Movie Coherence Explained and Interview With Director James Ward Byrkit

Coherence is one of my favorite mindjobs ever. Ever. There is so much going on here. Such brilliance. IMDB
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Movie Coherence Explained and Interview With Director James Ward Byrkit. Coherence is up there with Primer as to of the greatest mindjob movies of all time. It’s so great that we even called it out recently on episode 7 of THiNC.’s new movie podcast: Film Exploder.

Sometimes, when I first watch a movie, I’m so blown away by what I’m seeing that I know that I’m going to have to stop, reflect, rewatch it, reflect some more, and then talk about it. James Byrkit’s movie Coherence is definitely one of those movies. If you are new here, complex movies is our bread and butter… so Coherence should have been a boondoggle. And yet, here we are a year or two later and still no massive walk through like I have done for similar movies like Primer, Timelapse, Timecrimes, Memento, Upstream Colour, The One I Love, etc. etc. etc. But the thing that pushed me over the edge was when Director James Ward Byrkit responded to me out of the blue and offered to lend a hand. I will also be doing a longer interview with him about the creation of the movie and his future movie aspirations.

Watch Coherence online at one of these prestigious confectionaries:

Regardless, Coherence is a wonderful mind-warping movie worthy of being added to my 5 Best Mind Bending Movies list… which, while I’m thinking about it, I should probably update it now! There have been so many great movies that qualify for that list over the past year or two. But I digress. Coherence is an amazingly brilliant movie that will completely rattle your cage if you haven’t been rattled already. If you have not watched the movie already, please read my review of the movie – watch it – and then come back.

Stop! Do NOT, under any circumstance, continue reading this post without first clicking one of the links above to watch this movie before hand. Thank you… the management.



Here’s the problem. Coherence is an unassuming movie… at first. And then you begin to realize something’s rotten in Denmark. But its the unassumingness that throws you off kilter, hits you with a surprise right hook. I would go so far as to say that this is the second most complex movie ever constructed. The only movie more complicated would be Primer… and nothing will ever become more complicated than that particular head-job.

The reason the movie is complex is because as the movie progresses, it exponentially ramps up the variables going on underneath the covers of this movie. When Amir and Hugh walk out the door and then walk back in something just happened, but it isn’t even called out. It’s only later on that you realize just how far down the path you have already gone.  And by then, you are too far down the rabbit hole to really make sense of everything (and by everything, I mean EVERYTHING) happening around you.

So how does one go about tracking all of these threads swirling around in circles within this movie? I was so concerned about how to make sense of this movie and so perplexed how to understand what was going on here that I asked the writer and director of this movie James Ward Byrkit (who I’ve taken to calling Jimmy in my head, just because we are tight like that… in my head anyway.) My actual question was posed more specifically as such:

“I’m currently doing the work of watching and rewatching your film with the goal of trying to timeline and locate the various copies and where they went/were going… (as much as is physically possible) do you have any hints? Or maybe a master mind map you’d like to share?!  hahaha.”
His response helped in that it gave me options, whether or not it will help by the end I’ll leave to your discretion. He gave a ton more details that I’ve pulled out of this response, and will share when I post my interview with my new best friend Jimmy, I mean James Ward Byrkit, in full.

“We’ve learned to try to not spoil an audience member’s personal interpretation of what’s happening. That said, there are two ways to watch the film. Two ways we intended, anyway. And debated and planned for a year. One way is to simply follow Em from the first shot to the last shot… The other way to watch it is to use the cuts to black as a signal of something much more complicated unfolding. You wouldn’t believe the amount of debate going into those cuts to black, by the way. How many frames, how the rules work, how the audio should ring out. Amazing.”

So, at a hight level Byrkit is saying watch Em closely. It’s like he’s telling us, watch the magician’s left hand… constantly. Don’t take your eyes of that hand. That is where the trick happens. Which makes sense. It’s a fairly obvious hint, and yet not. And the second thing, which isn’t even nearly as obvious, is to watch the fade to blacks.

