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Opinion ‘The Old Guard,’ ‘Palm Springs’ and loneliness in the age of covid-19

Andy Samberg in a scene from "Palm Springs." (Christopher Willard/Hulu via AP)

This essay discusses plot points of “The Old Guard” and “Palm Springs,” which debuted recently on Netflix and Hulu, respectively.

At one point late in “The Old Guard,” Netflix’s new big-budget comic book adaptation about a group of undying warriors who travel through time fighting for what’s right, the team is betrayed. Booker (Matthias Schoenaerts) has given up fellow immortals Andy (Charlize Theron) and gay couple Joe (Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (Luca Marinelli) to a nefarious pharma exec looking to cure the world of disease and aging and make a tidy profit in the meantime.

But Booker didn’t do it for money or glory, and he didn’t do it for revenge against a teammate who had wronged him. He simply wants to die. He’s tired of traveling through the decades and centuries alone, losing family and then friends and then lovers as they grow old and wither and expire while Booker remains the same age.

“What do you know of the weight of all these years alone,” Booker says to Joe by way of explanation. “You and Nicki had each other, right? And all we [Booker and Andy] had was our grief.”

That longing for a lasting connection, someone to share eternity with, is a key component of another new release. “Palm Springs,” the Andy Samberg romcom picked up by Hulu at Sundance for a record $22 million, is basically “Groundhog Day by way of The Lonely Island”: Nyles (Samberg) has given up, having resigned himself to living out the same day — the wedding of his girlfriend’s best friend — for all eternity.

Nyles is stagnant, a man floating in a pool with a can of beer while waiting to do the whole thing over again. The only thing that livens up his routine is the occasional appearance of Roy (J.K. Simmons), another wedding guest whom Nyles foolishly introduced into this nightmare and who now occasionally travels to Palm Springs from his home in Irvine, Calif., to kill Nyles in excruciating ways.

The accidental introduction of Sarah (Cristin Milioti) into the time loop shakes things up: It gives Nyles someone to spend eternity with, a reason to look forward to each day’s reset. It’s not until she runs out on him that he realizes just how empty his routine was; eventually Nyles ends up visiting Roy in Irvine in the hopes of being tortured to death just to feel something again. What Nyles discovers there is shocking: Roy in a state of bliss. He’s overcome his anger at being stuck in time and has instead decided to enjoy being with the people he loves: his wife and his twins.

“This was always a good day here, you know? My wife in the prime of her womanhood. … Libby’s gonna do a family portrait later this afternoon where we’re all animals. I’m a cuddly grizzly bear,” Roy says with a moony grin on his face as he explains to Nyles how he found peace. “I mean, it doesn’t get any better than that. You’ve gotta find your Irvine.”

This sort of immortal ennui has been done to death: “Highlander”; “Only Lovers Left Alive”; that episode of “Star Trek: Voyager” where one of the omniscient beings known as Q wants to kill himself. That said, there’s something terribly poignant about the sentiment now, in the age of the coronavirus, as we enter a seemingly interminable phase of lockdowns, isolation and loneliness. We all face our own challenges — those of us with young children; those of us with elderly parents — but there’s something to be said for having someone with whom to go through it all. A companion, or companions.

I couldn’t help but think of Nyles’s despair and Roy’s basic happiness, as well as Booker’s desperate effort to discover a way to end his own life, when recalling stories about deaths of despair — drug overdoses and suicides, that sort of thing — spiking during the pandemic. And I couldn’t help but think of my friends on Twitter who live alone, who have spent months in one-bedroom or studio apartments, largely sealed off from fellowship and contact through work or church or, yes, moviegoing. I may be scrambling to figure out how to balance kids, schools and work in the coming months, and that’s no small problem. But at least I’m not alone. At least I have someone to do it all with.

As we all muddle through, those of us who have found our “Irvine” should endeavor to keep in mind those who haven’t. And remember that we’re all struggling with the new normal in our own ways.

Read more:

Sonny Bunch: Want to know how badly we’ve botched the pandemic? Consider the plight of movie theaters.

Amanda Ripley: Four ways to help prevent loneliness while you’re social distancing

Arthur C. Brooks: How to avoid the traps that produce loneliness and isolation

Amanda Ripley: Americans are at each other’s throats. Here’s one way out.

George F. Will: We have an epidemic of loneliness. How can we fix it?