Iteration 23: Russian Doll

On the 1,292nd day of March 2020, I finished re-watching Russian Doll. I originally watched the series in 2019, when it first came out. I enjoyed it the first time, but I found this repeat of the eight episodes to be often boring. I wasn’t carried forward by the mysteries and plot, finding myself noticing little flaws.

Nadia is at her 36th birthday party, where she smokes a laced joint and set out to the local bodega. She ends up looking for a cat and is run down by a car, and finds herself back where she was earlier in the evening.

Rewatching Russian Doll, I didn’t feel the same puzzle box intensity. The show was somehow deflated, and I found myself not caring so much about the characters. The metaphors drawn from Nadia’s job as a computer programmer felt trite – although Russian Doll gets some credit in me for showing a code review and mentioning unit testing.

Russian Doll does a lot of time loop things well, such as the use of a strong musical cue to anchor the repetitions. It’s also nice that Nadia is not confined to a single day, and having her sometimes survive to the following day played against the conventions. I particularly liked the degradation of the loops, with some items of food rotting inside the loop, and the feeling that this repetition would not continue forever. The idea of having two strangers in the loop needing to rescue each other was a good one. But watching a second time, I found Nadia irritating. Sometimes repeating things doesn’t work.


  • Length of first iteration (in film): 9.25 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 11.5 minutes
  • Reset point: death
  • Fidelity of loop: the day sets up the same way each time
  • Exit from the loop: Nadia and Alan saving each other

Re-watching Russian Doll, I realised I was not excited by time loop projects in the same way that I had been. Making a list of potential films there were half-a-dozen Disney and Hallmark style films set at Christmas. I think I’m past the point where watching any time-loop film or TV show has value. I’m going to step out of this loop for a while and do other things.

Iteration 22: Maanaadu

On the 1,275th day of March 2020, I watched Tamil time loop movie, Maanaadu. Released in 2021, the film follows Abdul Khaliq, as he visits Ooty for a wedding and finds himself reliving the same day, trying to save the life of Chief Minister Arivazhagan.

The first loop went on for over half an hour and I wondered whether I had the wrong film. There was a song-and-dance sequence, a car-chase, and some romance, but the plot seemed to be only moving forward. Then Khaliq died and he found himself back on the plane to Coimbatore, gasping in shock.

The film continued with Khaliq attempting to save the Chief Minister. He quickly works out how to quickly persuade his friends to help. In one iteration they discussed time-loop films including a Korean film that I’d not heard of. Halfway through the movie came a lovely twist, which was openly inspired by Tom Cruise time-loop Edge of Tomorrow.

While Maanaadu is entertaining, it has a political background, being based around a plot to cause religious riots with an assassination. Khaliq’s neighbour on the plane, Seethalakshmi, figures out how the time loop has happened. Khaliq is a muslim, but was born during some earlier riots, while his mother sheltered in Ujain’s Kaal-Bhairav temple, which celebrates a god linked with time travel. The gods of both religions are working through Khaliq to prevent the film’s villains from causing religious tensions.

I had a great time watching this film. I particularly enjoyed the making-of montage during the credits. It looks like a sequel is in the works, and I’m looking forward to that.


  • Length of first iteration (in film): 32 minutes (by far the longest)
  • Length of second iteration: 10 minutes
  • Reset point: death
  • Fidelity of loop: the day sets up the same way each time
  • Exit from the loop: saving the day

Iterations: A Year of Groundhog Day

A while back, the Guardian published an article by Adam Daniel, who watched Groundhog Day every day for a year. It was, of course a lockdown project, like my own obsessive watching of time-loop movies.

It’s a bold idea but I wonder if he actually did this, or whether the thought experiment is enough. The project raises the same sort of questions as Tom Friedman’s artwork 1000 Hour Stare. How do we know he did it? Exactly what is meant by ‘watched’ here? Did Daniel watch the credits each time? Did he give the film his full attention? (No double-screening!) What happened if he fell asleep during the course of the movie?

The article describes Daniel’s different levels of engagement as the year went on – with the plot initially, then looking for obscure details, realising how the extras in the background of some scenes were pivotal in others. Like any endurance event, there were the periods when it became a slog. There was a phase of creating wild theories about Punxsutawney’s townspeople. Adam talks about how he developed a relationship with the film as something like a companion.

