Coherence is a sci-fi/psychological thriller directed by James Ward Byrkit in 2013. It’s a very complex movie that brings into the story important notions of quantum mechanics and philosophy. It’s normal to be confused after the first vision of the movie, unable to understand if it was all just a dream or the result of a ketamine intoxication, or if we really viewed multiple realities interacting with each other. This article wants to offer all aspects carefully explained: the plot, the ending, and the meaning of the movie.
Coherence: the plot explained
Eight friends meet up one night for dinner. It’s a special day, though: it marks the close passage of Miller’s Comet, and scientists warned the population that something weird could happen that night. This is proven at the movie’s beginning, when we see Emily’s phone screen cracking for no reason.
Emily is the movie’s protagonist, and we can safely say that for the whole vision, we share Emily’s perspective (the director has also confirmed this). What happens that night is that bizarre events start to happen all of a sudden. After some moments of confusion (that lasts at least a quarter of the movie), we understand two crucial things:
- What’s happening is definitely caused by the comet’s passage: everything will be over the day after, so whatever happens that night has to be solved/fixed that night
- The inexplicable events are caused by the intertwining of multiple parallel realities, where every person and event takes place slightly differently. Normally multiple realities never cross, but tonight they do
So what happens is that, while the movie goes on, Emily sees different versions of her friends coming from other universes. That includes her boyfriend too, which at some point shows not to be aware of the ring she wears, a present that the boyfriend of her reality gave her. This is the way Coherence has explained the contradictions so far.
The explanation provided in the movie
The first way the movie explains what’s happening is with the famous Schödinger’s cat paradox. According to that paradox (we won’t go into detail on this – remember, this article is a simple explanation of the movie), in quantum physics, the different possible states of a system all exist simultaneously until the system is observed. The exact moment we observe that system or that object (for example, opening the box), the system assumes a particular state. Initially, the characters in the movie try to explain the presence of the other house as an alternative state of their reality.
After that, the movie introduces a particular area out of the house that, if crossed, can switch your reality and make you jump on another without noticing. The film then uses this area to explain why every time somebody leaves the house, they come back somehow different.
Neither of these elements has fully explained the movie Coherence so far. Let’s go deeper into our analysis.
Coherence plot explained
There are good reasons to believe that all characters could belong to different parallel realities since the beginning. The weird dialog between Laurie and Mike is significant: Mike is the leading actor in a tv show that Laurie loves, but she’s actually unable to recognize his face. That would be the effect of the comet, which is already intertwining the realities.
The different versions of a given character are not very different, of course. Some things related to random events could make them different, but they are substantially the same person with the same life. Indeed Emily is Kevin’s girlfriend in (almost?) all realities. Temperaments, although, may differ. That’s why we see, for example, so many faces of Mike throughout the movie: from the one that just takes it easy, keeps drinking wine, and accept what’s going on, to the aggressive one that breaks into another house and attacks himself (or better, the other reality’s Mike).
We stay with the same version of Emily from the beginning to the end. So at some point, we know that other people interacting with her may belong to different realities. At some point, Emily realizes that the reality she is in contains a Kevin who didn’t give her a ring as a present. Moreover, that reality breaks into a collective fight, where everybody shouts and accuses each other of what they have done in their life. Emily decides then that she doesn’t want to live in that reality. And that brings us to the ending of the movie.
Some questions answered
Just some quick answers before we come to the movie finale. We’ll be quick, promised.
No. Emily didn’t dream about everything that happened. Indeed, the morning after, Kevin receives a call from another version of Emily and understands that something wrong happened. Which is precisely what “our” Emily did in the ending. It wasn’t a dream.
No. Basically, for the same reason as above. The phone call that ends the movie proves that something happened.
Let’s just say that the movie wants the spectator to believe that the morning after, when Emily wakes up, everything looks normal again, so we tend to expect nothing weird really happened. But the phone call is real, and it’s weird. We don’t have a way to explain that phone call or the fact that Kevin hands another ring to Emily, with a realistic explanation. What we saw until that moment was what really happened to “our” Emily.
Now deep inside the movie ending
Coherence ending explained
Emily doesn’t want to live in that reality then. She goes out and starts looking through the windows of all houses around. We then discover that every home stages an alternative reality. And more or less, they are all going wrong: they all fight, and they even get violent on some of them. In one reality, she even sees Kevin hugging too close his ex-girlfriend Laurie. Then she finds a reality where everything seems peaceful and where she sees an Emily that looks truly happy. And she decides to take her place.
She stages a crack on a car to allow everybody out. She knew that even “that” Emily would have decided to get the ring in her car (after all, who knows her better than herself?). There, she poisons the other Emily and closes her in the car’s trunk. A few minutes later, she sees another Emily and kills her too. Then she faints and wakes up the day after.
The morning after, the comet has passed, and the parallel realities can no longer twist with each other: every character stays in the reality they have in front of their eyes now. And in the reality where we are now, nothing extraordinary happened. There weren’t significant blackouts. There was just Emily, who didn’t feel good and slept all night. Kevin finds her ring in the bathroom and returns it to her (except, she already has her own ring). Then Kevin receives a phone call. It’s Emily. Another Emily. We don’t even know which one, actually. But now Kevin knows that his reality has more than one Emily. And probably the one in front of his eyes is a bad Emily, who did something evil.
We don’t know what will happen from that moment on. That’s where the movies end. But we can draw up some conclusions on a philosophical level.
The philosophy behind Coherence
The movie wants to convey a strong message: things can happen in our life that could turn us into good or bad people. Like what happened to “our” Emily with the ballet: she could have been a prima ballerina in one of the many other realities. This is what the plot in Coherence has explained to us.
What we can conclude is that the Emily we accompanied for the whole movie is an evil one. Someone able to kill her copies and steal their realities, as if she deserves it more than the others. In fact, she is much worse than the Emily living the final reality, who is a successful woman that an evil Emily attacked.
Why are so many Emilies in that reality? Well, just because many Emilies from many different realities had the same idea, probably, and tried to enter the only alternative universe where she looked happy.
Why are we so scared by the presence of copies of us? That is the psychological part of the movie. The awareness that we are unique, unreplicable beings is an important safety net for our mental health. It means that we are what we are and prevents us from focusing too much on whether we could be much better or more beloved. The moment we discover that we could check another house and see how we went in another reality drives us mad: we can compete actively with other versions of ourselves. We are now fully responsible for what we are in this reality because it depended only on us. We have no alibis. If another copy of us is better than us, it’s only because we are just worse than them.