Triangle (2009) Movie Ending, Explained & Themes Analyzed: Time loop movies can be fascinating as well as frustrating. It’s fascinating because you are taken on a rollercoaster journey, expecting a resolution to the maddeningly complex plot. And, of course, frustrating when there are no concrete answers but interpretations you prefer after re-watches and while sifting through message boards. Films like Twelve Monkeys (1995), Primer (2004), Timecrimes (2007), Source Code (2011), Looper (2012), Predestination (2014), and Edge of Tomorrow (2014) withholds some thoughtful sci-fi story as it meticulously constructs its time-bending maze. But then there are also films like Groundhog Day (1993) or The Final Girls (2015), which don’t emerge from sci-fi territory, and use the time loop narrative to satirize specific themes.
Christopher Smith’s Triangle is a distinct work among the time loop tales. It doesn’t offer even a flimsy scientific explanation for the protagonist’s cursed circular journey. Moreover, it doesn’t employ satire or humor like Groundhog Day or Palm Springs (2020). Triangle does share some visual similarities with the Spanish thriller, Timecrimes (Christopher Smith denies seeing the film and that he came up with the idea for the film before his 2004 feature film debut, Creep). But Smith’s Triangle is a somber psychological horror/thriller which utilizes the unrelenting time loops to comment on themes like identity, guilt, and parenthood. A bit of Greek mythology is also thrown into the mix to shape up the intriguing interpretations.
Now let’s get into the detailed explanation of the Triangle’s plot and themes.
Triangle (2009) Movie Plot Explained:
A Single Mother Sets Sail on a Yacht
Triangle opens with the image of a young mother comforting her frightened little son. She soothes him with tears in her eyes, saying, “You’re just having a bad dream. That’s all, baby.” The single mother, Jess (Melissa George), lives in the suburbs of Miami, Florida. On a bright Saturday morning, it looks like she is getting ready to go somewhere, urging her son Tommy (Joshua McIvor), a boy on the autistic spectrum, that it’s getting late. We see Tommy painting a picture and, subsequently, Jess, with an air of frustration, cleaning the spilled paint. The chore leaves a blot on her gown, adding to her exasperation. But she is distracted by someone ringing the bell.
When Jess goes to the front door, there’s no one. She asks her old lawn-mowing neighbor whether he saw anyone in front of her house. He says no. Jess packs her bags, takes the house keys, and persuades her disturbed son to get into the car. Jess is driving toward Florida Harbor.
Greg (Michael Dorman) is seen preparing his yacht for the trip. He is soon joined by his friends and married couple, Sally (Rachael Carpani) and Downey (Henry Nixon). Sally has brought a friend of hers, Heather (Emma Lung), obviously to hook her up with the still-single Greg. Jess arrives at the dock, accompanied by Greg’s young, muscular deckhand, Victor (Liam Hemsworth). Jess looks depressed and is dressed in shorts and a white t-shirt. When Greg runs to greet her and ask if she is okay, Victor mumbles, “I don’t think so!”
Jess half hugs Greg before getting into the yacht, and Greg introduces her to his friends. They set sail into the ocean with the clear blue skies promising them an enjoyable trip.
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A Freak Storm Claims a Casualty
The very tired Jess sleeps in the cabin. She wakes up from a dream where she is washed up on a shore. Heather offers her a glass of champagne. At the yacht deck, Greg asks Victor why he hinted that Jess doesn’t look good. Victor says that when he encountered her in the harbor, Jess looked disoriented and couldn’t immediately remember where her son, Tommy was. It was expected that Jess would bring Tommy with her. After a few seconds, she told Victor that she left him at school. Victor says it’s Saturday and a holiday. To which Greg replies that Tommy goes to special needs school, which might be open every day. Furthermore, Greg asks Victor to be nice to her.
Downey, through his comments directed at Greg’s friendship with Victor, hints that he is gay. Not that Greg being gay or bi-sexual contributes anything significant to the narrative. Nevertheless, Greg is concerned about Jess, who works as a waitress. It seems Greg struck up a friendship with Jess by frequenting the diner where she works. Sally disapproves of Greg’s closeness with Jess. There’s also something not right with Jess as she doesn’t remember Greg inviting her for the sailing trip the day before.
Jess then shares with Greg the difficulties of bringing up Tommy. She also confesses that she feels guilty every moment she is away from Tommy, which somehow explains Jess’ dispirited presence. Soon, Victor alerts everyone that the wind has completely died down. Downey sees an approaching storm, and dark, intimidating clouds instantaneously replace the clear blue skies. Greg connects with the coast guard on the radio and conveys their predicament.