Like with Friedman’s thousand hour stare, I find Daniel’s investment of time horrifying. I also find the feat compelling, even while I can’t imagine finding 101 minutes every day, even during the pandemic. And then there’s the total time spent, 614 hours out of our meagre 4000 weeks. Adam Daniel’s feat is incredible, but it’s one I could never imagine doing myself. My life has its own repetitions and wasted time, but they’re less intentional.

Iteration 21: Meet Cute

On 1,238th March 2020, I watched Meet Cute. It was actually my second attempt at the film, as I gave up on my first watch. Something about this didn’t work for me. I’m not sure if it was the editing, script, choice of camera angles, or simply lack of chemistry in the leads. Maybe it was how the film seemed strangely empty, even in the outdoor shots of New York. Meet Cute was just missing something.

Sheila picks up Gary at a sports bar, where he is the only person not watching soccer. They have a long date, featuring food, vintage clothes-shopping, and a quirky ice-cream van. The date ends with a dark revelation, and then we find ourselves back in the bar, where Sheila picks up Gary once more.

During the dates, Sheila often explains to Gary that she is a time-traveller, being open about using a Time Machine in a nail salon to go back and repeat the date. I think this is the first film where the time loop is caused by the protagonist’s obsessive repetition. Like a lot of the ideas in the film, this had potential, but didn’t seem to lead anywhere.

The film deals with a lot of heavy themes around trauma and acceptance, but they never quite land. Also, each day, Sheila runs down her past self in her car, stuffing the body in the boot. This is played only as a gag, which is a problem in a film themed around trauma.

I hate being negative about a piece of art that people have worked hard on. The film has some positive reviews, but it never gripped me. It’s problems are underlined by the fact there is a five-minute montage of outtakes at the end, and the cut scenes seem stronger than some of those left in.

The voluntary time loop was an interesting twist – Sheila repeated the day hundreds of times, enough to have a ‘loop birthday’. This film had the elements of something great, and it’s a shame it wasn’t able to do more with its ideas around trauma, perfection and trying again.


  • Length of first iteration (in film): 18.5 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 12.5 seconds
  • Reset point: time travel
  • Fidelity of loop: slow degradation as Gary starts to remember other loops
  • Exit from the loop: the characters stop using the time machine

Iteration 20: Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

On 1,171st March 2020, I re-watched Edge of Tomorrow, aka Live, Die, Repeat. I last saw this in August 2020, so didn’t rewatch it as part of my initial time-loop movie project, which started in 2021. My original review was “started interesting but the contrived concept fell apart as it went on“.

Which seems fair. The film sets out a complicated scenario to explain why Tom Cruise finds himself resurrected every time he dies while fighting an alien invasion. The rules of this scenario are very much based around the needs of the plot, but this is an incredibly well-made movie, with some entertaining action and a fun script by (among others) playwright Jez Butterworth. Tom Cruise does some good acting and director Doug Liman apparently enjoyed making a movie where Cruise plays an incompetent hero.

In the film, Tom Cruise is military PR who is sent off to join the huge military push to retake mainland Europe from the alien hoards. These creatures are the usual fast-moving and shiny aliens that work well as CGI. Cruise restarts his day each time he days, making a little more progress each time. The mechanic is obviously similar to video games, but the film doesn’t develop this idea.

It turns out the ability to reset time is the aliens’ secret ability, which Cruise has been infected with. It makes no sense that this time-loop is carried within his blood, other than to allow a plot twist near the end. The film ends with a dramatic boss fight, after which Cruise wakes to an alternate timeline where the world has been saved.

None of this makes much sense, and the time loop is more of a dramatic device than a philosophical question, but this is a fun film. I’m not sure it belongs in quite the same category as Groundhog Day. Maybe there’s a difference between time-loop-as-existential-nightmare and time-loop-as-videogame.


  • Length of first iteration (in film): 16.5 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 5.5 seconds
  • Reset point: death
  • Fidelity of loop: perfect repetitions
  • Exit from the loop: the boss alien is killed or the main character has a transfusion of the magic blood.

Iteration 19: Boss Level (2020)

On 624th March 2020, I watched Boss Level, my 19th time loop movie. I spent a while trying to decide if this was a fun movie or a terrible one. In the end, I’ve decided that it’s both.

Roy Pulver is an ex-special forces soldier who keeps reliving the day when various assassins try to kill him. As the day repeats, he gets better at surviving – just like a character in a video game. While the loop is due to a technological MacGuffin, the film uses the motifs of a video game. This can be fun, like how Guan Yin performs a flourish each time she kills Roy, announcing “I am Guan Yin, and Guan Yin has done this”, like a beat-em-up character.

