It’s a pretty rare occurrence for really good – mind blowing – sci-fi movies to come out. There is a sub-genre of movie-dom that makes the viewer think hard about what is happening in order to keep up with the movie. These movies are sort of like grifter movies for the sci-fi genre, only their tools are time travel, parallel universes, dopplegangers and the like. When you think about movies like this you might think, Time Crimes, Coherence, The Signal, Upstream Color, Dark City, Time Lapse, and Primer obviously. Sure, there are a million more – but we are talking about movies that seem fairly simple at first, and then quickly devolve into mental pilates and cerebral wind sprints.
I first became aware of the movie Synchronicity a couple of months ago when a number of articles starting hitting the interwebs talking about how Synchronicity was a modern Primer… which if you haven’t seen or didn’t like, please, just pull the ripchord on this article. Because it’s just going to frustrate you I’m thinking. But whenever anyone invokes the Grand Priest of mind-blowing science fiction, Shane Carruth, I stand up and take notice. So yesterday, when the movie was released in a limited theatrical release I knew I had to see it right away.
Spoiler Free Synchronicity Overview
The movie deals with a trio of guys working in a low-budget lab, attempting to open a wormhole five days backwards in time. At first it appears that the experiment was a failure but then we start to get subtle hints that the test may in fact have succeeded. An investor that has been providing both financial support as well as the radioactive component that fuels the reaction and makes the entire experiment possible, seems hell-bent on taking ownership of the invention. And to top it all off, there seems to be a woman that is possibly building her own machine, or more likely, steal the ideas necessary to replicate the experiment.
Everyone seems sure that this is a modern Bladerunner that we are seeing. Which is funny, because Blade Runner couldn’t be any more different than Synchronicity. The production design and cinematography definitely take their queues from Bladerunner… think dark rooms, spinning fans with light coming through, lots of dark city-scapes, and external elevator shots. But, let’s be clear, Blade Runner this is not. The movie that this is most like is a short film called Burnt Grass by Ray Wong. (You can jump over and see that film on my interview page with Ray). Basically the story of Burnt Grass, was about a burnt hole in the ground found in a couple’s backyard. And whatever life form was put into the hole was duplicated. And they proceed to duplicate a plant, and a dog… and then ultimately, the wife duplicates herself… and the rest of the movie is about the resulting chaos coming from the decisions to duplicate the things in question. I won’t delve too deep into how that movie spirals out of control – and I actually wouldn’t watch Burnt Grass until after you see Synchronicity if you don’t want the plot to be spoiled at all. The movies are so similar, that I reached out to Ray Wong to ask if he was somehow involved with Synchronicity even though I didn’t see his name in the credits.
Synchronicity is a good movie. It isn’t a Hollywood made film in the least. It was a low low budget film – I’m guessing you’d consider it a micro-budget – but it does a lot with what it has. Most people will not enjoy this film, but that’s mainly because most people do not want to think while watching a movie. They’d prefer to experience the visuals and the emotions of a film, and just avoid using their brain. But for those of us who love a challenge, Synchronicity will be a fun ride as we try and figure out the ins and outs of the plot twists and the right hook of an ending which came as an interesting (though not completely surprising) revelation. Still unsure? Check out the trailer and decide for yourself.
Synchronicity Time Travel Movie Reviewed and Explained
So here’s where everyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet, needs to exit the train. It is a worthwhile film, but not if you know the twists and turns inherent to the movie. I’m guessing it’ll come off as soulless and devoid of passion if you know the inner-workings of the film itself, and thereby rendering the whole enterprise pointless. So shoo. Watch the film (which you can do right here, right now) and then swing back through and join us in the conversation below in the comments.
Synchronicity Overview and Timeline
When it comes to time-travel movies I find that it is extremely helpful to walk through a quick overview of the timeline and to make sure we have the basics squared away first. The movie utilized a naming convention for the overlaps that started with – prime. But as that will get extremely bulky (as you will see further down the timeline) with secunde, tertie etc. The movies naming convention of the Dahlia’s are also jacked up, with one being 014Terminus and the other just being named KMZ014. So, I’ve chosen to abandon the movie’s naming conventions of prime and terminus and am instead going to go with superscripts, Jim1, Jim2, Dahlia1, Dahlia2, etc. Make sense? Basically, at some point I’m just going to go into a fetal position, cry uncle, and start referring to the Jims as Jimx and Jimx+1. But it’ll make sense when we get there.
- Movie opens with Jim1, Chuck & Matty rehearsing for opening the wormhole
- Klaus Meisner arrives to witness the time travel attempt
- The experiment fires, and Jim1 blacks out to scenes of auras
- Meisner leaves, thinking it a failure, but a dahlia is found
- Jim1 runs into Abby, smoking, they both find Meisner and are invited to dinner
- At dinner Abby and Helen spar over inventors vs salesmen (Tesla vs. Edison)
- Jim1 goes with Abby to her apartment
- And Jim1 finds a very similar dahlia in Abby’s apartment
- Jim1 gets a call from Chuck telling him to leave Abby’s right away
- Jim1 goes to lab, and then finds Matty and Chuck being weird
- Jim1 gets the auras again and blacks out – sleeps for 8 hours
- Jim1 goes back to Abby’s – unidentified male (Jim2) answers
- Abby says to Jim1 – “The man who gave me the dahlia, gave me everything I ever wanted except a minute of his time.”
