Brief, Rambling Thoughts on Christopher Smith's Triangle

[The following contains SPOILERS for Christopher Smith's Triangle.]

Christopher Smith's Triangle just hit DVD/Blu-Ray and Netflix Watch Instantly in the U.S. I first heard about the film on my own podcast, as my co-host Adam Quigley suggested it'd be a good watch for people who enjoy twisty, time-travel flicks. Eight viewings later and I still can't get this film out of my head.

A lot of that is due to Melissa George's amazing performance. I'm also in love with the chilling score by Christian Henson and Dot Allison. Other things I really like about the movie:

  • The use of perspective - The cinematography by Robert Humphreys (dominated by handheld) is brilliant. We're constantly questioning whether what we're looking at is a first-person perspective from Jess's point of view, or just an omniscient third-person perspective. It's a subtle effect, but it is extremely unsettling.
  • The most shocking kill of the year - When Melissa George smashes her own face in...that was brutal.
  • The greatest headfake ever - The film starts out like a generic horror film, only 20 minutes in, all but one of the characters is killed in a brutal massacre. I did not see that coming.
  • The entire concept of leaving remnants of your former self behind - There's a scene when Sally, having been stabbed by Mean Jess, stumbles onto the deck of the ship only to find dozens of dead bodies of HERSELF. The scene is shot brilliantly, and its only shortcoming is the fact that Sally doesn't appear completely shocked and mind-blown at the dozens of corpses...OF HERSELF. LYING NEXT TO HER. DEAD. OF HERSELF.
Right after I saw the film, I called up Adam Quigley to discuss the film, and recorded our conversation. You can download it (Right-click and "Save As") or play it in your browser below:



Since this conversation, I've had a lot more time to think and read about the film, and feel differently about it now. As "The Dude" once said, "New information has come to light, man." One thing that /Filmcast listener Jim pointed out to me was the following:

I only caught a brief portion of Adam and Dave's informal discussion about the movie 'Triangle' and I just wanted to see what your thought about the metaphysical aspects of the film. In short, I came into the discussion at about the point where Dave was saying something to the effect of how he preferred if the movie was more of a literal time traveling narrative while Adam was ok with the concept that the movie had more of a supernatural reasoning about the time manipulation. I, personally, found the supernatural clues in the movie more compelling and the notion that the main character's journey in the movie was punishment or a purgatory.

The main thing I liked was that in the explanation of why Sisyphus was condemned to roll a rock up a hill was that 'he made a promise to Death that he didn't keep'. At the end of the movie *SPOILERS* after the car crash when the main character is shone walking around in a fugue state, a cab driver picks up the main character and she asks him to take her to the harbor starting the individual time loop over again. When she gets there, the driver says 'he'll keep the meter running' and asks the question,'you will come back won't you?" to which the main responses,'yes I promise'. I've always taken this to mean that the cabbie was Death (or Charon, the ferryman of the Dead) and that the main character has promised that she'll be back. Since she breaks this promise by going on the boat, she's forced to re-live a set of time loops until eventually she lives up to her promise to come back to the cab and the afterlife instead of agreeing to go on the boat and life the time loop filled half life she current inhabits.

This is a brilliant explanation that adds so much to the film for me. I'm only angry because I feel I'm a complete moron for having missed it earlier! Of course! Jess breaks the promise to the ferryman and that's what completely screws her over. It puts the entire film in a whole new context.

In addition the Wikipedia entry on the film lays out the following explanation:

**

There are two distinct phases to the total cycle denoted by A and B. Events happening in these phases are similar but not identical. By having an A and B phase the audience is fooled into thinking that Jess is altering the cycle when in fact she is simply playing her proper role in the alternate phase. In each phase there are three versions of Jess denoted by 1, 2 and 3. The phase alternates between A and B each time all the minor characters are killed and the tertiary Jess character is thrown overboard. The surviving two Jess characters advance from primary to secondary and secondary to tertiary, respectively and a new primary Jess character boards the ship.

A phase: (Film focuses on A1-Jess)

Once the group is on the Aeolus they read about the story of Sisyphus at which point A2-Jess drops her keys and the keys are found by the group. The entire group enters the ballroom of the ship where A1-Jess catches a glimpse of A2-Jess. Victor runs after A2-Jess and ends up outside where he is confronted by A2-Jess. A2-Jess accidentally fatally injures Victor. A3-Jess has her character shift and becomes the masked killer.