The communication is cut short as Greg hears a distressed caller on the radio calling for help. The female voice says, “They’re dead. They’re all dead.” Greg asks for their coordinates, but the communication is completely cut off. The storm hits them fiercely. The large waves threaten to overturn the puny-looking yacht. Victor and Greg are on the deck, trying to avert the disaster, whereas the rest are wearing life jackets and pinned to the cabin. The yacht eventually overturns, and Heather tragically drowns in the disaster.
The freak storm passes quickly as rapidly as it hailed out of nowhere. The clear blue skies return once again, and the fatigued five sit upon the overturned boat.
Aeolus Comes to the Rescue
A large cruise ship named Aeolus floats into their view. The survivors quickly board the ship as they see someone looking at them from the deck. As the five moves through the desolate corridors to make their way to the captain’s cabin, it seems like there’s no one on the ship. Jess is increasingly hit with feelings of Deja Vu. “I feel like I know this place. I recognize this corridor,” she somberly states.
Downey diverts their attention to an old framed picture of the ship in the corridor. It says Aeolus was made in 1932 and explains that in Greek mythology, Aeolus is the father of Sisyphus, the man condemned by the Gods to push a rock up a mountain for eternity. Subsequently, they hear the sound of something falling on the ground. Victor and Greg investigate it. Victor comes back with a key. Jess recognizes it as hers, which has the locket picture of her son and matches the one Jess is wearing as a chain.
Jess swears that she had the keys when she boarded the yacht. Sally, who still hopes that Heather is alive, says it might be her friend who ended up with Jess’ keys and dropped them in the corridor. The implausibility of such a scenario is immediately doubted. Next, the five stumbles into a ballroom with a neatly arranged feast. Jess sees someone in the mirror reflection and alerts the others. Victor goes in search of this mysterious stranger. Greg and Jess leave to find the Captain, asking Sally and Downey to wait for Victor.
Jess once again emphasizes her feelings of deja vu. Their attention is drawn to a room in the corridor (room 237 – a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining). Inside the room’s bathroom mirror, they find a message written in blood, “Go to Theater.”
A Masked Figure’s Killing Spree
Victor is still searching for the ship’s inhabitant and has reached the upper deck. Meanwhile, Greg dismisses the blood message as some prank by the invisible ship’s crew, whereas Jess is thoroughly spooked. As a result, Greg and Jess have a mild altercation. She returns to the ballroom as Greg walks toward the theater. Downey and Sally are on their way to the theater. Now wait! Who told them about the message? Anyway, they find a trail of blood from the upper deck. Finally, the two reach the theater.
Jess is back at the ballroom and is surprised to find all the food moldy. She is also shocked to find a bloodied Victor trying to strangle her. She finds a nasty gash on the back of his head and kills him. Jess runs to the theater, only to find Greg with a large bullet wound. Sally and Downey are hysterical and accuse Jess of killing Greg. It was allegedly the last words of Greg. Downey questions Jess on why she asked them to come to the theater. Jess denies meeting them on her way to the ballroom after being with Greg.
Before finding an answer to this confusion, Sally is gunned down by some masked figure in the upper gallery of the theater. Both Sally and Downey perish due to the bullet wounds. The masked killer chases Jess, who is held at gunpoint on the upper deck. Jess surprisingly overpowers the murderer. Intimidated by the axe in Jess’ hands, the masked figure mutters, “It’s the only way to get home,” and repeats the phrase, “Kill them!” Before Jess takes a swing with her axe, the killer falls off the ship.
Jess doesn’t get much time to reflect on the traumatic incident. She hears voices and witnesses the same stranded five (including another version of her) waving from the overturned yacht. Now it becomes clear that the ‘someone’ the previous group of five saw at the upper deck is another lone survivor. Therefore, is Jess the masked killer? And is the present Jess destined to go on the killing spree like her past self – the one who just fell off the ship?
Who Is the Masked Murderer?
The new group of five board the cruise ship, and everything happens just as it is supposed to happen. The survivor Jess spies on the newly boarded Jess, who is hit with feelings of Deja Vu. The survivor Jess drops the keys and goes to the ballroom. The other Jess catches a glimpse of her in the mirror, and new Victor goes to find the mysterious stranger. She finds Victor and tries to explain to him that there is a copy of herself downstairs and that they’re all going to die. Naturally, Victor doesn’t trust the survivor Jess’ words, and soon she accidentally causes the gash in his head.