On the other hand… parts of it are just nasty. A man being carjacked is described as screaming “at date rape volume”. And we have the casting of Mel Gibson, an anti-semite, racist and domestic abuser. This is particularly galling in a film with a holocaust reference, even a non-offensive one – and having Mel Gibson’s character make a joke based around racial insensitivity was also a bad look. Some minor complaints were a rather hackneyed father/son plot, and an ongoing expository voiceover.

Sometimes the script tried a little too hard to be witty, but it had some good roles for Naomi Watts and Matthile Olliver. The impressive dentistry scene made me cringe. And there were some amusing references to Taken and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film was an easy watch, and I found it more fun than Free Guy, which I actually gave up on.

As a time loop film, this was OK. There was the obligatory waiter-falling-over scene that is just a cliche. The loop was mostly there to set up the video game structure for the film.


  • Length of first iteration (in film): 5 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 30 seconds
  • Reset point: death
  • Fidelity of loop: perfect repetitions
  • Exit from the loop: the MacGuffin is reset

Iteration 18: Palm Springs

On 415th March 2020, Palm Springs was finally released in the UK and I watched my 18th time loop movie. I watched it again last Saturday, on the 462nd March 2020. And it was just as good the second time! Out of all the time loop films I’ve seen this year, this one is probably my favourite.

One of the great things about Palm Springs is that it takes for granted that we’ve seen Groundhog Day (or Edge of tomorrow, or Happy Death Day – the film references all three) and we know how time loops work. Nyles, the main character, has been in this loop a very long time before the film starts. He’s passed through all the stages we know from Bill Murray’s character, such as trying to escape or learning new skills. Now he’s numb, drinking his way through the day, and may even have forgotten much of his life before the loop.

Palm Springs is set at a wedding. While this is a special day for most people there, Nyles has attended so many times that he doesn’t bother to dress up, and even sometimes opens a can of beer in the ceremony. Early in the film, he accidentally brings another person, Sarah, into the loop (she is brilliantly described in a Guardian review as a “velvet-eyed car crash of a woman”). She is horrified by the situation, but tries to make the best of it.

Having multiple people in the time loop allows for some interesting discussions about how they should spend their lives. The existential horror of being stuck in the same day comes across well. One thing I particularly loved about the movie was how the bleached-out blue-skies of California, the swimming pools, all added to the mood.

Spoilers follow

There are so many great touches in this film. I like the way one character finds peace in repeating the same day, enjoying being with his family, even while he feels sad at not seeing his children grow up. Then there is Nana, who more likely than not is repeating the day, just enjoying the wedding, and not bored at all.

The characters were definitely drinking in an unhealthy manner. Of course, they had no consequences to deal with, and no fear of addiction – but the ease with which Nyles popped open his cheap beers was alarming. It turned out the original idea for the film was a ‘mumblecore Leaving Las Vegas’, which I can see. Although that sort of drinking makes me very relieved for the main character. Just think how easy it would have been to start the repeating day with a hangover.

The film asked the same question as many of these time loop films about how we should behave when there are no consequences. The assumption of these time-loop films is often that there is a single universe reset; rather than a multiverse where people continue living (possibly even a version of the looper?). I’ve only seen this grappled with in Repeaters, but it’s an important question. At one point, Nyles tells Sarah, “Pain matters! What we do to other people matters!” but he doesn’t always follow through on this.

Apparently, multiple endings were filmed for Palm Springs, before the final one was chosen. I’d love to see each of those other versions, and figure out if any seem truer than the one that was picked.

The night before re-watching Palm Springs I watched Source Code. Actually, I slept through a fair chunk of it, which is a pretty good way to watch that film. While this appears on the list of wikipedia’s list of Time Loop movies, it is clearly not a time loop, since the main character is actually in an engineered simulation. On top of this, the premise of the film makes no sense, since the rules of this simulation are not that clear.


  • Length of first iteration (in film): 13 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 8 minutes
  • Reset point: death or sleep
  • Fidelity of loop: everyone currently in the loop wakes at the same point, but the number of people in the loop changes
  • Exit from the loop: a correctly-timed explosion

Iteration 17: Two Distant Strangers

Way back, during the endless March of 2020, I watched a time loop movie. Time is a funny thing, and I never wrote this up. Two Identical Strangers won Best Short Film at the 2021 Oscars, and is available on Netflix. The film portrays Carter James, a young Black man who is trapped in a loop with a vicious cop. Spoilers follow.