Gregg and Jess walk away from Sally and Downey and discover the note written in Downey’s blood to go to the theatre. A1-Jess walks away from Gregg and heads for the ballroom.

Sally and Downy are told to go to the theatre by A3-Jess. On their way they see blood trails from where A3-Jess dragged Greg's body out of the theatre. A1-Jess kills Victor in the ballroom after he attacks her. We are tricked into thinking A1-Jess then runs to the theatre but in fact A2-Jess shows up in the theatre. This is because after escaping the theatre unharmed this Jess obtains a knife. This knife is used by tertiary Jess in the next cycle to attack Sally and Downy in the bedroom.

A3-Jess kills Gregg, Sally and Downey in the theatre while A2-Jess flees the theatre and gets the knife. A2-Jess, with the knife, is on the top deck of the ship and is heard running by A1-Jess who is immediately attacked by A3-Jess. A2-Jess has no further role in the A cycle. A1-Jess eventually wins the struggle and throws A3-Jess overboard. The cycle is complete. A1-Jess becomes B2-Jess. A2-Jess becomes B3-Jess.

B phase: (Film focuses on B2-Jess)

B2-Jess resets the skipping record and then sees the new group about to board the Aeolus. In the hallway she drops her keys for the new primary group to hear and runs into the bedroom to see the note to go to the theatre written in Downey's blood. Downey was killed in the theatre in the preceding A phase so this note was made using Downey's blood from the B phase that preceded this B phase.

B2-Jess fatally injures Victor on the deck then goes below deck, scribbles another note “If they board kill them all”, takes a shotgun and loses her locket down the grate. This scene shows the audience that Jess cannot alter the total cycle and is in fact playing her proper role in the B phase of the total cycle.

B2-Jess prevents B1-Jess from killing Victor in the ballroom. B2-Jess then saves Downey and Sally from being killed in the theatre where Gregg is killed. B3-Jess is grazed in the head by B2-Jess.

B2-Jess gives Downey the shotgun and goes to look for Victor. She returns to the ballroom where his body has been thrown overboard.

B3-Jess tricks Sally and Downey into following her into a bedroom where she attacks them using the knife she obtained as A2-Jess. Sally escapes with a fatal wound to her chest while Downey is killed.

B2-Jess searches for Sally who makes the distressed call to the next primary group. She finds Sally amongst a pile of dead Sallies and gives her the brown jacket.

B3-Jess finds B1-Jess and is thrown overboard after a struggle. When Sally dies the cycle resets. B1-Jess becomes A2-Jess. B2-Jess becomes A3-Jess.

A phase: (Film focuses on A3-Jess)

A3-Jess has a character shift when she realizes that she must kill everyone in order to save them. She goes below deck and writes “Go to the theatre” in Downey’s blood before dragging his body out of the bedroom and throwing him overboard. Next A3-Jess drags Gregg out of the theatre. Victor's body has already been disposed of.

A3-Jess tells Sally and Downey to go to the theatre then leaves to get another shotgun and become the masked killer.

When Gregg offends A1-Jess she leaves him alone and A3-Jess confronts him in a balcony above the theatre where Sally and Downey are waiting. A3-Jess kills Gregg, Sally and Downey in the theatre. A2-Jess flees the theatre and gets the knife which she will use as B3-Jess.

A2-Jess is on the top deck of the ship with the knife and is heard running by A1-Jess who is immediately attacked by A3-Jess. A2-Jess has no further role in the A cycle. A1-Jess drops down one level and grabs an axe. A1-Jess attempts to distract A3-Jess by throwing an object. A3-Jess remembers having done this when she played the part of A1-Jess and cuts her off. A3-Jess ultimately loses the struggle and is thrown overboard where she washes up on shore.

Jess goes home and we find out that the real Jess is abusive towards her son. The real Jess is killed by Sisyphus-Jess. In an attempt to escape the loop she puts the body in her car, takes her son and flees. She hits a seagull and throws its body onto a pile of dead seagulls. She gets back into her car and is involved in a head on collision with a truck. She escapes 'unharmed' and is greeted by a taxi driver. Sisyphus-Jess is in fact already dead and the entire film has taken place inside her constructed punishment.

It is likely that the loop started when real Jess, distracted because she was abusing her son, died in the head on collision along with her son. After dying, real Jess becomes Sisyphus-Jess. The cab driver, playing the role of Hermes, escorts her to the harbor where she will join the next primary group about to board Aeolus.

