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
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