To that end, I’ve done both for you, I don’t know how much sense I’ve made out of both approaches. But I’ve mapped this movie both ways in hopes of gleaning a deeper understanding of the movie Coherence and all its moving pieces. So this first map is the individuals that come and go, and who we are looking at, at any given moment. Note, I have bolded and *red asterisked the moments when someone leaves the house.


Coherence Timeline Walkthrough 


16th minute – power goes out, someone says, are you going outside? Yeah, I’m going to check on the power and the generator.

But it isn’t the first exit because they all go out and come back after seeing the house 2 blocks over has power.

*19th minute – Hugh1 and Amir1 leave

Tunguska event explained –

21st minute – Loud Door Knocking assumably by another set of Amir and Hughs

22nd minute – generator working – House1 becomes house on hill for another House?

Hugh2 and Amir2 “come back” with a box – Hugh cut on head
First house visited (house2) is ping pong paddle

*32nd Minute – Em, Kevin, Laurie and Mike all go together – Hugh2 and amir2, Lee and Beth stay at house1

Em leaves main house1 first time POV leaves H1 –


Mike says, I see Lee in the dining room. Turn and leave only to encounter red selves.

Once the four arrive at House2 we see that the blue glow stick box is also open here. Has to be random chance that the same box is opened – even with the blue glow sticks we are at House2.

Em1, Kevin1, Laurie1 and Mike1 meet hugh3 and amir3 – Lee2 and Beth2

*Hugh2 and Kevin1 go to car to get book… 

In this house Lee is asleep, “Should we wake Lee? How could she sleep through the middle of all this?”

When Kevin2 and Hugh2 come back Kevin2 is still blue glow sticked even though they’ve just swapped

Mike1 mentions that while he was out he saw Amir, Hugh and Lee

They realize that Beth1 was napping in the other House so in their house they don’t have the book.

Mike1 goes and wakes Lee2

*Mike1 leaves to blackmail himself with info only he has about Beth

Em1 watches Lee2 and Beth2 re-discuss the vase and the flowers
Hugh3 and Amir3 are holding red glow sticks
*Hugh4 and Amir3 steal the book and the photos and leave

Mike2 comes back saying he didn’t steal the book, but he did drop off the blackmail letter for himself.

Right now, the only characters that have remained since the beginning are Em1, and Laurie1

We see that the wine glass is not broken.

Laurie flirts with Kevin while Em is remaking (or first time) the photos. Em asks about it, he denies it.

All? (minus Amir and Hugh) Go out after car is broken into – Em gets ring from glove of her car.

*Kevin2 and Em talk about the day he gave her the ring at the fair,  

“that was a good day, yeah we’re good. Is everything ok with the broken into car?” And then Kevin2 leaves.

When Em goes into the house it should be:
Em1, Kevin3, Laurie2, lee3, Beth3, mike3

Then, a bit later when Em realizes she’s not in Kansas any longer when she sees Hugh5 and Amir4 arrive back at the house with the book. “Wait, there was a Hugh and Amir here already?”
“Yes, you hit your head and I gave you a bandaid, but not THAT bandaid.”


Laurie reading the book – “Quantum decoherence assures that the different outcomes have no interactions with one another.”

That one note has at least been written 4 times, how many Hugh and Amirs are running around out there?!

They create the key box with a unique item, photos with unique numbers

34th Minute – Em checks the numbers against the previous recorded numbers… They are green.

Em says, “Hey Kevin, do you remember what number was on the back of your card?”
Kevin3 says, “6”
Looking at the papers, Kevin3’s number stolen at House1 was a six – so she is probably talking to ping pong paddle Kevin.

Em talking to mike, “Beth and Lee are from this house originally because they have never left. Mike, you and I are visiting here, this isn’t our house. Which means Mike3 has to have been Mike1 and randomly arrived back with Em1.

She continues talking as she says, “There’s more, Hugh and Amir? Their numbers are from a third house. Neither this house or the other house.” Which understates it, they have actually seen 5 Amirs and 4 Hughs so far.

Hugh4 is stapler
Lee3 is oven mitt
Beth3 ping pong paddle (red house)
Mike3 is napkin – which means that house1 chose a napkin as their item.

