Iteration 5: Before I Fall

Today was March 372nd 2020, and I celebrated with another time-loop movie. Albert Einstein never actually said that insanity was doing the same thing and expecting different results; but he would have done if he watched Before I Fall more than once. Spoilers follow.

First off, I’m not the target market for this movie by about twenty years (although, being an ageing hipster, I loved the soundtrack). I hated almost everything about it, including the colour palette, which was so washed-out that I thought my projector was broken. The symbolism was ridiculously heavy – discussions of the butterfly effect, paper cranes, a school lesson about Sisyphus. And it’s the first time loop film I’ve watched with no sense of humour.

Samantha Kingston is a member of a clique of high-school days who count bullying among their hobbies. It’s like Heathers without the playfulness and wit. This is a film with all the moral authority of American Beauty.

One thing I loved about this film was how it handled the second iteration. Rather than lingering on disbelief and confusion, Samantha’s response is dazed and understated. That was lovely. There was also a scene in a restaurant. It wasn’t a special restaurant, just one that a family went to regularly, which made me all the more nostalgic – remember the time when we would casually go to premium-mediocre restaurants? When dining out was nothing special?

The film is all about Samantha achieving redemption for her selfishness by rescuing Juliet, a woman she has bullied to the point of suicide. It’s frustrating to see Juliet used as a prop for Sam’s redemption rather than getting to be a protagonist in her own story. And is all the damage in Juliet’s life going to be magically fixed by Sam’s self-sacrifice? A sacrifice which will be pretty inexplicable to Juliet.

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration: 20 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 11 minutes
  • Reset point: death or sleep
  • Fidelity of loop: perfect
  • Exit from the loop: rescuing her victim

There’s something interesting about this idea of repeating a day until you get it right. Firstly, there’s the whole idea that it takes years of practise to get even a single day right. And the idea that every moment must be treated as precious… I mean, it is. But, you can’t live every day as if it was your last. Otherwise, to steal a joke from Viz, you’d spend every day sedated and on life support.

Thing is, this is not the worst time-loop movie out there. I think I will get the Worst Time Loop Film out of the way next.

Iteration 4: Naked (2017)

Yesterday was March 372nd 2020, and I celebrated it with another time-loop movie, this time Marlon Wayan’s Naked. It’s actually a remake of a Swedish film, and it would have been funnier to watch it after the original – making a loop within the loop – but I can’t find any streamable versions of Naken. Spoilers follow.

Naked is a time loop comedy starring Marlon Wayans, one of the main actors from Requiem for a Dream. This is a much lighter movie, about a man waking up naked in an elevator on his wedding day. It’s not much-loved, but there are a few good jokes, and the naked-in-public scenes have that feeling of horror one gets in dreams. I particularly loved how the disapproving father-of-the-bride meanly invited her ex- to the wedding.

Unlike the previous three time-loop films I watched, I found myself wondering why this man was in a loop, what was so metaphysically special about this particular wedding? The plot was a combination of mystery and improvement narratives, and it felt a little like it struggled to hit 96 minutes. I wonder if that was because a 1-hour loop doesn’t give the character enough options? All the other films had much longer for the loop.

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration: 7 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 8.5 minutes
  • Reset point: death or church bells ringing the next hour
  • Fidelity of loop: perfect
  • Exit from the loop: marriage

This was better than the reviews suggested, but I probably won’t see out any more Wayan’s comedies (it would have to be a very long lockdown before I watched White Chicks). But there are more time loop movies on Netflix…

Iteration 3: The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

Today is March 371st 2020, and day 355 of my personal lockdown. I’m watching time-loop movies today, and my third is The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (currently free on Prime). And it turns out to be exactly the film I need right now.

The film comes close to being twee, but it worked for me. It starts with Mark, who has been in a time loop for ages. He loves repeating the same day, and has got it down to a fine art. The opening sequence, showing Mark’s morning routine, is awesome. He’s making a map of all the tiny perfect moments in his town on that day. And then he discovers that someone else, Margaret, is also in the loop with him. Spoilers follow

There are so many things this connects to. There are nods to Groundhog Day, and to Edge of Tomorrow. The theme of not wanting to grow up reminds me of Peter Pan – I love that Mark is content to spend his whole life within the anomaly – even if it means he cannot do anything that takes more than 16 hours.

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration: 9 minutes
  • Reset point: midnight on the day
  • Fidelity of loop: Perfect, apart from interactions between Mark and Margaret

Mark and Margaret wonder why they are the only two people who are repeating the day. They consider themselves as having free will in comparison to the other people. At one point Margaret compares everyone to sleepers; and her and Mark to lucid dreamers. That idea that there might be lucid waking fascinates me.

This is a gentle film. I love how Mark visits the same friend each day, watching him play videogames. Life is not really about the collection of little perfect moments. But it’s great to watch a film where that is something worth looking for.

At one point they use the phrase “Time is Broken”. I’ve used that in connection with the pandemic a lot. My sense of how long ago things happened is shattered. The days pass slowly, while months pass by. Still, today a shopkeeper was telling me about how he and his wife have been vaccinated; and it felt good to hear of more and more people being protected and maybe this won’t last forever. Maybe there will be a time when I’m not sat at home watching three films one after the other.