At the same time, the survivor Jess unearths more mysteries as she traverses through the seemingly abandoned ship. She goes to room 237 and finds ‘Go to Theater’ written in blood. Who wrote it? She finds the corpse of Downey floating in the ocean, feasted by the seagulls. Who disposed of Downey’s corpse from the theater? Finally, she finds a bunch of notes at the crew cabin, all saying, “If they board, kill them.” The survivor Jess also writes one, confirming that it’s her handwriting in all the crumpled notes.
She finds the crew uniform, which the masked killer was wearing. She also finds a bunch of heart-shaped pendant lockets containing pics of herself and her son. While looking down at the grate, her chain locket is pulled and rests with the pile. The survivor Jess then takes the shotgun (and ammunition) and first encounters Victor in the corridor on her way to the ballroom. She hides in the ballroom as the new Jess encounters the bloodied Victor.
What happens next didn’t happen in the previous loop. The survivor, Jess, encounters her other self, makes her run away in shock, and consequently stops her from accidentally killing Victor. Nevertheless, Victor seems to have lost too much blood. By the time the survivor Jess reaches the theater, the new Greg is already shot and dead. Before the masked killer from above kill new Sally and new Downey, the survivor Jess shoots at the killer, causing a flesh wound in the killer’s head.
The survivor Jess gives the gun to Downey and runs off to get Victor. But the blood trial indicates that he is dragged and thrown overboard. Meanwhile, Downey starts shooting at someone. The masked killer hiding from the couple takes off the mask, and obviously, it is another version of Jess. The blood on her head makes it clear that she was injured by the survivor Jess. Nevertheless, this mean unmasked version of Jess persuades the couple to follow her. She takes them to room 237, uses her knife to slash Downey’s throat, and stabs Sally in the stomach.
The injured Sally slips away, and while running from the murderous Jess, she comes across a radio and asks for help. This message goes straight to the Greg, whose yacht is yet to be overturned by the storm. Sally finally ends up on the uppermost deck, where many versions of Sally are lying lifeless, with seagulls pecking at the corpses. The survivor Jess consoles the dying Sally and witnesses the fight between the new Jess and the unmasked Jess. Contrary to what happened before, the unmasked Jess is bludgeoned to death this time. Then her corpse is thrown off the ship. A few moments later, the new Jess witnesses another group of five, and a new cycle starts.
Everything Is Predestined?
Now the survivor Jess, aka the original Jess, is destined to become the masked killer. It becomes clear that within a time loop, there are three versions of Jess: the one with feelings of deja vu; the survivor; and the killer. However, events in the two time loops we witnessed differed slightly though the outcome was more or less similar. We will come back to that later.
The original Jess is now a silent observer, following the movements of those bound to repeat the events. She goes into full-fledged action mode, completely detaching herself from others. The original Jess goes to room 237 to find the corpse of Downey. She disposes of it and writes with his blood, ‘Go to Theater’ in the bathroom mirror. She also takes away Greg’s corpse in the theater and visits the new set of Downey and Sally to tell them to go to the theater. Now she wears the uniform, a mask with two eye holes, and carries a shotgun.
First, she points her gun at the new Greg, who identifies her by looking at the slippers. Though it doesn’t make any sense to Greg, the original Jess promises to break the loop. Then she shoots him, Sally, and Downey. The new version of Jess escapes, just like what happened during the first time loop. The chaser is now the one who is chased. Before jumping off the liner, our original, masked Jess says to the other one, “It’s the only way to save our son. You have to kill them.”
Journey Back Home and the Harsh Truth
The original Jess is washed up on the shores. It looks like the dream had come true (the dream while napping in the yacht cabin). She finds her way home from the beach. Once again, it’s Saturday, and the original Jess finds the Jess who is yet to board the yacht. The Jess we find inside the home differs from the loving mother image we initially received. She yells at Tommy for leaving the toy yacht ship in the garden. The paint falls down the floor when Tommy looks at our original Jess outside his window and panics. The enraged other Jess beats the boy.
Upon witnessing all this, the original Jess instantly cooks up a plan. She rings the doorbell, and when the other Jess is distracted, she gets a hammer from the backyard, enters the home, and brutally kills the angry Jess. Tommy gets a glimpse of this, and it’s when she consoles her boy by telling him that it’s all a bad dream. Now we understand the fragmented or disjointed nature of the film’s opening scene. The original Jess packs the dress and the corpse in a large bag. She also takes the locket chain from the dead woman (the one that fell down the grate in the ship). She puts the bag in the trunk and gets into the car with Tommy.
