What Exactly Is the Paradox in ‘The Cloverfield Paradox’?

Like so many other things in Netflix’s foray into the “Cloverfield” franchise, the meaning of its title is not very clear

(Major spoilers ahead for “The Cloverfield Paradox”)

Netflix’s newly released entry into the “Cloverfield” franchise, “The Cloverfield Paradox,” finds itself in space where all kinds of weird stuff starts to happen.

Fans of the franchise know it has a lot of weird monsters and aliens popping up in its seemingly unconnected movies, and “The Cloverfield Paradox” has a lot to do with alternate dimensions that could be the source of those creatures. What’s not exactly clear as you’re watching it, however, is the title.

So what’s the paradox of “The Cloverfield Paradox,” exactly?

German physicist Schmidt (Daniel Bruhl) has the answer, expounding on an explanation given earlier in the movie by a doomsayer played by Donal Logue. Logue’s character, Mark Stambler, worries about the experiments being conducted on the Cloverfield space station. He postulates that the station’s particle accelerator could tear a hole in the fabric of spacetime, causing multiple “dimensions,” or alternate universes, to collide and intermingle.

That’s exactly what happens when the experiment finally goes through. As Schmidt describes it, the experiment causes two or more dimensions to crash into each other, destroying one dimension’s version of the Cloverfield station and causing all sorts of weird anomalies to happen on the other.

Schmidt explains that the Cloverfield Paradox is the idea of particles — in this case, smaller-than-atoms quantum particles — from the two dimensions are interacting with each other. It causes all kinds of strange happenings, none of which make any sense, like a disembodied arm crawling around on its own and writing a message, or a bunch of earthworms disappearing from one part of the station and appearing inside the body of one of the crew.

Things on the Cloverfield don’t seem to make sense or follow the laws of physics because the scientists on the station are only seeing one side of the (at least) two-dimensional interaction. How the two dimensions interact doesn’t make sense based on what we know of our universe. Things seem to happen for no reason, because the reason they’re happening might be occurring in the other dimension, the other universe, and the two universes might not operate on the same set of physical laws.

We can’t quite take Schmidt’s explanation at face value, though, because when the Cloverfield station moves from its original dimension to this other one, it’s not in the same place as the station in the new dimension — it appears on the other side of the solar system from Earth. The station from that version of Earth was also destroyed and its debris fell to the planet, the result of sabotage by the second dimension’s version of Schmidt. So in fact, there’s probably (at least) a third alternate dimension at play here. Perhaps this third dimension’s version of the Cloverfield station also successfully fired its particle accelerator and moved into this dimension at the same time, or earlier, as the one from the first dimension, and the first and third stations merged.

We know there was some sort of merging going on between multiple versions of the station because of how the Russian scientist Volkov (Aksel Hennie) behaves after the particle accelerator incident. He seems to have merged with a version of himself from another dimension, with the two men occupying the same body. Volkov’s eye twitches in a way that suggests he’s not fully in control of himself, and he later talks to himself in the mirror. The implication there is that the Volkov from the second dimension informs the first about the traitorous Schmidt. Of course, in the dimension we’ve been watching from the start of the film, Schmidt isn’t a traitor — but in the second dimension, Schmidt sabotaged the experiment.

The idea of three dimensions interacting would follow with the idea that each of the three “Cloverfield” movies take place in three different versions of the universe, with this film’s implication that the particle accelerator on the Cloverfield station is what caused the events of the other two movies. If all of that is true, then it would follow that “The Cloverfield Paradox” depicts more than just two parallel versions of Earth interacting with each other. For that matter, if they also somehow unleashed monsters on multiple versions of Earth, then we could be seeing any number of different Cloverfield stations existing on top of each other here.

This would, interestingly, mean that Elizabeth Debicki’s character, Jensen, was also from that that third dimension rather than that Earth she tried to kill everyone for.

For more on how this movie fits with the other two, including an explanation for why the monster at the end of “The Cloverfield Paradox” is not the same monster from the original movie, you can read our in-depth discussion right here.

“The Cloverfield Paradox” is currently streaming on Netflix following its surprise release after the Super Bowl.