In an alt-universe, a movie about the absence of consequences and the sameness of every day may have been rejected for being a little too on the nose during the broken Summer of 2020. But through the force of its charming cast and clever storytelling, Palm Springs manages to deliver on its awesome hype, offering thoughts about existence and love that are bound to resonate while also sparking conversations around things left unexamined or unexplained – particularly its ending. And that’s the real gift here: continued time-wasting opportunities to discuss something that isn’t tied to the nightmarish real-world news cycle.
Instead, it’s the quest for meaning and the fight against loneliness that we’re examining. Which is, believe it or not, a little easier to take right now. With that in mind, here’s a spoiler-filled guide to some of the questions the film leaves us with (including some that may be conjured by too much investigation) and a few stray thoughts.
What’s the deal with Nyles’ lack of a back story?
If you were trapped in a time-loop, you’d probably do everything Andy Samberg’s character, Nyles, does. The no-fucks-to-give attitude, beer can cavalcade, and ultra-casual dress needs no explanation. Ditto not wanting to reflect on the different levels of chaos he has inflicted in his more experimental phase. We get it. We’ve all played GTA with cheat codes in hand. But Nyles’ inability to recall what he did for a living before the loop seems a little weird. Like, seriously, he can’t even feel a hint of an idea around what he did (and how it was absolutely part-time realtor/full-time friendly weed guy)?
It’s clear Nyles has been stuck for a long, long time. That’s bolstered by his confession to Sarah (Cristin Milioti) that they’ve had sex thousands of times. But still, would your job be that forgettable even after a decade? I can’t see losing the emotional scars I’ve accumulated from my working life going back to when I was a 19-year-old clerk. I can dream about it, but I can’t see it.
Also, it’s weird that he never mentioned Fred the dog’s existence until the very end. Jobs come and go, but shaggy dogs imprint forever. Maybe Nyles’ refrain about how things “drift away” (and the loaded glance that followed) stems from an awareness that he’s forgetting things outside of his loop existence, offering him more of a reason to never feel anything.
The Time Loop has impacted people other than Nyles, Sarah, and Roy, right?
Nanna Schlieffen (June Squibb) definitely seems to know something is up at the end. Also, does Jerry (Tongayi Chirisa)? It’s interesting how he says it’s “interesting” when Nyles confesses his love for Sarah. What about Jena Friedman’s Daisy the Bartender? She seems to be surfing a wave of indifference that isn’t foreign to anyone who has had a service job, but maybe there’s more there to explain the detachment from everything and everyone around her. Maybe it’s just misdirection, but there’s a purpose and some weirdness attached to Nyles’ early days rant when he says to Daisy: “I know you know, but you don’t know that I know. Or do you know?” Maybe Daisy never went to the cave and isn’t burdened with the full effect, but maybe, instead, there’s a less potent impact on people in close enough proximity to those who did. And maybe it manifests in different ways, explaining why Connor O’Malley’s character is the way that he is. Was Meredith Hagner’s character always cheating on Nyles with the Aussie drug store cowboy officiate, or did that develop over time in the loop, a variation on the order of things in response to a feeling that something was off with Nyles? Hey, that’s a stretch, but there are no wrong theories when concocting theories. Here’s another one.
Where’s Roy’s oldest son?
JK Simmons is fantastic playing it revenge-crazed and sadistic, but then we get a peek at the life he was, at once, running from and trying to hold on to. There, we see a more fatherly and knowing man, trapped in his own complicated version of the time loop. And that’s where we see the value of his character beyond the fun Wile E. Coyote vs. The Roadrunner dynamic that he has with Samberg.
When we initially see into his house, however, we see a family picture with what seems to be three kids, not two. A teenager is missing from Nyles’ awkward visit to Irvine. He doesn’t even garner a mention. It’s probably nothing. Unless it isn’t just memories being erased, but whole people. (Gasp)
I’ll also say that the look thrown off by Roy’s daughter at Nyles is weird. As is Roy’s response. Is that further confirmation that people are somehow changed by being around Nyles? And if that’s the case, does she sense something with Roy? Is Nyles giving off a different energy because of how long he’s been the loop or is it something else? I’m going to stop before I break out a bulletin board and tie myself up in string.
The cave and the ending.
This isn’t a question so much as it’s an observation perhaps influenced by my own relationship to the big topics of life, love, and meaning that the film explores.
Everywhere I look with Palm Springs, specifically in those last few moments, I see metaphors for marriage and the epic, angst-spurring decision to commit to someone else. This all culminates in that big, frightening, universe-altering explosion — which is the point where, I think, this story really and truly ends for me.
To some, marriage (and committed coupledom) is an overblown construct from a different time. Something that may not be especially reflective of our wants and needs while, at the same time, seeming like something that may one day lead to emotional destruction and despair. That cynicism is reflected in the movie, but so too is the magical view of marriage as a kind of salvation or solve for the gaps in our lives and that phantom limb feeling that someone should be next to us.
Falling in, not just love but trust, and getting to the cliff’s edge of that commitment is, in and of itself and speaking from personal experience, an epic story. I really like being married, but the moment in the film, when Sarah and Nyles are about to head into the unknown, really connects if you’ve stood at an altar. “Come on, let’s see if we blow up and die” may as well replace “I now pronounce you.” Nothing explains the feeling of saying “I do” quite so well. It’s thrilling, it’s frightening, and you don’t know where you’re going to land — in the same place, totally fine, 20 years down the road with nothing to show for it, or exploded right from the start. Is all of the above an option?
I actually would have been totally fine with Palm Springs ending at the cave as Sarah and Nyles kiss and her hand moves to the detonator. That’s the end of that specific story, really. Everything that follows masquerades as closure but it’s really a prompt for more questions about the reappearance of the dinosaurs, whether they’re just stuck in a different loop, and what happens next for Roy — things that feel like the start of a new story that I would, incidentally, love to see more of down the road. But with this one and all its questions, I’m most drawn to its one big answer: they decided to face the abyss together.
‘Palm Springs’ is available to stream on Hulu.