The Broken Promises of Jess
While driving towards the harbor, she promises that she won’t hit Tommy hereafter. She assures him that she is a nice mommy. As she calms him, a seagull crashes into the car’s windshield. The original Jess stops the car, takes the dead bird, and goes to throw it on the beach. After throwing it, she sees a pile of seagulls thrown at the exact spot. It reminds us of the images of the pile of crumpled papers, locket chains, and dead Sallys. It becomes clear to Jess that everything is still predestined.
She starts driving, but Tommy screams at the blood on the windshield. While original Jess is momentarily distracted by Tommy’s screams, the car veers a little and gets thrown off after mildly crashing with a large truck. Everyone rushes to the spot, and we see the dead Jess from the car trunk and Tommy, who is beyond saving. The original Jess looks at them. She doesn’t have a single scratch on her body. No one notices her, except for a man, who simply calls himself a ‘Driver.’ She asks him to take her to the harbor.
The driver asks, “You’ll come back, won’t you?” to which she replies, “Yes, I promise.” She reaches the dock and sees Victor, who asks her about Tommy. She goes to Greg, hugs him, and joins the others in the yacht to set sailing. The loop continues, and the screen cuts to black.
Triangle (2009) Movie Ending, Explained:
Two Sequences of Events and Two Different Outcomes?
The film’s title, Triangle, initially seems only to indicate the inexplicable mystery at its center, like the Bermuda Triangle. But it also represents the three Jess who is present throughout a single time loop. The past Jess never intercepts the original Jess or stops her from killing Victor. The original Jess doesn’t unmask the individual when she fights the masked killer. The original Jess also doesn’t kill the killer, but she only sees the person falling off the liner.
Going by this logic, when the original Jess boards the cruise ship, there are already two past versions of her on the ship. Hence, the original Jess – the Jess we follow – is the third Jess. This third Jess, aka the original Jess, forces the 1st Jess (the masked killer) to jump into the ocean. The third Jess also intercepts the fourth Jess (the newly boarded one) and stops her from killing the bloodied Victor, saves Sally and Downey at the theatre, takes a shot at the other masked killer, and causes a flesh wound to her. This injured one could be the second Jess, who unmasks herself and later kills Downey in room 237. Subsequently, the third Jess watches the fourth Jess killing the second Jess and throwing her corpse into the sea.
Once that’s done, the fifth Jess, with others stranded in the overturned yacht, boards the liner. The fifth Jess faces the set of events that the third Jess encountered. The third Jess, now the masked killer, kills Greg, Sally, and Downey without any interception, and she eventually jumps from the ship as the fifth Jess swings her axe. It’s still unclear what the exact sequence of events is for the even-numbered Jess. Nevertheless, at the end of the loop, two Jess fight each other. The even-numbered Jess kills the other even-numbered Jess, whereas the odd-numbered Jess washes up ashore.
The Ending is the Beginning
Once the third Jess, or original Jess, reaches home and finds that it’s again Saturday morning, we know it’s not good news. The fragmented nature of the beginning we witnessed was simply designed to hide the darker side of Jess’ burden of single parenthood. Now that the original Jess watches from the other side, she goes to extreme lengths to protect her boy. However, when she throws the dead seagull on the beach, it spells out that it’s too late to change things.
What can be the Reason for the Existence of this Weird Time Loop?
Triangle primarily unfolds in the ocean, and our attention is diverted to what unfolds in the yacht and the abandoned cruise ship. We obsess over the sequence of events, the odd and even Jess, and so on. But the time loop can simply be the bizarre afterlife of Jess, who, unable to accept her son’s death, still looks at ways to change the past. Of course, one can question then who are those five people on the yacht (including Heather) and whether they are just cursed to die again and again? I think, eventually, the individuals from the yacht don’t affect the events of the time loop in any significant manner, and Christopher Smith’s writing curses their characterizations.
Two things don’t make sense in Triangle if we don’t rely on the mythological or otherworldly explanations for Jess getting stuck in the time loop: Why did no one notice the original Jess (she survives the accident without a scratch) apart from the driver? How can the original Jess reach the dock at the final scene with no memory of what unfolded before? The rational explanation for the second question would be that she suffered a concussion from the accident and has forgotten the recent events. We could also conclude that her memory of the recent past is wiped clean when she is on the yacht and takes a nap. But the driver character and the promise she makes to him reminds us of Charon, the ferryman from Greek mythology. He rows the souls of the dead across the river Styx to the Greek underworld, Hades.
