I’m not the biggest romantic drama person (or romantic comedy person, for that matter). It takes something special for me to get to like one, and to be honest, I was not planning on liking writer/director Sam Esmail’s Comet as much as I did. Condensed version: it chronicles the relationship of Dell (Justin Long) and Kimberly (Emmy Rossum) over the course of six years in a parallel universe. We get to see, out of order, how their relationship evolves. It’s tricky at first to figure out what’s going on where, and in piecing it together, figuring out what it means. Once you get a grip on it, though, it becomes a beautiful statement about love under multiple interpretations.
|Honestly, I loved this film.
First off, the timeline. I’ll be honest, I was grateful that I took notes during this one because I had to go back and explain where certain events happened to someone else. In terms of the linear progression, we get their first meeting at the meteor shower, when Kimberly saves Dell’s life and they have the incredible all-night date. After that, the angry hotel room conversation picks up where we left off a few years later. Dell and Kimberly then break up and meet again at the train station, in time for them to bond again on the train and get off before it derails. A while later, they’re in a long-distance relationship that fails in part due to Kimberly carrying on an affair via text with her ex-boyfriend Jack. After a few years, Dell and Kimberly meet again, wherein he learns that she’s engaged and pregnant. Still with me? Good.There are multiple ways in which to interpret the meaning of this film, the first of which is whether or not Dell is actually alive in our universe. I’ve had it suggested to me that Dell was killed by the car at the beginning of the film, and that the entire span of the relationship is an alternate reality that covers the span of a life he should not have had. In it, he gets to save his mother’s life through unethical cancer treatment experimentation, as well as romance Kimberly. Kimberly suggests at one point that maybe this life is Dell’s afterlife, which he is dreaming as a result of his death (hence the flashing of his life before his eyes at the beginning of the film). Considering that the film states at the beginning, “The following events take place over six years (a few parallel universes over),” Dell’s near-miss of death is included in this parallel universe. In theory, he could be dead. In fact, the entire timeline, once viewed in a linear fashion, is an exercise in the inevitable: Dell saves his mother, only to have her later die of a heart attack; Dell stops Kimberly from getting off at her train destination, to which he tells her, “I saved you from Jack”; Dell reconciles with Kimberly, only to have her return to Jack. Kimberly wants marriage and a baby; in the end, she gets both from someone else. If we believe this version of events (death, afterlife), then the meaning of the film is that we get a long relationship that teaches us to move on after accepting the inevitable. If so, maybe Jack is the right person with whom she was supposed to be…
… but then, we take into account Dell’s speech at the end of the film, which completely changes how I view the meaning and the ending. Dell brings up that he almost proposed to her in the Parisian hotel room, noting, “I don’t belong in a world where we don’t end up together.” He explicitly states that this world feels like a dream and that he thinks that there are alternate universes where they wind up together. Something inside of Dell knows that this is wrong, and maybe I’m just a sap, but I think he’s onto something because I don’t want to believe that this guy is completely out of the game.
|I want Justin Long to win. Always.
I don’t think Dell is dead; I think that each of the out-of-sequence chunks of time come to represent a point at which Dell was able to make a positive change in a different timeline, therefore making this particular timeline the one with the most painful growth culminating at the end. Think about it: each progression had a crisis to it that resulted from Dell’s inability to be honest:
Meteor shower: Dell needed to win Kimberly over, and lied about multiple things (including seeing The Sixth Sense).
Hotel room: Dell wanted to propose to his unhappy partner, but hid the ring and his intentions from her.
Train: Dell needed to win her back, and did so under the admittedly false pretense of going to meet someone else in order to get her to talk to him.
Long-distance phone call: Dell tells Kimberly he doesn’t love her in order to spare himself the pain of her emotional affair and the inevitable death of their relationship.
Frame: Dell immediately launches into reasons why he can’t be with Kimberly in order to justify why they don’t make sense together.
Each time, Dell had the chance to own the truth, and there is where I think the splinters of the timeline originate. Each one reflects a collecting point in that particular universe where the alternate decision landed. In theory, here are five other universes where things could have gone differently according to the permutations: maybe he was able to be more honest on their first date; maybe he chose to propose in Paris; maybe he fought for her and didn’t need to get her back from Jack, making the train ride obsolete; maybe he and Kimberly were able to work on things long-distance so that they could go the distance. In this respect, each major segment reflects a “what if” in a negative aspect for him. The Dell in this universe can’t win here because he’s already won somewhere else (and, quite possibly, multiple times).
In the end, though, Dell chooses to fight for her, despite that she is engaged and expecting. He knows that they need to end up together. We get the minute of silence, then we see him rush to her. The implication is that he will kiss her, but really, it’s up to us to wonder: is this the splintering of another universe where he failed, or will Dell actually get the girl this time around?