A Parable for Pandemic Lockdown: The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

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A Parable for Pandemic Lockdown: The Map of Tiny Perfect Things
Kyle Allen and Kathryn Newton in The Map of Tiny Perfect Things. Photo: IMDb

Am I the only one who needs, in these pandemic times, to be reminded what day it is? Or what week it is? Or month, or year? One day slides into the next and it’s easy to lose track of time.

Prime Video has released a gentle, lovely film entitled The Map of Tiny Perfect Things based on the short science fiction story of the same name by Lev Grossman. It takes up the idea of living the same day over and over, popularized in the Bill Murray film Groundhog Day. But it contains other elements that elevate it from farcical fantasy to whimsical meditation on life and relationships.

Featuring two talented young actors, The Map… tells the story of Mark (Kyle Allen) and Margaret (Kathryn Newton) both stuck repeating the same day over and over. They discover that the way out of the loop of repeated days comes from being more present to others and by risking vulnerability to the inevitable joys and sorrows of life.

Director Ian Samuels uses just enough cinematic effects to depict the recurring day. Early sequences of Mark waking up to the same day—again!—and going through his morning routine of breakfast and getting to school are intricately choreographed. You see him anticipate what always has and will happen as he intervenes to help the day move along in its preordained form. Whether it’s giving his dad a clue for the crossword puzzle or anticipating a pedestrian’s need for directions, these sequences are clever, playful and engaging. Margaret takes a different tack—finding magical moments in the day and seeking to return to those moments so she can witness them again and again. Over and over again she witnesses events like an eagle catching a fish in the river and a janitor taking a “time-out” from his working day to play the piano with the skill and heart of a professional. With joy she cherishes these otherwise unnoticed moments of beauty and wonder.

When they meet, Mark is attracted to Margaret. As they navigate through their experience of the repeated day, they grow closer to each other, but Margaret seems hesitant. Even after he re-creates her life’s dream—to be a space engineer (it’s amazing what you can do when you have the same day repeated!)—she draws back, seeming more content to surf through the repeated events of the day than to risk a deeper relationship. It’s when they try to escape by getting on a flight to Japan—thereby confronting the International Date Line—that their relationship breaks; they find their way back to each other only through becoming more aware of the challenges they face. The details of how Mark and Margaret do this—and of their respective voyages through their painful realities—I’ll leave for viewers to discover.

Mark draws a map of every location where he and Margaret have witnessed beautiful things and Margaret, ever the scientist, creates a three-dimensional model using string connecting those events; the shadow cast by the model reveals that there is one missing piece. When they discover that piece, their experience of being in a loop of the same day is broken. A new reality emerges, with time resuming its role as the measure of our days.

What begins as a science fiction story becomes a parable for these pandemic times. For over a year now, many of us have been living our lives at home, getting our work done online. Without the daily interactions of our pre-pandemic lives, each day has become very similar to the next. But at some point the restrictions necessitated by the pandemic will be over. Once again, we will be able to sing again, hug our families and friends and gather for celebrations both happy and sad. This film is a poignant reminder of the importance of empathy. I hope that as the restrictions of pandemic time are relaxed—as we re-enter into the flow of life—we will be more mindful of others, more aware of the miracle of being alive, and that we’ll develop our own maps of the too-often-overlooked tiny perfect things that make life so rich and full.

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Peter Elliott
The Very Rev. Peter Elliott is adjunct faculty at Vancouver School of Theology. From 1994 to 2019 he served as dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver.

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