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Palm Springs Time Loop, Explained

July 9, 2020
5 min read

‘Palm Springs’ follows the story of Nyles and Sarah who are forced to relive the same day over and over again for the rest of eternity. They are trapped in a time loop, and while one of them gives up and relents to their fate, the other decides to fight for it. Every day, both of them have to confront some past actions or welcome a new possibility and every day changes them for the better. In its mix of loops and humor, ‘Palm Springs’ reminds us of another such comedy that used time loops to teach its protagonist a lesson. Is ‘Palm Springs’ a reiteration of ‘Groundhog Day’? And how does its time loop work? Let’s find out.

What is Palm Springs’ Time Loop?

The system of the loop in ‘Palm Springs’ holds the characters in captivity with no way out, and it all begins with a cave. The frequent earthquakes in the place cause the cave to break open, and a wormhole shimmering with red light is opened. Whoever crosses through this red light gets stuck in the loop.

Every day begins with the trapped person waking up on their bed, the very place where they had woken up on the original November 9. So, while Nyles and Sarah wake up in the hotel, Roy is back at his home in Irvine. All the events during the day take place in the same way they did originally, and when the day ends, the next one begins again on November 9. The loop also starts over if the person dies or if they fall asleep. They can try to stay awake, like Sarah does, but sooner or later, they will fall asleep, and when they wake up next, they find themselves back to where they had started on November 9.

Is Palm Springs inspired by Groundhog Day?

Every genre has some established classics that almost every other movie maker takes inspiration from. When it comes to the stories about time loops, ‘Groundhog Day’ is the one that every other time loop movie, especially comedies, refers to. The thing that makes Bill Murray’s movie such a beloved film is that it is completely character-driven. It leans towards comedy to entertain but turns out to be more about a person’s emotions and inhibitions rather than about some otherworldly plot twist.

‘Palm Springs’, too, uses its main characters to present a palette of various personalities. It digs deep into their psyche and questions their motives and plans. This theme walks the same line as ‘Groundhog Day’, which would surely draw comparisons for the audience. However, when Andy Siara first thought about ‘Palm Springs’, he didn’t think about treading the same waters as Murray’s comedy-drama. He and Max Barbakow had been thinking about working on something which would turn into their feature debut. They had been in Southern California at the time and with the desert in their view, they decided to take that surrounding into account. Siara had recently gotten married in Palm Springs, from where the idea of setting the story at a wedding germinated. They thought about a character who was fed up with weddings. It wasn’t until later that they came around to using time loops to spice things up.

Andy Samberg, who stars in the film and also produces it, explained that ‘Palm Springs’ walks a different territory than ‘Groundhog Day’. “I went in thinking, ‘The all-timer of that is done.’ And I don’t think this changes that in the slightest. The thing about it that made me want to do it anyway is, to me, it feels like it very intentionally picks up where ‘Groundhog Day’ leaves off,” he said. This surely makes sense as going back to ‘Groundhog Day’, one realizes that the movie never explained as to how Murray’s character fell into the loop and how exactly he broke out of it, if not entirely due to the sheer growth of his character.

‘Palm Springs’, on the other hand, remains very clear about its sci-fi side from the beginning. It doesn’t rely just on the philosophical angles of the characters to force them into a time loop. It creates a trap for them and then also allows them a way out of it. We never find out why Phil had to relive the Groundhog Day, why that specific day, and why no one else was trapped in it with him. ‘Palm Springs’ comes with the explanation of its story through the recurring earthquakes. Why does Nyles get stuck on November 9? What’s so special about the day? Nothing, apart from the fact that on the same day, an earthquake breaks open the cave that eventually opens the door to the time loops.

Considering all this, we could say that ‘Palm Springs’ does give a few nods to the timeless classic, but does not entirely depend on its tricks and techniques to save the day for itself. It has enough material of its own to not just stand on its feet but also to distinguish itself from ‘Groundhog Day’ and others similar films.

Read More: Movies Like Groundhog Day

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