Two Distant Strangers: Caught in the Cycle – Netflix Oscar Review

This short film shows the worst time-loop ever.

SUMMARY (Spoiler-Free)

In New York, graphic designer Carter James (Joey Bada$$) wakes up next to Perri (Zaria Simone), a beautiful woman he met the night before. He heads home to check on his dog, Jeter, only to be suspected of pot possession by NYPD officer Merk (Andrew Howard). When James tries to resist the unlawful search, Merk arrests him and kneels on his neck, suffocating him. Carter then wakes up back in bed with Perri. It turns out that Carter is now in a time-loop which restarts every time that Merk (or another officer) kills him, and the cops kill him every single time. How exactly do you get out of a cycle like that?

His headphones are in. That’s a bad start to the interaction, but not his fault.

END SUMMARY

I want to talk about the ending of this short film, but I also really think that everyone should see this film without spoilers. It has a great ending that doesn’t exactly come out of nowhere, but also will surprise you in its execution. I give this film a lot of credit for how well it uses the Groundhog Day premise (something that a number of films have been expanding on lately, from Palm Springs to Doctor Strange to Boss Level), taking it to a point of social commentary rather than just using it as a way to explore character growth. I honestly can’t think of another film or show that’s used it in quite this way. Joey Bada$$ does a great job showing Carter as the epitome of a completely non-threatening guy while Welsh actor Andrew Howard draws on his vicious cop character from Perry Mason to give us an immediately threatening villain. Perhaps the best thing about it is that they never actually clarify whether Carter has weed, because it never should matter. You shouldn’t get killed over a misdemeanor. Really, check out the film, it’s only 29 minutes.

The same stop and frisk kills him a ton of times.

***SPOILERS***

At the end of the 99th loop, Carter, who has used the entire loop to talk to Merk and try to get him to empathize with him, finds out that Merk also is going through the loops and, despite Carter’s attempts to bond, is still fully intent on killing Carter. It turns out that Merk isn’t a cop who is fated to kill him, he’s just a guy who really, really likes killing Carter. It seems like Merk is aware that if Carter gets home to Jeter, the loops end (we have no reason to know this to be true, but it seems like the implication). At the end of the movie, Carter is still determined to get home to his dog, no matter what he has to do to get there. It’s a tough ending, but it would be difficult to end the film with Carter getting out of the loop, because the point is that the cycle doesn’t end. The movie then drives the point home by showing a long list of black Americans who have died in encounters with police, including several who were asleep at the time or were killed in their own apartments or by accident. 

Or were suffocated.

Overall, it’s a great short film, but the ending hits you really hard. Of course, when you need to make a point like this, you don’t tap the audience on the shoulder, you hit them on the head with a hammer. 

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