Theorizing How The Time Loop Works In ‘Palm Springs (2020)’

by Benjamin Hall

Warning of spoilers for the movie Palm Springs, and other movies like Doctor Strange (2016), Happy Death Day (2017), and Groundhog Day (1993)!

The movie Palm Springs stars actors Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, and J.K. Simmons. They respectively play the roles of Nyles, Sara Wilder, and Roy. All three characters get stuck in a time loop at different points during the wedding day of Sara’s sister Talia. But this article is not about recapping every detail of the movie. Nor is it a review. This article is about exactly what the title says: “Theorizing how the time loop works.” (Though readers should note I am not a scientist of any kind.)

A time loop is a time travel concept in which a person or group is stuck repeating a specific period of time. In some cases, escaping a loop can occur once the individual or group meets a specific condition; such as the agreement Doctor Stephen Strange makes with Dormammu in Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange. Through destroying the point of entry, the main characters in Palm Springs are able to escape their respective loops. They also appear to die at certain points in the movie. Yet unlike what happens in the movie Happy Death Day, none of the three leads are weaker after any post-death loop. In fact, they just find themselves waking up in bed much like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day.

Although Nyles, Sara, and Roy apparently can’t die, there are indications that their looping is not the standard movie-style time loop. I posit that their conscious minds are moving around to different parallel universes. These universes are also so close to the characters’ original universes that they seem identical. The reasoning for this part of my theory is that Nyles and Sara both reference the theory of a multiverse. There is also the answer a still-looping Roy gets from a Nyles that is not looping (and apparently is never going to loop) at the movie’s end. This answer creates the possibility that these three characters’ consciousnesses are mentally unstuck in time. Thus, they are time traveling like the lead in Slaughterhouse-Five (1972), but with the addition that they are also hopping to mostly similar, but somehow different, universes.

One should also consider the fact that Nyles and Sara see dinosaurs while in the loop, and viewers see them outside the loop. Nyles declaring it to be a first time experience after countless loops also lends merit to this theory. (Though whether the dinosaurs are looping as well is up to each viewer to decide, and rather irrelevant to this theory.)

Thus, there are three results from this kind of looping: anything that happens in a particular loop matters in that universe’s timeline; none of the characters are from the same universe; or Nyles and Sara do not escape to their original universes. Try a loop of your own and watch Palm Springs again on Hulu with these ideas and outcomes in mind.

Promotional poster for Palm Springs (2020) featuring Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg.

Benjamin Hall

Among Benjamin Hall's many credits he is the creator and writer of the comic Time Trio; a writer/editor of various works for Sequart Organization; Blogger for Rippersspot.blogspot.com; a columnist for Comicon. He holds a Bachelor's in film studies and a Master's Degree in Media Communications. He is also an Aspie.

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