- Abby and Jim1 go to the bar for “breakfast” and to talk.
- Jim1 gives the dahlia back to Abby and leaves it up to her about what will happen next.
- Klaus Meisner finds out about Jim’s and Abby’s relationship, and wants to charge him 99%.
- Abby comes with Klaus to the experiment
- Jim1 runs the dahlia into the machine saying “You may own the dahlia, but you don’t own me.”
- Enter Jim2 into the story and chats with Abby before Jim1 arrives
- Jim2 watches from the bathroom as Jim1 passes out
- Jim2 heads to Abby’s apartment and sees her notebook
- Abby wants Jim2 to apologize for how Jim1 acted (she still doesn’t know)
- Jim2 falls asleep on the bed, Abby goes to get coffee
- Intercom goes off and Jim2 answers and talks to Jim1
- Jim2 finds box of coasters with a pile of coasters with notes
- Jim2 heads to the bar to steal the coaster she wrote on while the had been talking
- “Time is our only currency”
- This is when Jim2 decides he can’t be without Abby, and he’s going to beat Jim1
- Jim2 goes to Abby’s to get her diary, Jim2 begins throwing up violently
- Jim1‘s migraines stop simultaneously
- Chuck sees that “dahlia-terminus” is dying
- Chuck & Jim2 explain to Abby what is happening
- Jim2 take’s Chuck’s place in his suit during the next experiment test
- Chuck, Matty and Jim2 finish process to send Jim2 back once again
- But Matty screws up the directions and goes RIGHT instead of LEFT
- Cut to Jimx standing outside, trying to figure out what has happened
- Chuck meets Jimx and asks him, “You are still chasing after her?” – “I don’t realize I’m doing it until I do it.”
- Jimx heads out of the city at random, picks a hotel, and is told he’s already staying there.
- Jimx enters the hotel room and sees a dead Jimx+1 on the bed.
- Abby finds Jimx on the bed and she is with him at the end.
- Cut to another jump, this time he reads the notebook end to end.
- Abby tells of another time traveler named John who’s lab exploded in fire.
- “That’s a coincidence, my name is John.”
Some will say that this overview was way too verbose, and many of you desperately trying to understand the movie might say I didn’t include half of the really important stuff that mattered! But this will at least give us a single frame of reference to refer back to as we begin to start dissecting this complicated double (double nothing! triple, quadruple) helix of a movie.
Important Synchronicity Revelations & Rules
Throughout the course of the movie there were a number of really critical revelations. But there was no bigger revelation than what it was exactly that Abby was doing. As the movie played out we see that Abby is actively taking notes, and thoroughly listening to every word that all of the Jims are saying to her. She is compiling notes and she is doing something. In the movie summary for Synchronicity, it states that Jim needs to stop a woman that is intent on stealing his plans. And as the movie progresses we see that she definitely is stealing everything he is saying to her. But the purpose becomes clear as the movie winds down. Abby is solely trying to get any assistance for future Jims possible so that he can beat the temporal sickness that is invoked every time he time travels. She has only the purist of intentions in her actions throughout the movie. And she might actually be seen as the real hero of this entire movie after viewing it from that perspective.
The second equally big revelation that occurs at the end of the movie is that the Time Machine isn’t actually a Time Machine at all – but instead is in inter-dimensional hopper of sorts. Instead of going backwards 5 days, Jim is actually leaping into another parallel dimension with similar (but decidedly not the same) appearances. This is important in that we see that the details of each loop is slightly different. I wonder, does that leave one parallel universe devoid of Jims as it is doubling up another? But we will talk more about this in the theories section I’m thinking.
The other important rule or effect, is that we learn is that whenever two duplicated lifeforms occupy the same timeline, one of them (most likely the first to travel, or the terminus identity) will become sick and die. We see this first in the movie as a result of the dahlia getting sick and browning. This sickness also manifests itself more acutely when two identical subjects become closer in proximity… remember the auras? They all happened as they got closer to one another. And these symptoms could include, “lightening between the temples”, nausea, vomiting, passing out, etc. This is an important tell for our knowing when he was near himself before his actually having time traveled yet.
Synchronicity Movie Theory Explanations
One of the biggest outstanding questions of Synchronicity, and it’s timeline, is based around Jim2‘s jump to Jim3, that I have denoted as Jimx in the timeline. The reason I did that, is mainly because it cannot be Jim2 jumping backwards as normally occurred. There are too many differences. Jumping backwards to when the portal was first opened can’t have happened. So what are the most likely theories to explain what actually happened when Matty accidentally went to the right with the dial, instead of going left?
