In the movie Predestination, the notion of identity is explored by the manipulations of memory. The main character(s) exemplifies the philosophical dilemma of defining the “self”. The “self” is usually thought of as being synonymous with one’s mind. The argument that this essay puts forth is that the causal time loop paradox that is explored in this film is anti-Cartesian, rendering one’s own thoughts and self as a product of experiences, an empirical construction that differs from time to time. The Cartesian school of thought defines the “self” by cogito ergo sum, I think, therefore, I am. However, in Predestination, thoughts do not define the self. It is the experiences that one has which affect one’s inner thoughts. It is possible to be, literally, a different person, a different self, at different times, given the experiences that one has been through.
In Predestination the causal loop paradox reveals the ultimate paradox of self and identity. This paradox is contained in the main character(s). John, Jane, the son, the Fizzle Bomber, the agent, are all the same person. However, that person has different identities throughout the movie, and does not know that the his/her identity is not absolute. The thoughts that this character(s) has are susceptible to the exact type of deception that Descartes is concerned about. Descartes posits an evil demon or his dreaming argument, to disprove the reliability of the empirical world. Descartes did not consider the elements of time travel, nor did he consider that time could be an empirical, physical destination. However, if Descartes had added time travel to his extreme doubt, he would have concluded, the elements of time travel in the movie are deceptive to the main character’s definition of “self”. The time travel is the Cartesian evil demon in Predestination.
For Descartes, in Meditations on First Philosophy, it is the continuity of thought and memory that defines the self. Unlike the wax that Descartes analyzes, he concludes that there is an unchanging substance, one that is not affected by perspective. This substance is his “self”, his mind. However, in Predestination, the “self” is exactly like the ball of wax which Descartes. The main character is different in each time frame, changing in each perspective from one “self” to another “self”. The ball of wax is soft one moment, and a liquid puddle in another, and fairly hard in another, all depending on physical circumstances. In the movie, the main character(s) is a man, a woman, a child, a criminal, an officer, all depending on temporal circumstance. In this manner, Predestination adds time to the physical world.
Time is a dimension that adds perspective to the “self”. Time, in the movie, is like heat or coldness to the wax. When Descartes’ wax is exposed to heat it turns into a puddle, and when the wax is exposed to coldness, it turns solid and slightly hard. In the movie, the character is a temporal crime agent depending on the time, or he is a woman, or he is his own father, the list of “or’s” continues, but time acts as heat and coldness on the definition of the “self” in the movie. There is a self, just as there is wax, but that self is always changing due to external circumstance. Descartes would be troubled by this conclusion, given the possibility of his radical doubt is materialized in this movie.
Time is an empirical observation, one that defines and destroys the individual. Descartes would argue that his extreme doubt is no more “extreme” than the possibility of time travel. Given that the premise of time travel is possible, Descartes could include time travel to his list of empirical deceptions that distort his ability to define his “self”. Descartes would be interested in the idea of the serpent swallowing its tail; this essay argues that the tail that the serpent swallows is still the serpent. What this means is that Cartesian identity is challenged by this movie, because at some point, the characters are released from the serpent’s tail, because they come to understand the paradox of existence. One wonders if this understanding has always come to be in this repeated cycle of time, or if there was a moment, an epiphany, outside of the causal loop that allows the character to come to know that he is the criminal that has been so elusive. Has this character always had this epiphany, or is this an exit from the causal loop?
Just as the ball of wax is still wax, just in a different for; this essay argues that the changing identity of the main character(s) is due to the influence of the temporal state. Descartes did not find that the wax disappeared, or that is was no longer wax. He took exception with finding the absolute properties with which he could define the wax, just as he sought for absolute properties to define the self. However, the difference between wax and the “self” is that the wax does not go about defining itself. Descartes, and the main character(s), do go about trying to define the “self”. However, in Predestination, the self is like wax; for the self is unable to define the self because the external manipulations of circumstance define the self. Therefore, the movie is anti-Cartesian because the “self” becomes a product of empirical circumstance, like wax, without the self-defining capabilities that Descartes puts forth in cogito ergo sum.