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'Palm Springs' ending explained: What really happened? And what's up with those dinosaurs?

Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

For the first 12 or so minutes of "Palm Springs," you could be forgiven for thinking the film was just a slightly edgier, R-rated take on a fairly cookie-cutter romantic comedy premise: Two lost souls -- sad-boy Nyles (Andy Samberg) and cynical Sarah (Cristin Milioti) -- meet cute at a wedding and ... you know the rest.

But "Palm Springs," which is now available for streaming on Hulu and playing at select drive-ins, is decidedly not that movie.

From the moment Sarah follows Nyles into a mysterious cave and becomes stuck with him in an infinite time loop, forced to relive the same day again and again, the film jumps the familiar rom-com rails and veers into "Groundhog Day"-style, genre-scrambling sci-fi-comedy. At every turn, director Max Barbakow and screenwriter Andy Siara toy with expectations and upend the usual romantic-comedy conventions, climaxing in an ending that may leave audiences wondering what exactly they just saw.

Warning: Major plot spoilers ahead.

As the film nears its end, Sarah tells Nyles she has learned of a way the two might finally break out of the endless loop -- by detonating an explosion at the very moment they cross the time horizon that normally resets them back to the day's beginning. Nyles, who has fallen in love with Sarah, is initially reluctant to go along with her plan, fearing they could end up dead or somehow eternally separated on different timelines. But ultimately he agrees to take a leap with her into the unknown, and together the two enter the cave. After Sarah affirms her own love for Nyles, they are enveloped in an explosion and the screen cuts to black.

Instead of waking up in their hotel rooms as they have for countless repeating days, Sarah and Nyles are next seen lounging in a swimming pool at a house whose owners have been out of town. The owners suddenly show up and Nyles says to Sarah, "I guess they come back Nov. 10," suggesting it is now the day after the wedding and the two have, in fact, successfully escaped from the loop. From there, the camera pans up to show a pair of dinosaurs ambling in the distance -- the same brontosauri that Sarah and Nyles saw earlier in the film.

 

In a brief mid-credits sequence, Roy (J.K. Simmons), who has also been stuck in the time loop, approaches Nyles at the wedding to tell him that he thinks that Sarah's theory of how they could escape might work. But Nyles has no idea who Roy is or what he's talking about.

So what does it all mean? Have Sarah and Nyles broken free from the time loop to live happily ever after? Or have they jumped into a different dimension in which they ultimately might end up stuck in the kind of dead-end marriage that they both fear?

Are they dead and eternally chilling in some kind of poolside afterlife? Or are there now two different Sarahs and Nyleses in two parallel timelines? And what is up with those dinosaurs?

If you were hoping for a single definitive answer from the film's creative team, you're out of luck. The ending was deliberately designed so that it could be viewed in different ways. How you read it will depend on personal beliefs about not just things like string theory and the possibility of alternate universes but the existence of true love itself.

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