Coherence takes a heady premise and makes it accessible to the masses in a way everyone can understand.
Choices matter. In Coherence, the mind-bending sci-fi thriller from 2013, they have serious consequences. Em and her seven friends have a dinner party during a mysterious comet event that leaves everyone rattled. As more and more strange things happen, the group realizes you can’t outrun yourself. Writer and director James Ward Byrkit’s oft-overlooked masterpiece is a study on human nature and simplicity. Using actor friends and a mostly improvised script, the scenes feel as organic as any party where alt-realities were possible. The eight guests feel flawed and real, making the freaky occurrences even more interesting. Taking a less is more approach the tiniest of details give context to what and who we are watching. Here’s everything you need to know about that crazy ending.
Is The Tunguska Event Real?
Em mentions a strange event that happened called the Tunguska Event. It is a real event that took place in eastern Siberia over the Podkamennaya Tunguska River in what is now Krasnoyarsk Krai on June 30th, 1908. An explosion flattened trees for miles leaving no debris or impact site. On Feb 15th, 2013, a similar but smaller event happened over Chelyabinsk, Russia, and blew out more than a million windows and injured over 1000 people in six cities. Scientists believe they were both caused by a comet or asteroid which exploded over the Earth before making contact. They further speculate the asteroid was primarily made up of ice, which evaporated before hitting the ground. No mention of interdimensional action was reported, however.
Qantum Physics And Mirror Matter
Mirror Matter could be one possible explanation for Coherence and the Tunguska Event. The mysterious matter could be the enigmatic Dark Matter scientists have been searching for. It certainly fits with the parallel universe theory posited in Coherence in addition to the weird story Em tells at the beginning of the film about a woman. She insists that the man in her house is not her husband following a meteor shower. She claims he can’t be her husband because she killed him the night before.
Mirror Matter is a purely hypothetical theory at the moment, but Robert Foot of Melbourne University claims it could be responsible for the Tunguska Event, and others like it. He points to Pioneer 10 and 11 probes that were launched by NASA in the early 1970s as proof. Scientists are baffled why they are pulled back to the Sun. They have ruled out all reasonable explanations, and Foot has asserted Mirror Matter. He posits when things travel through Mirror Matter, it alters the drag of that object accounting for the mysterious pull on the probes. There is a possible source near Earth called The Canterbury Swarm. It is a cluster of comet debris we are due to cross through in 2042, so hold onto your butts.
Every Decision Even Indecision Has Consequences
Everyone in the house makes decisions that allow for the formation of yet another universe. Mike drinks in some acts aggressively in others, for example. Em chooses indecision and misses out on success because of her fear. Some people choose to leave or stay at different times, and each choice brings a new universe. Basically, every time a new decision is made, a new reality is created. Every time they go through the dark, which acts as a bridge, they enter a parallel universe. The dark bridge is the way to access the limitless realities created by the choice someone makes. The dark bridge doesn’t create the other world; it just allows access to it. You do not get to choose which reality you end up in, though. That is partly chance and partly tied to your interaction with those in the other reality. More on that later.
Existentialism is the philosophy of experience, personal freedom, responsibility, and existence. It is the idea that there is no God only existence. Happiness is found by embracing experience. Every decision, good or bad, has consequences, and those ramifications should be accounted for. Unlike Determinism, which is the philosophy that everything is already predesigned, Existentialism means given a chance to fix mistakes one could correct errors in the future. Unless you went through a Decoherence like that in the movie, you can’t fix past mistakes, but you could avoid making the same mistake in the future. Coherence explores that theme more than any other.
How Many Houses And Realities Are There?
Blue, red, or green glow sticks don’t matter. Who’s napping, who has a cloth bandaid and who doesn’t, and which houses have broken glasses are all subterfuge to establish that things are different. It’s irrelevant for the purposes of understanding the movie. Partly this is true because it keeps changing every time someone goes through the dark space that acts as a bridge between the different universes. No person can ever reenter the world they came from, so with every decision to leave the house, they create more forking choices. The math is astronomical and pointless to calculate unless you are really into physics. To understand what happens in Coherence, a rudimentary knowledge of Quantum Physics and, more importantly, an understanding of human nature is all that is required.
The comet event that created the dark bridge and merging of the realities happened before Em arrived at the party, so the group was already not the same group that should have been together. Laurie is not the same Laurie that everyone remembers as she doesn’t do yoga as their Laurie does, and she doesn’t remember Mike from Roswell even those he was a series regular for years. Laurie came with Amir, so he must be a different Amir as well. Hugh and Kevin are also different because they came together, and the Kevin that talks to Em on her cell phone before it breaks says different things to her when he arrives.
Quantum Decoherence And Schrödinger’s cat
Midway through Hugh and Beth begin talking about Hugh’s brother, who is some kind of theoretical physicist and Quantum Decoherence. This is the single most defining rule to all the houses and copies of each person. It ensures that once people leave the house and go through the dark bridge, they can never go back where they came.
“There is another theory: that two states continue to exist… separate and decoherent from each other, each creating a new branch of reality… based on the two outcomes. Quantum Decoherence ensures that the different outcomes… have no interaction with each other.”Hugh quotes from his brother’s book in Coherence
Essentially each time a new decision is made and someone leaves the house, a different version of the person is flung into another branching reality. It not only ensures the group will be completely jumbled up in an endless variant of houses, but that they can never converge. Mike freaks out because he believes that if they ever end up in the same place as there other-selves, everything will collapse. In this same conversation, he begins to realize the bigger problem. They are all flawed people, and the likelihood of one of them trying to kill others is high. They are their own worst enemy.
