(This article contains major spoilers for the time loop comedy “Palm Springs” on Hulu)
It’s not easy to put a fresh spin on the “Groundhog Day” formula, but “Palm Springs” certainly pulls it off. Like most of the other films in this little subgenre, you’re not really supposed to think to hard about the mechanics of why this one day is repeating over and over forever — but this film is smart enough to give us just enough info on how it works to make us wonder about some things.
So “Palm Springs” introduces a major new wrinkle in this “Groundhog Day” subgenre, by having multiple different characters experience the loop together. So we’ve got Nyles (Samberg), Sarah (Milioti) and Roy (JK Simmons), all experiencing this one day together, repeatedly.
And “Palm Springs” is a romantic comedy, so of course Nyles and Sarah form an emotional bond over the course of the film. And the big moment for their relationship comes midway through the film, when they start to break through their cynicism about the situation because they take shrooms and see some dinosaurs walking around the desert.
It’s a mysterious and whimsical moment, to be sure, and it’s something that is referenced later but never really explained. And the way I see it, there’s a couple possible explanations for how they saw those dinosaurs.
My first thought was that they were hallucinating as they shared their desert drug trip. You might think it would be weird that they hallucinated the same thing, but that is a thing that’s been known to happen during a shared trip.
It’s interesting that during the dinosaur scene itself, neither Nyles nor Sarah says what it is they’re looking at. Nyles mentions the dinosaurs at the end “Palm Springs,” so we know that he saw dinosaurs. But even then Sarah never directly acknowledged that she also saw dinosaurs. It’s possible that, if it was a hallucination, maybe they saw different things.
But why hallucinate dinosaurs? Well, out near Palm Springs in the desert is a semi-famous landmark, a park that contains some very large dinosaur sculptures, including one brontosaurus sculpture named Dinny that looks an awful lot like the ones that Nyles and Sarah saw. Nyles, having been stuck in the time loop for what was likely decades, almost certainly had spent some time with those dinosaurs.
And just before this scene, we’d gotten a montage of Sarah and Nyles embracing the loop together and getting into all sorts of shenanigans together. We don’t know how much time passed during this montage, but it’s important to keep in mind that it was probably weeks or months, or maybe even years. It’s safe to assume that at some point they went to see those dinosaurs together, and it’s those dinosaurs that inspired the drug-fueled hallucination.
On the other hand, it’s also possible those dinosaurs were real. During this scene the two of them are camping out in a spot that appears to be near the magic cave that caused this whole time loop mess in the first place. And based on the plan that Sarah later comes up with to get them out of the loop, there’s definitely some kind of wacky quantum mechanics and multiverse things going on here. Maybe things that are more complicated than just this time loop stuff the two of them are stuck in.
What I’m getting at is that maybe those were real dinosaurs, somehow transported to the modern Palm Springs desert by this quantum anomaly. Or maybe they’re seeing an alternate reality, in which dinosaurs are still around, bleeding through to their universe.
Writer Andy Siara spoke to Decider about the dinosaurs, and his comments might shed some light on this.
“I could say that you have two characters who don’t believe they are capable of love, and in that moment, maybe they fall in love. Dinosaurs don’t exist, but in that moment, they exist. It’s two things that are impossible,” Siara told Decider. “Or, I can also just say that I love Jurassic Park and I wanted to put that in there. It felt right in that moment. How do we make this scene stand out more–what better way than to add dinosaurs?”
That’s not really a solid answer, but honestly I’m not really sure we need one anyway. “Palm Springs” is a fun romantic comedy, not a Christopher Nolan sci-fi movie, and lengthy scenes explaining the quantum mechanics of this loop wouldn’t really fit. This was something that frustrated me about “Happy Death Day 2u,” which was overly concerned with explaining how its own similar time loop worked that it hurt the film.
So yeah, we don’t need to know how this whole deal works. As long as the story is internally consistent in how it presents it — and I think “Palm Springs” is in all the ways that matter — then we’re good.
And so we’re good.