The plot of Palm Springs is, as protagonist Nyles (Andy Samberg) says, “one of those infinite time loop situations you might have heard about.” Think Groundhog Day or Russian Doll. However, the thing with those “infinite time loop situations” is that they are rarely explained, or we rarely understand how our protagonists break out of the time loop.
But, Palm Springs is different. Halfway through the film, Nyles and Sarah (Cristin Milioti) get into a huge fight about the fact that they are stuck in this loop. Sarah storms off, and Nyles spends many, many, more days (unclear — probably months! Or years!) wondering where she goes during their repeated day.
Turns out, she is studying Quantum Physics, using her endless days to educate herself to try and break out of the loop.
We then see a montage of her studying, testing, learning more, and videochatting with a scientist about the “Cauchy horizon,” which I cannot pretend to understand nor explain to you.
Sarah then kidnaps a goat and brings him into the cave to see what will happen. (You know, that mysterious cave that got Nyles and Sarah stuck in the time loop.) She then blows up said goat in the cave in an effort to test her hypothesis — that blowing the goat up at the exact moment it travels to the beginning of the loop is enough energy to propel the goat out of the loop.
Later, we find out the goat disappeared. It doesn’t show up in the subsequent loops of the day. After that test is successful, she goes back to talk to Nyles.
“So, I think I found a way out,” she tells him. “We are trapped in a box of energy. We get out of it by escaping the box in the 3.2 seconds it takes to travel through the loop itself.”
“And by ‘escaping the box’ you mean…”
“We blow up ourselves and the cave during that window. And if we detonate the C4 at the exact right moment, it will propel us out,” Sarah says.
Nyles then gets scared — he doesn’t want to leave and face reality, and initially tells Sarah he won’t join her. Fast forward through their last day living through the wedding, and he rushes to join her at the mouth of the cave where she has C4 strapped around her.
They enter the cave, kiss, and Sarah blows them up at the right moment.
The film fades to black, and then opens up with them floating in a pool. Not the pool of the hotel/house they stay at for the wedding, but rather, the pool of a family who is on vacation on November 9, as Nyles has discovered in his infinite time spent on that day.
And then, possibly the funniest exchange of the entire film:
“So now, what do we do?” Sarah asks.
“Well, I should probably go pick up my dog,” Nyles replies.
“You have a dog?!”
“You have a dog named Fred?!!”
“You’ve never mentioned this.”
“Never came up.”
Their discussion of Fred is interrupted by a family, who shouts, “What the fuck are you doing in our pool?”
Nyles and Sarah laugh, as Nyles says, “Guess they came back November 10.” They made it out of the loop — blowing themselves up in the cave was what they needed to escape. The camera pans up from the pool to the desert, where we see the dinosaurs walking in the background (I can’t explain this, please don’t make me try), and then fades to black once again.
Credits start rolling – but stay around, because we get a perfect post-credits scene: Roy (J.K. Simmons) goes to the wedding — oh yeah, Roy is also stuck in the loop, forgot to mention him! — and finds Nyles to say: “Hey, shit bird. I got the message from your girlfriend last night. That is a pretty crazy theory. You really think it could work?”
Nyles, dressed in a suit and tie and not his classic Hawaiian shirt and shorts, stares back at Roy blankly: “I’m sorry. Do I know you? I’m Nyles.”
Roy stares at Nyles, realization growing on his face, laughing, “No way. Wow!!”
Here, we learn that Nyles and Sarah definitively made it out of the loop, but because Roy is still stuck, he’s reliving the day that they are still in. Doesn’t totally make sense because if blowing up the goat removed the goat from subsequent loops, wouldn’t Nyles and Sarah blowing themselves up remove their bodies from subsequent loops?! But, it shows that they just become one of the other people stuck, going through the same motions every day. Hopefully, Roy also makes it out and joins them on November 10.
What a great film.
Header Image by Jessica Perez/Hulu.