This is important as the only person(that we know of) that ends up with another version of themselves after the comet passes is Em. This leads to the phone call Kevin takes while talking to the version of Em, who bashed a different Em over the head with the toilet lid after drugging the original Em from that world and tossing her into the trunk. At this point, there is the Em we are watching, and Em, who was bashed in the tub potentially, and a trunk Em who was drugged and left with her sweater and phone. It’s a big shell game, and you should watch the sweaters and the rings.
I think Em hoped the other Em in the tub would disappear when the event was over, and she could keep her life. The Em originally from that house wasn’t afraid to make decisions and was happier. All of the houseguests are, in fact. They are all the best versions of themselves. None of them went through the void, found the book, or lost power for more than a second, so none of them are aware of the millions of other realities that existed adjacent to one another the night before.
What Happened With Emily In The End?
The Em we had been following most(yes I mean most, not all) of the film wants to find a reality where everyone is not fighting at best or trying to kill each other at worst. She instinctively understands that if every choice brings a new universe, there should be at least one variation of herself where she chose to become the understudy and thus was famous. There could be ones where she said no to the understudy but yes to other things, including traveling with Kevin.
She needs to find one where that Em made the right choices. After seeing countless houses, she finally finds one where everyone is inside, lit up, and happy. Once she realizes this is a “good choice” world, she drugs the version of herself that belongs there and locks her in the trunk of the car. Our Em takes her sweater with the cracked cell phone in the pocket. Before the power outage, Mike asks Em if she was going to let her understudy perform when she traveled with Kevin? Before she can respond the lights go out and now Em no longer has a sweater on and is watching through the window. She turns and finds another Em crawling to the bathroom sans sweater.
Here’s where things can get freaky. We see our Em take the vial with Ketamine in it. We also see an Em suffocate and throw the Em from that world in the trunk. That Em takes the sweater off of Em with her phone before closing the trunk. In the house, Em takes her sweater off again when everyone goes outside. She stays in the doorway and turns in time to see another Em sneaking into the bathroom.
That Em is not the Em from the trunk. She is probably some Em that was looking for a perfect world just like our Em and got drugged by some other Em who is still out there somewhere. That is the point of showing us the baseball bat, and the vial. Everything one Em contemplates the others do as well. Some will choose to hit each other with bats, others lock them in trunks, and still more who will drug each other. The Em that passes out at the end of the movie was drugged at some point by another Em who was looking to steal the perfect world. Maybe it is Deterministic after all, and all roads always lead to Em’s destroying each other.
The Em that drugged and trunked Em in the car is our Em. The Em looking through the doorway that left Em in the tub later is another Em looking for a good world. We know this because of the missing sweater. This Em is similar to our Em in that she was looking for a good reality. This Em forgot to take the seater, though. The Em in the trunk with the sweater has the phone, and she is the one who calls Kevin at the end. At the end, it is two different realities marked by the power outage. The other option is there are four different Em’s all in this universe.
When the drugged version of Em that dragged herself into the bathroom, a different flawed Em hit her over the head with the toilet lid and hid her in the tub. She took that Em’s ring, and Kevin gave her a second copy he found on the bathroom floor. That leaves four potential Em’s in this world. Someone drugged the Em who passed out that’s two. The tub Em and the trunk Em make four. It is impossible to know how many interacted with the group, so we have no reference for who still exists. The tub Em is gone, but she could have snuck out back to another reality before morning. That’s really the whole point, there are unimaginable possibilities.
The trunk Em becomes Schrödinger’s cat. She belongs to that reality and has a phone. She exists just as the cat does both alive and dead until someone opens the trunk lid. The sweaters and the rings are the keys. In the reality where Em drugged Em and left her in the trunk, there were two choices. She could take the sweater and a phone or not. Some Ems take the sweater, and some do not.
When the power goes out in the happy house, we switch from the sweater taker to the sweater leaver. It doesn’t matter though, because the results are the same. Some Em’s have phones, and others don’t. There should be multiple Em’s in good worlds, and those Em’s with phones will call Kevin. In theory, some should have phones if they are left in the tub, trunk, or on their person after being beaten with a bat or drugged.
A final option and the one I think is the most likely is the “good choice” Em seen in the happy house is not the one our Em leaves in the trunk. The Em getting her ring that our Em locks in the trunk is the one who drugged the Em original to that world. It is this drugged Em or “good choice” Em who crawls to the bathroom. The Em in the trunk is another bad Em looking for a good universe.
That Em could have drugged our Em inadvertently if our Em took a sip of something in the house. This theory would mean there are three Em’s. Our Em, “good choice” Em another Em who drugged both of them. The sweater is not on our Em when she wakes, and the tub Em is missing. If tub Em snuck out of the house before anyone noticed, but after the comet passed and took her sweater, she would have a phone to call Kevin with from a safe distance.
Whether you believe there are multiple Em’s left at the end or it was all a dream doesn’t matter. Coherence is a thought-provoking film for anyone who loves to have their mind blown a little.
As the Managing Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre entertainment. I grew up with old-school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. My work can be found here and Travel Weird, where I am the Editor in Chief.