Green mike4 breaks in and attacks mike3

Kevin3 goes to protect Laurie2, and so Em1 leaves
She comes to House3 – it’s item is a Monkey, and keeps going

When she arrives at House4, someone smashes the window of the car outside and then someone says, “Why would they break the window if there was no book in the car?” because they are aware that in some timelines the book stayed in the car, but not in this one. (Well we know why, Em later breaks the window in order to get the happy Em out of the house.)

Em continues looking for the “Happy Em” or Em-prime. I will talk about this Em later on in my walk through as she is the single most important duplicate in the movie.

Em gets Em-prime to come out and drugs her in the car.
While Em1 is in the house Em-prime comes back in the house – she hammers her with toilet lid, shoves her in tub.
Em’s ring falls on the floor. She couldn’t find it at first, so she takes Em-Prime’s ring


END OF MOVIE Details – 

Now that the morning has come – Em1 has no idea where she stands. Has the singularity closed? Is she the only Em in this reality? What happened to the dead Em (Em-Prime) in the tub. She walks out to Kevin in the street. He is curious if she’s ok, but then is interrupted by a voicemail. Who is that vm from? Great question. Its from Em-Prime telling him what happened last night with Em1 standing in front of him.

movie ends


So I know my notes while watching the movie are hit or miss here and there – but I did do a pretty good job of concentrating on keeping the number of the characters straight as the movie progresses. Following the characters definitely shows how Em is the center of the story. The movie sort of revolves around her. Which makes the ending all the more surprising. But just wait, we’ll get to a detailed walk through of that in a bit. But before we do that, I promised you a quick log of the fade to blacks that Byrkit told us to watch for. Here they all are – and a quick list of context.

Coherence Movie Fade to black index –
3:25 – Party intro
5:05 – Anyone want wine, cheese, ketamine?
5:48 – He was like plus one, and we were all plus wahh?!
7:19 – if you dont say yes it eventually becomes a no
9:41 – I’m an empath and this door is a vortex
19:21 – Hugh and Amir just left
32:46 – Em and 3 leave house1
1:06:32 – Em realizes there are millions of variants probably

I started thinking about these fades and I wondered if maybe a search for prime numbers and other mathematical equivalents. But I realized that my copy of the movie may not be exactly the same as the one Byrkit originally created. I also realized that I didn’t know whether to pull the number from the beginning of the fade or the end.

And then, as the movie progressed I started realizing that they got shorter and shorter. In the beginning the fades were very long. But the deeper down the rabbit hole Em went the shorter they became. Until we arrive at the end and the 1:06:32 fade and it becomes long again. I don’t really have a coherent (see what I did there) theory about the fade to blacks and would love your theories on how they might work. I personally think that it corresponds with someone coming and going elsewhere across continuums. Which brings me to the comings and goings… maybe we should talk about that a bit.


COHERENCE Movie Transference Rules

Obviously as the movie opens we have no idea that something crazy is happening deeper than the surface. We have twins and triplets, quintuplets and septuplets running around in this movie without any sort of a clue that its going on. But there is something deeper going on here, and that is what I want to wrap my arms around here. For example, how does someone leave the house? When they leave the house, where do they go if they don’t come back? How is it determined where they go when they leave?

To investigate how this works I’ve sketched a diagram of the flow as I see it. This diagram shows one person leaving House 1 and simultaneously leaving House 2:


House 1 on the left… we see the red person leaving the house while simultaneously over at House 2 we see a blue person leaving as well. As they head towards the street they hit a dark vortex that spins them around in a roulette wheel of chaos theory that selects for them what their destination will be. I tried to keep the diagram simple the first time round, but it’s actually a lot more like this:


This flow follows someone as the move from House1 to House2, House3, etc. The russian roulette is a larger field than just two houses, its actually probably an infinite continuum of houses that the individuals can encounter. Ping Pong Paddle, Napkin, Oven Mitt, Monkey… these are just the beginnings of the options available to the each of these individuals.

