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.
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