“Nothing matters” might not be the lesson you want to take away from Palm Springs, a sunny rom-com that stars Andy Samberg as a man trapped in a time loop that has turned him into a vacationing nihilist and Cristin Miliot as the fellow wedding guest who gets trapped in it with him. But that’s kind of the attitude that director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara take toward the science of the time loop that makes up the central premise of their romantic-comedy. How does the time loop work? Did Samberg and Miliot’s Nyles and Sarah actually get out? Are there other people stuck in the time loop as well? That depends on what you think, Barbakow and Siara said in a new interview following the release of their wildly successful comedy.
Spoilers ahead for Palm Springs.
To be fair, Barbakow and Siara threw themselves into researching the science of time loops and the metaphysics surrounding them when they were putting together the initial drafts of Palm Springs, the filmmaking duo told Vulture in a spoilery interview. It was the most difficult part of writing Palm Springs, Barbakow said, especially the “solution of getting out”:
“That was something that came after we started working with the Lonely Island. The earthquake and the cave were some of the first things that we had in there, just as a fun element to play with. But we talked to Clifford Johnson, our science consultant who plays the physicist. We were saying, “Time loops don’t exist, but how could a phenomenon like this actually happen?” He was like, “It would have to be a physical event.” So we got lucky in that if there were a time loop and the cave were to open, an earthquake would be a perfect explanation for what was happening metaphysically.”
So did Nyles and Sarah actually get out at the end? It’s a question that Barbakow and Siara avoid totally answering, especially with the discrepancy of the goat disappearing after Sarah’s experiment. (Wouldn’t Nyles also disappear instead of appearing as a mind-wiped version of himself in the post-credits scene?) But Siara said that “the most important thing to me is that they go into that cave together. That’s the emotional ending.”
One thing that Barbakow and Siara can answer for sure: the dinosaurs that Nyles and Sarah see one night while camping out in the desert are real.
“The only thing [about the ending] that was there from that original draft, was the final shot of the movie, of the dinosaurs on the horizon. And me, I think those are real dinosaurs,” Siara said. Added Barbakow, “The dinosaurs and going into the cave — or a version of that — are the two things that were always there. Then the getting out was something that we always wanted to play with.”
Siara and Barbakow speak about “clues” hidden throughout the movie that reveal Palm Springs‘ secrets, but won’t name what they are exactly. One of these clues might be that others apart from Nyles, Sarah, and J.K. Simmons‘ Roy are trapped in the time loop, like Nana (June Squibb), whose ambiguous line hints that she’s wise to the events unfolding. Barbakow confirms there are, in fact, others in the time loop:
“There are definitely multiple people in there. I don’t know if Nana’s one of them. Maybe she’s relived the same wedding over and over again. Or maybe she just has been around for a while and went to a lot of weddings.”
Barbakow and Siara are frustratingly vague in their answers to Vulture, but maybe none of it matters. Maybe the only thing that matters is the “emotional” solution the characters go through, and whether you believe in that happy ending for Nyles and Sarah.
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