**

I've gone through this explanation (SLOWLY) a few times and I'm not entirely sure that the notations are consistent. But it at least seems as though there's one plausible explanation in which this film could make sense. What do you think?

15 comments :: Brief, Rambling Thoughts on Christopher Smith's Triangle

  1. I think it's a great explanation, but I feel like whoever wrote this is bending over backwards to explain things that are actually plotholes. While this explanation does (for the most part) work, I just never got the impression that the people involved with the making of the film had this in mind.

  2. Hey Dave Chen, Thanks for quoting my email in your blog post. After thinking about the movie some more, I just had one thing to add. One of the defining characteristics of Charon was that he required payment before ferrying souls to the underworld. Since it's been made clear that Melissa George's character is pretty much broke in the movie, it would make sense that due to the way she died she would not be able to pay nor would anyone else make her payment. The penalty for not paying Charon would be that the deceased would be forced to "wander the shores for one hundred years" (thanks wikipedia). In light of the fact that Charon chooses a taxi cab driver has his avatar you could say that 100 years is the meter that he is keeping running while people who could afford it could just pay.

    It seems pretty fitting that Jess would have to suffer for 100 years, but that 100 years could be just subjective time and not linear time. This way she could still pay her due while meeting her new found obligation to her child by meeting his at the correct time to meet their final fate.

  3. I have to side more with Adam regarding the notion of plot holes. It's not really a Timecrimes or Primer, centering on attempts to circumvent a dispassionate physical property of the universe. Looking to explain each detail in Triangle in terms of causality seems wrong-headed, like trying to argue the consistency of magic.

    To me the film invokes Jess's punishment via a supernatural intercession, implying a conscious force at work, certainly a purposeful one. Whether it's some notion of God, or the cosmos at play, or even Jess constructing her own self-made hell, something has created this situation to punish her. Why shouldn't the details within such a reality be elastic rather than rigid and microscopically reconcilable?



    I’m fine with believing that the Jess we follow throughout may indeed exist at more than one time simultaneously, I’m equally fine with the notion that the other instances of her may be constructs, and like everything else designed in this reality designed to facilitate her punishment. I don’t think the movie provides an answer, which is different to providing an answer that fails.
    


    The thing that haunts me is whether she is doomed to repeat this cycle forever or if there’s a point at which some definition of kharma is fulfilled.

    I saw this on a fairly bare bones DVD but I believe R2 UK edition contains a director's commentary. Perhaps I'll buy it to see what the he has to say even if I doubt he’ll be keen to explain away any ambiguities.

    Thanks for your thoughts, it was a good discussion guys. You should do more of these when you find topics that don't quite fit into the regular slashfilm format.

  4. I have a comment to the discussion you and Adam had. I dont think we are meant to think that Jess' memories are wiped/forgotten when she wakes up on the sailboat. I think it makes more sense that when we see here standing outside the demolished car, this is where her cycle and mind reset. This is also where the original Jess would have started her journey. She's confused and in shock. The only thing she really remembers is that she was going to the docks so she proceeds there. When she arrives and is greeted by her shipmates, the shock slowly wares off and she starts to convince herself, at her friends suggestions, that he really is at school.

    Thanks David for the great podcast and I really enjoy your film suggestions.

  5. I think this makes loads of sense! In addition, I think that Sisyphus Jess loses her memory when she falls asleep on the yacht and wakes up telling Sally she had a bad dream. I also think that the reason the dead Jess first went on the boat was because she had arranged to (as per the note on the fridge) and that's where she was going when she had the initial car crash. The confused #1 Sisyphus Jess went there when the taxi driver asked her, cos she was confused and didn't realise she was dead. After that, she goes thinking she can save the boy, but then forgets when she falls asleep. She only remembers again when she says his name after seeing all the lockets through the grate...

  6. It is also feasible that she resets at the car accident each time and goes to the harbour in a confused state every time? Her vague and confused behaviour would make more sense that way.

  7. I've only seen the film once, but from what I can tell, it wouldn't make sense that she resets at the crash. When she's walking on the dock, two things clearly indicate this: one, she asks Victor (the young guy) if he remembers her, and two, she hugs and apologizes to Greg (my guess is for killing him on the balcony back at the ship). Unless, she's acting on some sense of "deja vu" like she has when she gets to the ship again. Good film though. Very thought provoking.