Maybe the driver is set to take Jess to her afterlife. His mode of transport is simply a taxi. Or he is the representation of death itself, like the stark black robe figure from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957). Unfortunately, she breaks the promise made to him and gets stuck on a quest to save her boy. Earlier in the narrative, Christopher Smith throws references to Sisyphus – cursed to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity – and his father, Aeolus.
Whether we believe in the Greek mythology interpretation or not, it’s safe to assume that the Jess we follow on-screen is a manifestation of the dead, guilt-ridden single mother. There’s an overturned toy yacht in the kiddie pool in the garden. Her house number in the suburbs is 237. Triangle could simply be about Jess having a meltdown on this particular Saturday when she is supposed to go on a sailing trip with a man she likes. The anxiety over the impending trip and the minor setbacks in the morning aggravate her mood, and to take it upon vulnerable Tommy. The ensuing guilt only doubles up her anxiety and self-hatred. Then a little bit of distraction on the road causes the accident, and they are dead.
Eventually, Triangle offers a thrilling movie experience. Finding a concrete answer to the reason for the time loop or the logic within the time loop can be beyond us, viewers. Perhaps, even Christopher Smith doesn’t have all the answers and is having a laugh as we go crazy to solve the puzzle he has created.
Triangle (2009) Themes & Visual Motifs Explained:
The stress of being a ‘good mother’ to her autistic son has deeply impacted Jess. We don’t know anything about her apart from the fact that she is a single mother, living in a more than decent suburban house, and works as a waitress. Hence the narrow identity of a mother with a special needs kid always makes her question whether she is fulfilling the duties of a mother. At the same time, there’s a frustrated and enraged side to Jess, like any other human being, which seeks a respite from the burden of identity and duties, even if it’s for a day. Such feelings of frustration make Jess abusive, damaging the child she very much wants to protect. Her anger, the self-hatred that comes out of it, and the thought of releasing herself from the responsibility of motherhood naturally evoke feelings of guilt.
During an earlier friendly conversation with Greg, Jess speaks about the guilt she feels whenever she’s not with Tommy. Later, when they both have a heated conversation in the corridors of the liner, Jess speaks about how Tommy is her whole world. That kind of emotional weight-lifting can break any individual.
Sin and Punishment
One interpretation of the maddening time loop is that it is a representation of hell. Jess is being punished for physically abusing her son, Tommy. She is eternally damned to repeat the horrific violence under the pretense of saving her son. In fact, the reference to Sisyphus makes it clear that Jess is doomed to repeat the cycle again and again.
One of the most recurring visual motifs in Triangle is the seagull. It serves as a captivating foreshadowing device. One of the prevalent sailor superstitions is that killing a seagull is a bad omen. In his interviews, writer/director Christopher Smith mentioned that seagulls in the narrative refer to Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. The poem recounts a mariner’s experiences of a curse when he shoots an albatross with his crossbow.
From a visual standpoint, seagulls hint that Jess is still stuck within the time loop, even though she has made it to the land. Inside Jess’ house, there’s a picture of the seagull, and seagulls follow Jess everywhere. In hindsight, we can find dark humor when Greg says the seagull will go hungry by misjudging the yacht as a fishing boat. Little did he know that they are its food, as we later see the corpse of Downey and many lifeless Sallys getting pecked by seagulls.
Perhaps, apart from breaking the promise she made to Death, Jess is condemned to repeat her actions because she was cursed for killing seagulls. Anyway, poor seagulls; one of them, suffered a more grim fate in Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse (2018).
Mirrors are another recurring visual motif in the narrative. On two occasions, Jess looks at her reflection in the broken mirror, representing her splintered sense of self. It’s as if Jess is fighting with her darkest impulses when she looks at herself in the mirror. Interestingly, the Jess we follow in the narrative lands the blows with a hammer on the abusive Jess’s skull just as she is sitting in front of the mirror.
Triangle was the third feature-film of Christopher Smith, following creature feature horror Creep (2004) and slasher horror/comedy Severance (2006). The creative and captivating horror/thriller Triangle clearly proves to be his best work. Apart from Black Death (2010), there was a considerable dip in the quality of his films in the subsequent years. In Triangle, Christopher Smith is at the peak of his directorial and writing abilities. It’s true that neither the character interactions nor the characterization of the secondary characters is nowhere as fascinating as the central mystery. Almost all the characters in this limited cast are pushed to behave nonsensically.
Yet, with the suspension of disbelief, we can enjoy this exhilarating ride. Though Triangle doesn’t reveal any complex truths about the human condition, it’s a taut and intelligent horror.