From Groundhog Day to the most recent The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, the concept of time loops has taken the fancy of directors
In The Map of Tiny Perfect Things (2021), which recently began streaming on Amazon Prime Video, two teenagers are caught in a temporal anomaly and are forced to relive the same day again and again until they find a solution to get out of the loop. So Groundhog Day (1993), I hear you say. Yes, of course, the concept was popularised by that film but the credit for being the first doesn’t go to the Bill Murray-Andie MacDowell film. As with many of these conceptual films, the trend appears to have begun in Japan with The Girl Who Leapt Through Time (1983), based on Yasutaka Tsutsui’s 1965 novel of the same name, where a girl relives the same day in a time loop. An anime version of the tale was made in 2006, followed by another live-action version in 2010.
In the West, the time loop concept was deployed back in 1973, in the story 12:01 PM by Richard A Lupoff published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The story was adapted twice, as a short film of the same name in 1990, and a full length TV film in 1993. In both versions, an office drone is forced to relive the worst day of his life. The genre really took off with Groundhog Day, and you’ll be surprised to know that the concept has been used in at least 50 films.
There are prominent films with big stars featuring time loops, including Edge of Tomorrow, also known by the title Live. Die. Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow (2014), starring Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise, and Source Code (2011), with Jake Gyllenhaal. Beyond Asia and Hollywood, the concept has been used in Russia, Sweden, Germany, and around the world.
From my non-exhaustive analysis of the genre, two major themes emerge. One, the desire to correct a wrong and second, practise makes perfect, in the sense that if you do the same thing often enough, you’re bound to get good with time. The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, for example, is filled with events where rote practise leads to slick choreography within the day, and Bill Murray gets good at a whole bunch of things in Groundhog Day.
A recent, celebrated example of the genre is Palm Springs (2020), where wedding guest Andy Samberg and maid of honour Cristin Milioti are stuck in the same summer’s day to the point where they are ready to kill themselves, but even committing suicide doesn’t bring death and the next day dawns in loop again and again. After the initial fun and games, the pair does correct a bunch of wrongs, while becoming experts in various activities. I watched the recently-concluded Golden Globes with keen interest to keep an eye on the two nominations for Palm Springs — best motion picture, musical or comedy, and for best performance in the same category for Samberg. Sadly, the film won neither category, but surely, in the pandemic time loop we are stuck in, it may win one day?