Paradox in Film. Meaning, Definition & Examples


Definition: A paradox is a statement or concept that contains conflicting ideas yet often reveals a truth that challenges conventional wisdom. It defies intuition or common sense, leading to a situation that seems impossible or self-contradictory but often prompts deeper understanding upon reflection.

In film, paradoxes can appear in dialogue (such as if a character uses a common paradoxical phrase like “less is more”) and as part of the plot or theme.

Examples of various Paradox types in Film

Paradoxes in movies often stem from complex narratives or the use of time travel or time loops, creating situations that defy logic or cannot exist according to conventional reasoning.

Here are examples of paradoxes from various movies:

Predestination Paradox: “Predestination” (2014)

This movie is a classic example of a predestination paradox, where the protagonist is trapped in a time loop.

The lead character is responsible for his existence through a series of time travels.

He ends up being his mother, father, and the terrorist he has been trying to catch, making it impossible to pinpoint the beginning or end of his timeline.

Bootstrap Paradox: “Interstellar” (2014)

In “Interstellar,” the characters receive gravitational messages that help humanity survive.

These messages are later revealed to be sent by the protagonists themselves from the future.

This creates a bootstrap paradox, where an event or object is the cause of itself through time travel without a discernible origin.

Grandfather Paradox: “Back to the Future” (1985)

Marty McFly travels back in time and accidentally prevents his parents from falling in love, risking his existence.

This is an example of the grandfather paradox, where changing events in the past could potentially eliminate the possibility of the time traveler being born in the first place.

Causal Loop: “Looper” (2012)

In “Looper,” hitmen are hired to kill people sent back from the future, creating a causal loop.

The protagonist is tasked with killing his older self, which raises questions about destiny and free will.

The events unfold are both the cause and result of each other, creating a loop with no clear beginning or end.

Temporal Paradox: “The Terminator” (1984)

The Terminator is sent back in time to kill Sarah Connor to prevent the birth of her son, John Connor, who will lead a resistance against machines in the future.

However, the soldier sent back to protect Sarah, Kyle Reese, becomes John’s father. This creates a temporal paradox, as John’s existence depends on the very future his existence ensures will happen.

Ontological Paradox: “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” (2004)

Harry Potter saves himself and Sirius Black from the Dementors with a Patronus charm, only realizing afterward that he could do it because he had already seen himself doing it.

This raises the question of where the original spell came from if Harry only learned to do it after he saw himself perform it, creating an ontological paradox.

Examples of Logical Paradoxes

the barber paradox. Illustrative image.

A logical paradox is a statement or proposition that contradicts or defies logic, leading to a conclusion that undermines the premise or defies common sense.

The Liar Paradox

This is one of the most classic paradoxes, often formulated as a statement by a person declaring, “I am lying.”:

  • If the person is lying, then what they are saying is true.
  • But if it is true, they are lying.

The Barber Paradox

This paradox is more logical but is a good example of a linguistic paradox. It’s about a barber who shaves all and only those men in town who do not shave themselves.

The paradox arises when asking if the barber shaves himself:

  • If he does, according to the rule, he cannot shave himself.
  • If he doesn’t, then he must shave himself.

Examples of Paradoxes in Common Sayings

Paradoxes in language often intrigue and puzzle us, revealing the complexity and sometimes the contradictions within our communication.

Here are several examples of paradoxes that are found in language, spanning from literary examples to common sayings:

‘This statement is false.’Similar to the Liar Paradox, this simple sentence creates a paradox. If the statement is true, then what it says must be the case, making it false. But if it’s false, it contradicts its assertion, suggesting it could be true.
‘Less is more.’This phrase, often used in minimalist design and art, suggests that simplicity and restraint can lead to better outcomes than complexity and abundance. It’s paradoxical because it suggests reducing something can increase its value or quality.
‘The only rule is that there are no rules.’This statement is paradoxical because if the only rule is that there are no rules, then at least one rule contradicts the statement that there are no rules.
‘I know that I know nothing.’Often attributed to Socrates, this statement is a paradox because claiming to know something negates the claim of knowing nothing.
‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’This statement becomes paradoxical in situations where it creates a circular loop of allegiance that is self-contradictory. For example, if A is an enemy to B, and B is an enemy to C, making A and C friends by this logic, but if C is an enemy to A, the initial premise falls apart.
‘I can resist anything except temptation.’This witty aphorism, often attributed to Oscar Wilde, humorously illustrates a paradox of human nature, where the only thing one cannot resist is the very thing one needs to resist.
‘You have to be cruel to be kind.’This statement suggests that sometimes, harsh actions must be taken for the greater good, which seems contradictory because cruelty and kindness are typically seen as opposites.
‘Freedom is slavery.’Found in George Orwell’s ‘1984’, this phrase captures the paradoxical idea that total freedom (or what is perceived as freedom) can lead to a form of enslavement, as it might lead to a loss of control or direction.


Paradoxes in movies often challenge our understanding of time, reality, and logic, creating captivating narratives that engage audiences in deep thought.

While they may sometimes strain believability, these narrative devices are instrumental in pushing the boundaries of storytelling, offering viewers a unique and thought-provoking cinematic experience.

Up Next: What is Simile? Definition & Examples from Literature & Film


  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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