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Triangle's Overlapping Timelines Finally Explained

The 2009 psychological thriller "Triangle" is perhaps one of the most well-written and intricate time loop films of the last 15 years. Jess (Melissa George), the single mother of an autistic boy, finds herself separated from her son Tommy (Joshua McIvor) and trapped repeating the same horrifying events. She is invited sailing by Greg (Michael Dorman), and they are accompanied by Greg's longtime schoolmates Sally (Rachael Carpani) and Downey (Henry Nixon), as well as Sally's friend Heather (Emma Lung), and a runaway living with Greg named Victor (Liam Hemsworth). 

Their pleasant excursion is cut short when the sailboat runs into a storm and is capsized, with Heather presumed dead. The upturned vessel then comes across a cruise ship names Aeolus, which appears abandoned except for a masked killer on board — which turns out to be another Jess. Our protagonist ultimately finds herself compelled to repeat the same actions over and over again, killing those on board to try and escape her time loop. 

There have been numerous examinations of "Triangle," including interpretations of the events from Screen Rant, and other explorations of the larger meaning and themes of the film, its parallels to the Greek myth of Sisyphus, and the implication that we're witnessing Jess trapped in purgatory. However, instead of looking at the literary concepts behind the movie, we will instead dive into the complicated overlapping timeline the film presents, and we'll explain exactly how events transpire. 

We highly recommend that you watch "Triangle" before diving into this analysis.

Every version of Jess we see is the same woman at a different point in her unending cycle

The film only shows us one cycle of a time loop that consists of two recurring trips to the Aeolus for Jess. Every version of the Jess we see is at a different point in her continuous rotation, and we will explain the complete pattern by following one version for an entire loop, including the sequences the movie does not explicitly lay out. 

The first thing to know is that every time a new version of Jess boards the Aeolus, there are already two other versions of her on board, in various stages of their journey. The second thing to note is that at the end of the movie, when Jess gets back on the sailboat, she does not lose her memory on the way, but is aware of the time loop when she boards the Aeolus again. This means there are two types of Jess who get on the cruise ship: Jess "Type One," who has no memory of past events, and Jess "Type Two," who is fully aware but initially pretends not to know what is going on. It is only after Jess is finally bludgeoned to death (by herself) that she loses her memory and is left with a sense of déjà vu. 

As for the Jess who is at the house with Tommy, she appears to be inside her own mini-loop, consistently murdered by the Jess who returns from the ship.

The two types of Jess alternate boarding the ship, with a total of four groups interacting

The earlier and later versions of Jess Type One and Jess Type Two are interacting with each other, giving us a total of four groups who come into contact on the Aeolus. 

To make everything as clear as possible, we'll refer to the characters in the order that they board the ship. The first Jess Type One is in Group One, then Jess Type Two boards next in Group Two. They are followed by another Jess Type One in Group Three (we'll refer to her as Jess Three) and finally, the last Jess Type Two in Group Four (Jess Four). 

As mentioned earlier, because this is an infinite loop, every time a new Jess boards the Aeolus, there are already two other versions of her on board. Therefore, when Jess One boards for what she believes is the first time, Jess Three and Jess Four from a previous cycle are already on the ship.

Jess One's journey is what we see in the film

When Jess One boards the ship, Jess Three has become the masked killer, and Jess Four is keeping a low profile. After the group is separated, Jess One is attacked by Victor and accidentally kills him in the banquet hall, discovering that his head had been previously impaled. Masked killer Jess Three then shoots and kills Downey, Sally, and Greg from Group One. After their deaths, Jess One fights Jess Three, and Three is forced overboard into the water.

Once Jess Three is off the ship, Group Two arrives, and when Jess Two boards, Jess One and Four are already present. Jess One then accidentally impales Victor from Group Two. However, in an attempt to break the cycle, she confronts Jess Two in the banquet hall. Jess Two runs off, with both leaving an injured Victor behind them. 

Meanwhile, Jess Four puts on the masked outfit and kills Greg from Group Two, but Jess One is able to protect Sally Two and Downey Two, and she injures Jess Four. Jess One then leaves to search for Victor Two, who she finds has been thrown overboard. Meanwhile, Jess Four finds and stabs Downey and Sally to death. After Sally dies, Jess One witnesses Jess Two bludgeon Jess Four to death. Afterward, Group Three arrives. 

Now, realizing that the sailboat returns when everyone is dead, Jess One puts on the masked disguise and the prior events of Group One repeat themselves, with Jess One now doing what Jess Three did earlier. Jess One shoots and kills Greg, Sally, and Downey, and just like before, gets into a fight with Jess Three. This time, Jess One is thrown overboard, and washes ashore before running home to her son.

The journey of Jess who remembers the time loop is not explicitly laid out but can be pieced together

After returning home, Jess One finds another version of herself at the house with Tommy, and witnesses her own abuse towards her son. She kills the Jess at the house, and hurriedly drives off, accidentally crashing her car and killing Tommy. In hopes of saving her son, she returns to the marina, where the sailboat and the group await to depart.  

Just as before, the boat is capsized, but when Jess gets on the Aeolus for a second time, she is now Jess Type Two and fully aware of the time loop. Jess One and Jess Four are on board, while Jess Two feigns ignorance and repeats her initial actions, until Jess One confronts her, as she did before in the banquet hall. Jess Two's goal is to keep the cycle going; therefore, while Jess One is defending Sally and Downey in the theatre from Jess Four; Jess Two kills Victor and throws him overboard. Then, she comes across Jess Four, and while Jess One watches, Jess Two bludgeons and kills Jess Four, instigating the arrival of Group Three. While Jess One and Jess Three fight it out, Jess Two keeps a low profile until Jess One is thrown overboard by Jess Three, and Group Four arrives.

Jess Three again tries to break the cycle while Jess Two dresses as the killer and murders Greg from Group Four. Jess Two is injured by Jess Three, who defends Sally and Downey and yet again, when Jess Three leaves them to look for Victor, Jess Two stabs the couple to death. Finally, Jess Two is killed by the more recently arrived Jess Four, and it is at this point that she restarts her time loop without her prior memories.  

Some unanswered questions still remain

If you were able to follow all that, give yourself a pat on the back and take a breath. We were only able to figure it out after numerous re-watching sessions and constructing several diagrams and graphs (We still can't figure out Pepe Silvia). Although, the plot of "Triangle" is very complicated, the care and detail that went into its construction is truly remarkable. 

However, even with all this information, there are still some unanswered questions. For example, once Jess is killed and thrown overboard, how does she get back to the dock to continue perpetuating her cycle?  Why is she unable to outsmart her former self in a fight? Why do some items reset themselves, like the shotguns and bullets, but others pile up, like Sally's body? And at some point, will there be no more room for a pile of Sally corpses? 

Trying to answer all the questions of "Triangle" might be its own never-ending Sisyphean task, so we'll just have to accept that some answers will remain a mystery.