But what complicates this diagram even more, is that while watching this individual move from House1 to House2 you have to also envision an opposite move for each of these because you always have a doppleganger flipping into the house that an individual just left. House2 to House1. House3 to House2…. etc. Right? And to complicate matters a bit more… you also have multiple people moving at once – and oh by the way, you could also accidentally get back to a house you’ve already visited. Which we have proof happens at least once in the movie. The best quote from the movie that explains how the house movements work is from Hugh, quoting from the book:

“So, listen to this. This is what he’s written. ‘There is another theory: that two states continue to exist… separate and decoherent from each other, each creating a new branch of reality… based on the two outcomes. Quantum decoherence ensures that the different outcomes… have no interaction with each other.'”


Coherence Movie Ending Explained

I originally assumed that the ending was simple… and I got it. But I was wrong. It was only after I chatted with Byrkit, the writer and director of Coherence, that I got a clue. I mean, I was dead wrong about how the ending worked. Like, not even close.

Coherence Incorrect Ending – So what I originally thought happened was that Em1 and Kevin1 were separated… and this was bad. Em1 needed a chance to find Kevin1 and make amends. Sort things out. Em1 needed to apologize for not agreeing to go on the trip with him, and she needed to sort it all out by getting back to him. So as she wandered from house to house she was looking for Kevin1. NOPE. That isn’t what happened. And when Byrkit walked me through it I was so lost at first I thought maybe I had missed something enormous, so I’ll say it slowly, so you can track with me.

Go back to the beginning of the movie. Em1 and Kevin1 are on the phone and Em1 is cut off. He had mentioned that they needed to talk and they needed to make a decision. But the comet passes overhead and cuts them off, shattering Em1’s phone. Then, about twenty minutes into the movie I think? Em1 & Kevin1 have a conversation wherein Kevin attempts to convince Em to make a decision to go with him. He then says the unforgettable line, “Eventually Em, indecision becomes a no…” or something like that. And Em holds her ground and says that she just needs more time, but Kevin moves on. Right?

This is the seminal moment of the movie per Byrkit. It is this moment the determines the ending of the movie. So here is the trick to the ending of the movie… When Em1 is running around from house to house to house looking for a Kevin… it isn’t Kevin1 that she is looking for. If it isn’t Kevin1 then who is it?!?! Em1 is looking for KevinX – and KevinX is the Kevin that she said yes to. Happy Kevin. She utilizes the decoherence brought to them by the comet to change time, and find the one copy of Kevin she made the right move with. She wants to find the Kevin that she decided to go on the trip with.

When she finds the KevinX and EmX that are giggling happily on the couch together she knows she’s found the one that said yes. She found the Em who said yes and who is at peace committing to Kevin and going to Paris together. When she finds the final couple she knows she has to swap places with her, and take over on that tangent of possibility. Yes?


Coherence Movie Final Phone Call

So if it is Em1 attempting to take over the life of EmX’s life (happy Em) then how did the final chat with KevinX break down? Well, we see that EmX isn’t going without a fight. Em1 knocks her out several times and has to work exceedingly hard to dump her in the tub. Then when Em1 wakes up on the couch and the decoherence has passed Em1 is trying to figure out where she’s landed – and where KevX was. Eventually she sees that EmX is gone (carried off by the comet and the decoherence?) and so she goes looking for KevX and finds him outside. KevX asks if Em1 is alright, and she’s like… Uhhh, I don’t know… am I alright?! heheh. I guess? Maybe? And at that moment KevX sees that he got a voicemail from EmX. And EmX throws Em1 completely under the bus. Em1 is outted as an imposter in the final moments of the movie. Does that make sense?

Here’s the most interesting part though. When you stop and think about it a second it isn’t clear whether EmX has been carried away by the decoherence and we are left at the end with a dead cat or not. I originally assumed that EmX and Em1 were locked together in the same reality and that it was only a matter of time for EmX to appear and kick Em1’s butt. But the more I think about the Schroedinger’s Cat experiment, and the way the system works, I’m guessing that EmX made the phone call to KevinX before everything sorted itself out again… while EmX and Em1 still could reside in the same reality together. And KevinX was only able to get the call AFTER the decoherence disappeared, and we were able to snap back to reality again.EmX has ceased to exist in this reality. Which, if true, would mean that KevinX is left with Em1 and he knows that Em1 tried to kill EmX and take her place.

Does that even make sense? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.