Iteration 2 – Happy Death Day

Today is March 371st 2020, and day 355 of my personal lockdown. I’m watching time-loop movies today, and my second is Happy Death Day. Spoilers follow. This was a fun slasher movie that uses the Groundhog Day structure to avoid the Final Girl cliche.

Statistics

  • Length of first iteration: 13 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 15.5 minutes
  • Reset point: death
  • Fidelity of loop: Some internal trauma is carried over to future iterations
  • Exit from the loop: survival

This film was obviously not trying to be Groundhog Day (which it made a nod to at the end), but it was slick. It started well, with the Universal ident at the start looping. The script was funny, with awful characters saying awful things (Tree confesses to spitting on an Uber driver). The mystery element worked pretty well too.

It didn’t do anything novel with the time loop idea, although I liked that the main character, Tree, found an ally. There wasn’t enough of the growth through the iterations, and she didn’t take advantage of the situation – understandable, given that she was facing a murderer. Good slasher film though.

Iteration 1: Groundhog Day

Phil: What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?
Ralph: That about sums it up for me.

Today is March 371st 2020, and day 355 of my personal lockdown. I’m watching movies today, and the first was Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day has been described as the perfect lockdown movie, since every day is the same. That comparison only holds so far. While Phil Connors lives the same day again and again, there are distinct events in the day and his life is slowly changing within the repetition. And, you know, the film is based around a large social event with no distancing.

Over the last twenty-odd years since I first saw it, I’ve thought about Groundhog Day a lot, but rarely re-watched it (the film turned up most recently in an episode of Imaginary Advice). There are a lot of details I’d forgotten, including that the film has two car chases.

Spoilers follow for a 28-year old movie.

Statistics:

  • Length of first iteration: 11 minutes
  • Length of second iteration: 7 minutes
  • Reset point: sleep or death
  • Fidelity of loop: Day repeats with little degradation
  • Exit from the loop: spending the night with the main female character / becoming a better person

The film is from 1993, and parts have dated in 28 years. Phil’s hostility and workplace sexual harassment doesn’t come off as a quirky character traits now. I also wondered what happened to make him so invested in his own misery. Fortunately, given the way Netflix and Amazon are reusing old intellectual property, the Groundhog Day prequel TV show can’t be far off.

There’s also something a little unbalanced in Phil’s relationship with Rita, played by Andie MacDowell. The film focusses on their relationship and not the other things that Murray does with his repeated day (one DVD commentary says that Phil spends ten thousand years in Punxsutawney, usual estimates are about 20-40 years, although we only see 37 days in the film). Does Phil know this is the aim of the loop, or has he just tried everything else he can think of? Also, it’s a good thing Phil was not stuck in the loop until the movie passed the Bechdel test or it would still be going on.

Rita is treated as a prize to be won in the film, with Phil as the ultimate stalker. While the movie ultimately has Phil becoming a good person, the movie uses the trope of men deceiving women into falling in love, with the female character having little agency. In one iteration, Rita is horrified to realise “This whole day has been one long set up”, but the film is lamp-shading that issue rather than dealing with it. There’s definitely something a little uneasy about the film from her point of view (which someone has compiled on Vimeo)

When he emerges from the cycle, Phil remembers what he has been through. But how does Rita deal with him after that point, when he does not have years to set-up a perfect day? Will he ever tell her what happened? Will he stay a better person?

And surely Phil’s experiences within the loop have left him scarred in some way. There are some touching scenes where Phil’s mental health collapses, as he tries to deal with his situation. It’s painful to see the scenes where Phil breaks down and begs Rita for help. There is a shocking sequence where Phil repeatedly kills himself, which is (thankfully) played lightly.

A detail that puzzled me was the piano teacher. There’s a section fo the film where Phil decides to learn piano. He goes to a piano teacher and pays her $1,000 dollars to kick out her current student and teach him instead. It’s a scene played for laughs, but you wonder how many people’s lives are touched by Phil’s strange behaviour in this one day where the world revolves around him. Some of them will be left with very odd anecdotes.

Phil continues learning piano until he is an expert –

(This raises the question of how Phil manages to learn within the loop when his brain is being reset at the start of each cycle. I guess this is probably the sort of nit-picking metaphysics best cut in favour of jokes).

(At one point, Rita says she has deja-vu in one of the loops – does this mean there was a chance of her learning what has been happening?)

Anyway, Phil continues learning piano until he is an expert, returning to the piano teacher each day, presumably paying her $1,000 dollars for each step of tuition until he is a jazz virtuoso. On the final day, when Phil uses his piano skills to help him ‘win’ Rita, the tutor turns to Rita and proudly says “That’s my student.” How does she know? On that final day, he was an expert who came for a quick top-up lesson – or else, she is the only person in the film to remember previous cycles.

Another weird diversion is when Phil, on camera, describes the Groundhog Day ceremony as the town “worshipping a rat”. I hope we one day all get to watch a folk-horror version of Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day is a well-made film whose flaws have become more obvious over time. But it was fun to watch again, and I did like the film’s message. Phil only ‘won’ Rita when he built a community in the town, and she saw how much they loved him.