I guess this is more a question about the nature of time travel more than anything else.

At the end of the movie,

Joe shoots himself in a field and changes the course of history.

Does this create a paradox as it changes the history that led up to that point?

If his future self had never existed he'd never have gone on the mission he did and thus he never would have ended up in the field.

Once he did what he did, he could no longer have done it, and so theoretically, time and space should have just folded in on itself and popped out of existence.

Is there something I'm missing that would explain how the movie could have ended where it did without the events at the beginning to lead it there?

  • Use spoiler tags for anything that is a spoiler (start a line with >! )
    – The Fallen
    Commented Oct 6, 2012 at 16:27
  • Please don't crosspost the exact same question on multiple Stack Exchange sites.
    – user1027
    Commented Oct 6, 2012 at 21:23
  • I tried to clean up the spoilers; even the question was a bit of a spoiler!
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 0:41
  • @MichaelEdenfield Thanks for cleaning up the question. I wasn't aware of their being spoiler tags etc. I don't think the title was a spoiler unless knowing he ends up in a field somehow spoils something. Keen, Yep, fair enough, although to be fair, the movie site could do with all the posts it gets. Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 10:39
  • I think most people who've seen the trailer can infer what happens in "the field" :)
    – KutuluMike
    Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 14:38

5 Answers 5


Basically this becomes possible because changes in the time take effect only in the current moment of time. Right now you make a change and right now a new timeline starts, but what happened before still happened. That's is why the scars and physical changes appear instantly on the older self if at this current moment of time that change happens to the younger self.

The same with Joe: since young Joe was alive right until he shot himself in that field, old Joe could exist. Then young Joe makes a change, and old Joe instantaneously disappears but what happened before still remains.

  • 2
    +1 for brief and succint. Personally, I like the no-nonsense "this is how it's going to work" approach to time travel they took. Not paradox-free, but then, what is? Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 8:03
  • 2
    @Nick I think that killing yourself is not the same as making some physical changes to yourself. When you make physical changes, you are still supposed to get into the time machine in the future, therefore your old self still appears in the same time, only crippled. If you kill yourself, then your older self won't be sent into the past in the first place, that's why he should disappear and not just drop dead. So I think it is pretty consistent.
    – Malcolm
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 15:13
  • 2
    @Malcolm But if his older self got into the machine while crippled, he wouldn't have been able to run away from his younger self. I don't see why a coma and dead should be treated differently.
    – Nick
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 15:45
  • 2
    Running from the young self is in the past, and getting into a time machine is in the future relative to the time when the change is made. This is the main difference.
    – Malcolm
    Commented Oct 10, 2012 at 19:08
  • 3
    @zipstory.com You forget that time travel isn't physics. No one knows how it must be, because time travel doesn't exist. People simply make a set of rules and stick to it. I explain why what happened happened based on the set of rules of this movie. How probable the rules are is a different question, but it seems pointless to me to argue about something that is knowingly nonexistent.
    – Malcolm
    Commented Jan 26, 2013 at 1:41

What about if we think of it as different possible timelines. As we saw with the older joe, he did kill his future self. For him, he had a different future. When he returns and doesn't die, time branches off and creates an alternate future. Each time something different happens a new alternate future happens. So at the end when young joe shoots himself, that is just one possible outcome in several parallel realities. He could just as easily have not shot himself, and then events would have unfolded in the future as he saw.

  • This would explain it, indeed, but it fails to explain how a "future version" would suffer damages inflicted on one's younger self. I don't see this as a flaw in your answer as much as a flaw in the writing of the film itself. Time conveniently works however is most convenient for the plot in that particular moment.
    – Neil
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 9:07

However, if young Joe realizes what will make the child become the rainmaker old Joe would also understand. Them he wouldn't kill the child, his wife wouldn't die, etc. The best answer to why the past cannot be changed was in The Time Machine. I think its best not to try to fathom the paradox. :-)

The scars would have been there his entire life. They wouldn't magically appear. (see Bill and Ted and the car key.) By the very fact he came back, he would have already altered his past. He would know everything about the rainmaker as soon as he had the conversation with Sarah. I still enjoyed the movie though.

Suicide v self-sacrifice? I didn't see his death as suicide. I have had friends suicide. There was nothing about making the world better in their thoughts. Joe was trying to "save the world" and sacrifices himself. My heart goes out to all of those here dealing with the aftermath of suicide. Excellent discussions!


This is most definitely an infinity loop (paradox)

Timeline A-B

Joe 1 kills his older self, collects his money, retires, and then enters the time machine as a much older person, destined for the past (point C). For some reason he is fine with dying in the same manner as the Joe he killed, or perhaps is unable to resist.

Timeline C-D

Joe 2 kills his older self and follows the same path as the A-B timeline, the difference here being that he is somehow mentally or physically different, which will allow him to escape in the E-F timeline. He gets captured and is sent back in time (point E).

Timeline E-F

Joe 2 arrives and escapes Joe 3. How it is possible that he is able to escape when the Joe he killed could not escape him is unfortunately a huge plot hole, but let's ignore it for now. The movie happens. Joe 3 kills himself and Joe 2 dies as well. Time progresses to the point where Joe 3 would have grown up and traveled back in time. This does not happen. Since Joe 3 has not traveled back in time, he never was able to escape a potential Joe 4 which leads to the infinity loop. Time snaps back to it's last stable point, which is the A-B timeline.

The A-B timeline somehow moves into the ambiguous C-D timeline where Joe learns the true meaning of life or whatever and knows how to escape his younger self when he is sent back, and then on to the move timeline of E-F, which ends in a paradox which continues the loop back with A-B.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat.


It's definitely a temporal paradox! By killing himself, he stopped himself from going back in time to kill the kid. But if he did not go back in time to kill the kid, he wouldn't have had to kill himself. All the events from that point in time could not have happened, and some before that point. As for why time didn't fold in on itself... branching universe theory... the timeline splits at the points where history is changed, creating a universe in which he did not exist after that point

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.