its release in 2014, the time-travel drama Predestination has earned a reputation for being one of the most head-scratching science fiction movies of recent years.

On the surface, the movie is about a special investigator (Ethan Hawke) who can travel back and forth through time to catch criminals, and his current case (and the last one before he retires) is to find a deadly bomber who has been killing people at different times in the past.

However, the story becomes much more than that when the investigator, working undercover in a bar, meets a mysterious man and hears his jaw-dropping life story – a tale that turns out to have ramifications for both of them.

Based on the short story ‘All You Zombies’ by sci-fi author Robert Heinlein, the movie – which also stars Succession’s Sarah Snook – is well worth a look, but be prepared for some timey-wimey cleverness that can be confusing if you’re not paying very close attention throughout.

And if you’re still puzzling as the end credits roll, read on as we unravel the mysteries of Predestination – though, be warned, that means major spoilers lie ahead.

sarah snook, predestination
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Predestination ending explained: Why is Jane’s life story so important?

To understand the twists and turns of the time travel plot in Predestination, we need to go back to the beginning (except, of course, it isn’t actually the beginning – but we’ll get to that later).

The movie opens with a confrontation between the Fizzle Bomber and the time-travelling investigator, which ends with the investigator being engulfed by flames. He manages to return to his own time, where surgeons save him but warn him his face will be very different (and when the bandages are removed, he looks like Ethan Hawke).

We next meet him working in a bar – to avoid confusion, it’s probably easiest to call him the Bartender – in 1970 New York, where the Fizzle Bomber is due to strike. Into the bar walks a man who promises to tell the Bartender a story that will amaze him.

The stranger reveals that he is a writer of confessional stories for a women’s magazine who writes under the name The Unmarried Mother. He then tells the Bartender his life story – beginning with the revelation that he was assigned female at birth and named Jane at the orphanage where they were raised.

Jane (Sarah Snook) reveals she never fit in with the other children when she was growing up, and as an adult she was selected to be part of a special space programme. However, after she was disqualified on medical grounds, she fell in love with a man who later vanished, leaving her pregnant with his baby.

space corps, predestination
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To add to Jane’s trauma, after she gives birth her baby is snatched from the hospital by a stranger, never to be seen again.

It is after the birth that Jane learns the medical reason she was disqualified from the space programme – she is intersex, and the hospital doctors force her to have gender reassignment surgery to make her male. Understandably, Jane blames her disappearing lover for all that has happened.

So far, so clear cut, but here is where it all gets confusing and very surprising. After hearing Jane’s story – and learning Jane now goes by the name of John – the Bartender reveals he is a time traveller, and that he can help John get revenge on the man responsible. He believes that Jane’s former lover is the man he has been tracking – The Fizzle Bomber – so gives John a gun and uses his time machine (it appears to be a violin case) to transport them back in time to the moment that Jane first met her lover.

Waiting for their former lover/the possible bomber, John instead meets their younger self, Jane, and it finally becomes clear that John is actually the man that Jane fell in love with.

Now stay with us here – that means that Jane is effectively their own lover as John is just a future version of Jane. The romance plays out all over again, with The Bartender watching, John eventually leaving their younger self, Jane, pregnant with their child.

But is John/Jane the Fizzle Bomber?

ethan hawke, predestination
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Predestination ending explained: Who is the Fizzle Bomber?

That’s the main story explained, but we still don’t know the identity of the bomber. While John and Jane have their relationship, The Bartender does a bit more time-travelling, even though his boss, Mr Robertson (Noah Taylor) advises him that too many jumps can lead to dementia and psychosis.

The Bartender's journeys make the story even more complex – it turns out he is the stranger in 1964 who steals Jane’s baby from the hospital… and delivers it to the orphanage in 1945. So that means Jane/John is their own mother and father.

Robertson has an important part to play in all this too – as well as delivering a warning that the Bartender’s brain may be going as loopy as the plot, he is also the man who initially recruited Jane for the space programme in the 1960s, indicating that he may be the only one in all of this who knows what the hell is going on.

While the Bartender wants to recruit John as his time-travel replacement, Robertson has another revelation to drop on us – yes, the Bartender is the future version of John/Jane, following that fiery opening scene in which his face was changed (see, we told you we’d get back to that).

It all makes sense – sort of – the Bartender is the perfect time-travelling cop, as he genuinely has no future or past and is in one giant twisty time loop. So Jane is John and their baby is also Jane/John, and after John leaves Jane he becomes a time travel agent, tries to stop the bomber, and then turns into the Bartender we later meet.

Oh, and one other thing – in the future, John/Jane/The Bartender is the Fizzle Bomber too!

You see, when Robertson mentioned that too much time travel makes your brain go fluffy, that should have been a big red flag as to what was to come – driven bonkers by all this back and forth, the Bartender has become a bomber in the future. And when the Bartender finally confronts his older, mad self, the Fizzle Bomber reveals to him that “if you shoot me, you become me.”

The Bartender ignores this and shoots him, setting the whole story in motion again.

sarah snook, predestination
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Predestination explained: What does it all mean?

To understand the movie, and all the twists and time-travel turns, it helps to remember what it is all meant to be about.

The major theme of the film is about how our experiences make us who we are, and how letting go of the past and accepting what we cannot change is one way of moving beyond it.

For example, if the Bartender had listened to his older Fizzle Bomber self and not shot him, the future would be changed and the Bomber – having not committed the murder – would not go on to start his deadly campaign.

Of course, the movie also features other themes including identity, who we are and how people see us, and how choice and deciding our own fates is so important.

Writer/directors Peter and Michael Spierig have spoken about what they wanted people to think about while watching the movie.

"The film's called Predestination so that gives you some idea of what's going on there," said Peter (via Collider). "But are the events in the film always going to occur that way? Are they meant to occur that way? That's up to the audience to decide. But having said that, I personally think, even if we had choice, how could you ever know?"

"It's definitely a tragedy. We always thought of it as a really tragic love story. That was our intention from the beginning. But you also have to look at the person's life in this film as a person who has accomplished great things at a great cost. We talk about purpose in the film quite a bit. What is the purpose of someone's life? It may end up being heartbreaking and tragic; but on the way you do wonderful and extraordinary things at the sacrifice of sanity or love or whatever it is…"

Predestination is available to rent on Prime Video now.

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