As a time-loop film, it’s pretty good. It features the usual tropes: we have the main character waking up to begin each iteration, an accident to demonstrate repetition and potential agency, and the recurring passers-by on the street. Each day, the protagonist runs into a vicious cop, and cannot find a way to avoid violence.

As well as being a time loop, this is a political film that aims to capture the horrifying threat of the police to black people in particular. As the Guardian wrote, “Each brutal incident depicted – from the opening chokehold to officers’ bursting into the wrong home and shooting someone with their hands raised – was drawn from real events.

In an interview, the director Travon Free said: “you as a black American go through this cycle of emotions where you’re sad and upset, then you feel hopeless and then you work back to being hopeful. That’s when the thought occurred to me that it felt like living in the worst version of Groundhog Day ever.

So, while this use many of the tropes of time loop films, it uses them to give the viewer an experience of a very real nightmare. Halfway through, there’s even a dark twist that shows how trapped the main character is.

Given this is half an hour long and available on Netflix, it is well worth watching.


  • Length of first iteration (in film): 7½ minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 3 minutes
  • Reset point: death
  • Fidelity of loop: the cop murders Carter James a different way each time
  • Exit from the loop: not shown, and maybe not possible

Iteration 16: Repeaters

Yesterday was March 378th 2020, and I marked it by watching a time-loop movie. Repeaters, from 2010, is about three people in a rehab facility who find themselves repeating the same day. While I found the film a little slow (this was very much mumblecore sci-fi), it had an innovation that I’d not seen before. Spoilers follow.

The three main characters are following a 12-step programme. They have reached Step 9 (‘make amends’) and have a day-pass to leave the facility. As the day repeats, Sonia, Kyle and Michael take advantage of this in different ways. At one point, they decide to get high, since they won’t be addicted when they wake the next day. Kyle decides to rob a liquour store, fulfilling his outlaw fantasy, but is shocked when Michael uses the lack of consequences to attack a young woman. Michael has decided to use the repetitions to do what he likes, and it becomes increasingly difficult for Kyle to stop him.

I’ve wondered a few times what would happen if the repeats stopped unexpectedly. In Repeaters, Michael’s rampage stops when he realises it is snowing, and it’s not supposed to snow on the day they are repeating. The three have slipped back into the normal flow of time, leaving Michael with blood on his hands.

The ideas here were interesting and the links between repetition and addiction/recovery were potentially fascinating. I think this film could have done much more with its themes, rather than focussing on the conflict between Kyle and Michael.


  • Length of first iteration (in film): 9 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 9 minutes
  • Reset point: End of day
  • Fidelity of loop: perfect
  • Exit from the loop: a certain number of repetitions

Iteration 15: Blood Punch

Yesterday was March 377th 2020, and I marked it by watching some more time-loop movies. Blood Punch is another film that appears for free on Amazon Prime. Which tends not to be a mark of quality, but this turned out to be a lot of fun (with some reservations).

This film seems to be a side-project by the cast and crew of a Power Rangers spin-off. It’s a criminals-hiding-out movie, a little like Reservoir Dogs. Skyler gets sent to rehab so she can recruit a meth cook, and seduces chemistry student Milton. After being busted out by Skyler’s psychotic boyfriend Russell, Milton has to survive the next day.

I liked this film a lot and loved watching the double-crosses unwind. However, the script tries to be edgy which means jokes about child abuse, a homophobic slur and repeated uses of the c-word. Spoilers follow.

The start of this film is a little confusing, as it drops into flashback while establishing the loop. The initial sets, supposed to be a rehab center, are obviously cheaply repurposed, but once the film moves to the hunting lodge where most of it is set, things take off. Like Mine Games this was a film that made me want to spend time in the countryside. The cabin here contained a wall full of weapons, which was the most enthusiastic Chekov’s Gun I have seen in ages.

The time-loop scenario here was innovative (although its explanation as an ancient Indian curse felt tiresome). It added to the complexity of the dynamics between the characters, and made for some great comedy. A couple of the twists took me completely by surprise. And this film looks like it was so much fun to make! It looks like it’s was made for fun too, but I am amazed nobody has tried to remake it.


  • Reset point: End of day
  • Fidelity of loop: Traces of previous loops remain
  • Exit from the loop: One person survives the day