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MOVIE REVIEW: Palm Springs - the Perfect Quarantine Flick

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

NOTE: This article contains SPOILERS! Read at your own will.

Artwork by Rebecca Song, staff artist

Today, tomorrow, yesterday, it’s all the same.” A nonchalant Nyles says while lounging in the pool, sipping on some beer.

© Hulu

With quarantine dragging over five months as of August, days and months are arbitrary now that we’re all stuck in a routine of meaningless time passing every day- it’s like the date is still March 14th every day.  However, no one knows more about the pain of living the same day over and over again than Andy Samberg’s character, Nyles, in the recently released Hulu film Palm Springs. Set in a reality where time paradoxes and laws of physics greatly affect Nyles’ life and those around him, this sci-fi rom-com offers tasteful comfort to those of us who feel as if we too are trapped in an infinite time-loop.

Originally premiering at the annual Sundance Festival in January of this year, California-born director Max Barbakow made his feature debut with an amazing cast, including Samberg as happy-go-lucky Nyles and Cristin Milioti portraying his tentative foil. At the time, no one could have predicted the state of the future in a mere few months, but it almost seems like Palm Springs was meant to be released during this turbulent time for our quarantined enjoyment. 

© Hulu

The best way to watch this film is to go into it completely blind, because right from the start, it looks like yet another cliche “wedding meet-cute” rom-com. The reluctant, dawdling maid of honor Sarah finds herself in sunny Palm Springs for her younger sister Tala’s (Camila Mendes) wedding. Enveloped in ceaseless questioning and judgement of her own uneventful life and in need of a break from the wedding mayhem, she stumbles upon unbothered Nyles attending the wedding as another bridesmaid’s date. Fed up with the prosaic life surrounding them, they escape into the night for a casual rendezvous, but the entire movie takes a sweeping turn as 27 Dresses quickly turns more into Groundhog Day.

Following Nyles into the depths of the desert near the wedding reception, Sarah is thrown into a heap of unexpected trouble as Nyles appears to be manhunted by another wedding guest, Roy (played by Academy-Award winner J.K. Simmons). In an awry effort to stop Sarah from making a grave mistake, Nyles warns her not to walk into the mysterious glowing cave he has crawled into. Yet, as it is within her dogged character to do so, Sarah doesn’t listen, and follows Nyles towards the strange light. That’s when the laws of physics begin to bend, and suddenly Sarah is thrown into the infinite time loop Nyles has been living in for a long time— too long for him to even remember his life before the day of Tala’s wedding. 

At this point of the movie, viewers will be pretty baffled by the quick turn of events. Without warning, this wedding trope of a movie becomes a renewed version of a beloved Bill Murray classic, where characters are left living a recurring day due to similar circumstances. Still, Palm Springs takes the “time-loop” concept and plays with themes on philosophy and real-life physics to create a genuinely romantic and insightful screenplay, even with the large science-fiction aspect of it all. 

After waking up in the same position she was in earlier that morning, a confused Sarah rushes to see Nyles, who, like every other day he has lived in that reality, is seen relaxing in the pool drinking some beer. Nyles explains the entire time-loop situation to her and addresses the fact that they are not the only ones experiencing the never-ending day-- Roy has held a violent grudge against Nyles ever since he followed him into the enigmatic cave, justifying his murderous attempts to provoke pain on Nyles. Sarah has no choice but to accept her fate after a series of failed attempts of escaping (mostly through means of suicide), but nothing is permanent, as both her and Nyles always end up back in the same position they were in that morning.

What makes the characters of the film so interesting is the difference in how they approach each day in the time-loop. Some days, they dedicate themselves to bettering their situation, sparking a budding romance with one another; other days, they just let themselves be drunk a-holes who don’t have a care in the world. No consequences, right? So what's the harm in doing so? It’s clear to see that these two are not concerned with cleaning their karmic slates or making amends; this is no afterlife purgatory or anything. They truly are just a couple of clueless, normal human beings experiencing a physical phenomenon, and yet they still try to make the best of their unfortunate predicament and learn from it anyways. Both of them have contradicting perspectives on the matter, though. Nyles, who has forgotten life outside of the loop, is scared and hesitant to leave, because life as he knows it has become that one day, and that one day only. On the other hand, obstinate Sarah has no plans of staying; she already has plenty of personal demons to run from and needs nothing more than to move on with her life.

© Hulu

Ensuing relentless research on real quantum-physics, Sarah hypothesizes that the unending time-loop is the work of the string theory, and that she and Nyles were stuck in a “box of energy” (fun fact: screenwriter Andy Siara did some serious research on physics to make his script as accurate as possible, so everything Sarah learned about the string theory is relatively true to science). To break out of the box of energy, they must enter the cave, strap on some C4 explosives, and in the exact 3.2 seconds it takes to travel through the loop, blow themselves, along with the cave, up to propel out of the “box.” Following a heartfelt confession from Nyles about how his resignation only came after Sarah inspired him, the pair head off into the mysterious, glowing cave to blow themselves up and hopefully return to life as they had known before the loop. The film ends on an eerie, open-ended note, leaving plenty of room for fan theories and philosophical discourse.

© Hulu

Now, back to how Palm Springs is a quarantine must-watch. Although we aren’t technically all mutually trapped in a “box of energy” alternate timeline, many of us can begin envisioning ourselves as the main characters of the film. Oh, to have the entire day to ourselves, doing whatever we want with no school, no work, no worries— except for the uncertainty of the future and time itself. Wait, isn’t that kind of what quarantine has felt like for most of us? As much as we’d like to imagine ourselves as strong-willed Sarah, productive and to-the-point in trying to make the most of her situation, the fact of the matter is that we probably relate more to Nyles, who has developed a nihilistic despondency after being trapped in the infinite day for so long. His line at approximately 3 minutes and 10 seconds in the film has a new meaning now that the whole world has entered something on par to an infinite day.

 The obvious discouragement in Nyles throughout the film serves to provide insight on how accepting your ill-fate and plummeting into a pit of despair happens to the best of us. But, there is hope that burns anew within Sarah’s character, showing viewers that there will always be a way out of the “mysterious cave,” or in the case of this pandemic right now, the “quarantine blues.” An intense grind may be needed, and maybe a change in mindset inspired by a special someone, but still, it will happen. So, even though it was not screenwriter Andy Siara or director Max Barbakow’s cruel intention to predict the fatal state of the world during this pandemic, they still did a hell of a job coincidentally connecting with those in quarantine right now, making Palm Springs the ultimate quarantine flick.

© 2020 Getty Images 


Jessica Phan is the fundraising & finances manager at The Incandescent Review. A senior at La Quinta High School in Westminster, California she has always had interest in film, photography, and art. She hopes The Incandescent Review will help feed her passion for the finer things in life, but also force her to expand her vocabulary.

This is Rebecca! She’s 18 years old, fresh out of high school and anticipating to start art school in the fall. She not only loves to make creative content through her drawings but she also loves to listen to music (from R&B to kpop), dance, read novels, binging shows and movies, learning new languages on Duolingo and hanging out with friends.

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