Synchronicity Theory – Situation Normal All F@#$ Up
The first theory is that Jim2‘s jump was just like the others… except, we know that he isn’t jumping in time, he’s jumping dimensions. So maybe the time was right, but that dimension was jacked up? It would explain why he has someone ahead of him (dying in bed at the hotel), and it would explain most everything else that the other theories have issue with. But the setup of the movie during the beginning scenes show that very clearly, Matty almost ended the world by sending the dial the wrong way. So for nothing to have happened seems a little off base. The night time is also meant as a clear indication that something different has happened. And then there is the Chuck scene, where he seems to show us that this has been going on for a very long time… “Still looking for her eh?”
Synchronicity Theory – Flash Forward
This theory is diametrically opposed to the first, SNAFU theory, in that instead of jumping backwards Jim2‘s jump sent him forward instead of backwards. The jump most likely sent him forward a couple days. But there’s more that has to happen in this theory than just that, because there are some pretty large inconsistencies here otherwise. For example, if it is Jim2 that we are following through to Jim3 then how the heck did he already checkin to the hotel and die there? From our perspective, Jim2 is the first one here. So who the heck is dead in the bed? So this theory also has to posit that not only did we jump forward a couple days, but we also jump number shifted to Jim28 or something like that. We get evidence for that later when we see Abby trying to help him and we see in flashback form that Jim’s came and went and she was still struggling to help him by giving him the notebook, etc.
Synchronicity Theory – Ongoing Sisyphean Cycles
Another theory, is that my timeline is 100% wrong, from beginning to end. Instead of starting with Jim1 the movie is actually not starting at the beginning. Here, let’s revise the time opening couple points to explain what I mean:
- Movie opens with Jim142, Chuck & Matty rehearsing for opening the wormhole
- Klaus Meisner arrives to witness the time travel attempt
- The experiment fires, and Jim142 blacks out to scenes of auras
There is ample evidence for this theory, but there are problems here too. How is it that Abby has a box full of coasters of quotes from various Jim’s if our Jim1 really is the first one? Can’t have happened. There has to be something more going on. There is tons of precedent for this within the time travel movie world. Primer is the perfect example of this, wherein the beginning is actually the middle, and there were already multiple time machines running before the movie even started. Right?
But the biggest problem with that theory is that, Jim clearly seems to be experiencing the time travel experiments for the very first time. He’s obviously clueless about the need to open another doorway backwards, he’s clueless about Abby, and is honestly shocked to see her there smoking. Right? So where is this selective Amnesia coming from? Some would say the answer here is easy, like 12 Monkeys, time is locked in, and destined to repeat our past. Many different time travel movies espouse this view. My favorite recent one that takes that view is Time lapse – which you HAVE to see if you haven’t already. Regardless, the biggest defense of this Sisyphean theory is that we see Abby trying and trying and trying to solve the sickness. But this Sisyphean theory doesn’t preclude theory one or theory two being true as well.
Synchronicty Happily-Ever-After Theory
First, thanks to Adam for pointing out the fact that I’m a dork. I completely missed the fact that when Abby said that she knew someone named John who died tragically in a lab fire accident, Jim142 responded with, “That’s a coincidence, that’s my name” to Abby. Which makes him not Jim142, but John2, or, John27, but it can’t be John1, right? He died in a fire?
So this theory basically is the Disney, Happily Ever After theory, which basically means that John27, was finally the John Abby was looking for. The one who didn’t die in a fire, oh and by the way, the one who will (did? – getting to that in a second) resolve the Temporal Sickness that has been killing all the other parallel universe versions of himself. And if that is the case, then we saw a million different failures and then finally, we see that Abby is with the man she has been looking for from the beginning. But maybe not?
Synchronicty Chaos-Ever-After Theory
This theory is a shoot off of the Happily-Ever-After theory… but instead of Abby finally finding her one true love, the one named John, the one that was able to not only solve both time travel as well as it’s sickness side effects, she finds another John, in a long line of Jims and Johns. This John read the notebook of all the various research and pontifications by all the various versions of himself. And this theory believes that he is just one more doomed attempt after all the others. I never promised you a rose garden.
Synchronicity Movie Explanation Overview
Personally, I believe that Synchronicity is a very tightly wound time travel movie that is actually a really good love story at the end of the day. It sets itself up as a corporate espionage movie – but it turns out to be a love story, in search of a cure. The failed flip by Matty most likely is a jump forward, and we are finally seeing what has been going on all along… that this time jumping has been going on for a long time outside our blindered view of reality. That Jim352 was still in this locked cycle of time jumping and then dying, time jumping and dying. And the only ones able to see beyond this endless boulder rolling up hill over and over again is Chuck and Abby. “I don’t realize I’m doing it until after I’ve done it.” is the quote of the movie. And ultimately maybe Abby finally found her “John”, the one she had been looking for all along? Or maybe she just found yet another variation on a failed theme… ? What are your thoughts? Is it a happy ending?
So who knows if my Synchronicity Time Travel Movie Reviewed and Explained post really did it for you. But hopefully it helped you understand it a little better? Don’t buy what I’m selling? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. We have a long history of great conversations here. All ideas and theories are welcome. Just jump in and let it rip.