  8. Great analysis by all.

    I have a feeling it is a combination of a punishment as well an opportunity to accept her death and the death of her son. Also, I think Jess, in the process, is trying to perhaps change her fate by changing the way she treats her son. But from all the different iterations it seems she fails every time.

    You can see at the end of the movie that she is disgusted with herself and this is why she bludgeons herself to death. In the car she desperately tries to convince her son that "mommy is nice", but she gets annoyed that he is whinging and the distraction kills them both......again.

    Enter the boatman who wants to take Jess to the afterlife but she continually returns to the harbor to try again to save her son, and herself.

  9. At 1:05:55 in the movie:
    - Right after B2-Jess put on jacket for the dying Sally.
    - She heard a sound and looked down from where she was.
    - The tertiary Jess was saw killed by another Jess using an axe.
    - Which is, being smashed up more brutally, not only being thrown overboard.

    Just ONE question. Who were the 2 Jess(s) there?

    Regards

  10. I saw it this way too, but it doesn't make sense to me why she seems to forget everything once the cycle is reset. Sisyphus-Jess is supposed to have experienced the entire loop firsthand by the time she gets on the boat, why does she seem oblivious to everything that is happening when she gets on the boat? How can the cycle happen ad infinitum when Jess should be acquainted with everything that is going to happen firsthand?

  11. Actually, nevermind. She doesn't lose her memory at all. The loop starts at the triangle (maybe when she wakes up from the dream?). She goes throughout the entire thing to become Sisyphus, Sisyphus-Jess is the Jess that is seen bludgeoning herself once (the resolve in the scene would indicate she knows what she's doing that time around). Maybe! I don't know.

  12. I agree with those who see this as a psychological thriller where Jess is dealing with her abusive harm to her son and her need (as well as kharma's need) to punish her. Trying to fit the sequences into a nice puzzle and seeing this as some type of time-paradox causes one to miss the entire point of the movie. There are so many triangles in this, it's fun to think through them all.

  13. Hi, I think that I have understood the only possible scenario to make this work. In the light of all different articles I have read, I have come up with another possible twist that I didn't read anywhere but to me is the only ' viable explanation'.

    If you consider that everybody in the film is dead. So basically here is what I have understood :

    - Everybody is leaving a purgatory after-life. The boat crew is also dead so that basically they can team up with the abusive Jess that can never make it to the boat otherwise as she dies in the car crash. Therefore she could never affect their lives unless that they are already dead. Somebody mentioned that the kid with the drums had the the AO symbol on it, this was probably the ocean liner's crew. This is probably why, the neighbourhood is so unusually quiet.
    - The other friends are all meant to die in horrible ways, probably because they just had silly accidents. All probably didn't pay Charon's fare.
    - The surviving Jess forgets most of her memories after that she fell asleep. Only the deja vu remains (why she is acting like a blond at the beginning and repeating the same things (Jess 1, 2 and 3).
    - Each individual is probably playing a role in on the ship. Jess is cheating herself into thinking that she is a 'better person', being supportive and all but ends up being everybody's executioner (like she was with her son). The other guy haven't been enough developed but they were probably normal people who died with their respective flaws and problems. Like Victor trying to kill Jess after that she accidentally fatally injured him. He would have killed her hadn't she finished her job. That is probably reflecting that he was a violent and impulsive ordinary man before he died. etc...

    That is the only scenario that answers most questions and fills plot-holes in my humble opinion. What do you think?

  14. I agree that trying to make logic sense out of a time-looping story is bound to fail. The way I see it the whole movie takes place at the moment where she may or may not die. Kind of like 'Devil's Advocate': a lifetime in an instant.

    She is stuck in the Bargaining phase of Grief. We see her Denial at the beginning (though do not recognize it until later), and Anger is witnessed on the boat. As she remembers her son and her actions, she tries to figure out what to change to keep him alive. But the taxi driver tells her he cannot be saved (implying she can be), which she chooses to Deny, and the loop repeats. We don't see if she ever moves on to Acceptance by forgiving herself, and more interesting to the me- where that would lead: to the next stage of her death, or back to the accident with her alive.

    It's only Hell as long as she does not allow herself to move on.

  15. I read an interview with the writer and he mentions the 'mean' Jess (stabs peeps with knife) has a specific bloodstain and maybe post car accident. She may have come back focused to get through the cycle quicker but ended up forgetting she gets killed in the original A/B loop. So she is missing from your theory. Which works already so apologies!

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