Warning: There are spoilers for the end of The Map of Tiny Perfect Things.
When Mark (Kyle Allen) is first introduced in The Map of the Tiny Perfect Things he appears to be one step ahead of everyone. The thing is, he actually is. He's trapped in an endless time loop and has lived this same day so many times it's almost as if he's playing God. Though, he prefers to say he's playing Batman, the one from the animated series, endlessly fixing his town's little mistakes in hopes of getting a chance at a new day.
When he meets Margaret (Kathryn Newton), another teen unable to experience tomorrow, he realises an important lesson: the world does not revolve around him. In fact, not even this movie, now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, revolves around him. In the end, The Map Of Tiny Perfect Things is about the hidden grief we all carry with us from day to day — or in Margaret's case, throughout the same one — and how we learn to cope with it.
It's a bit of twist since the film begins by tracking the time loop through Mark's rather naive eyes. The teen believes he has been trapped in the most horrible day. He's stuck in summer school and he can't seem to get the girl. Every night his dad (Eighth Grade's Josh Hamilton) attempts to have a talk with him about art school. It isn't until it's brought to his attention, by his little sister, go figure, that he realises his perspective of the day is all off. It's not him who's suffering but everyone else who has lost their future to this endless loop.
His dad, who Mark thinks quit his job to write a novel, was actually fired. That college talk he wants to have isn't about not wanting his son to pursue art but about the family's finances. Mark's dad isn't sure they can afford to send him to art school. This is likely one of many tough conversations they've been unable to have since the day keeps resetting itself at midnight.
Mark realizes that despite his plan to look for all the tiny perfect moments that make life worth living, in hopes it will right the disruption in the spacetime continuum, he's spent this day and all its copies ignoring what is right in front of him. He's put his focus on superficially helping others as a way of helping himself. He's been too stuck in his own feelings to ask why his dad ends this night with a pint of Chubby Hubby ice cream and why his loopmate Margaret has taken such a nihilistic approach to being stuck in the same 24 hours.
At 6 p.m. of each recycled day, Margaret leaves Mark. He assumed it was to meet with Jared, the 21-year-old med student, who keeps calling her. Instead, he learns that each day the girl who's obsessed with finding the fourth dimension has been running off to the hospital, where Jared works, to watch her mother lose her life to cancer. With that understanding, Mark finds real empathy for Margaret. He finally chooses to see this day and the world as a whole through someone else's eyes, realising he is not the most important thing in it.
Previously, he assumed this day was about him trying to win Margaret's affections. Teenage heartbreak being the worst thing he could imagine experiencing on this day. "I thought it was a love story and I was the hero," he tells his friend Henry (Jermaine Harris). "But it wasn't about me. It wasn't my story at all. It was Margaret's."
With those words, the final act of the movie flips and becomes about Margaret and all the painful moments we didn't see. The ones she was hiding because it was just easier that way. The infinite number of times she had to say goodbye to her mom. The alternative though is much harder for Margaret to fathom. How can she go on without her mother? That terrifying question led the teen to make a wish in which she could keep reliving the day just to have more time with her, no matter how painful it may be — and by golly, it worked. We don't need to understand the science behind this time anomaly because emotionally it makes sense. Margaret would prefer to pretend that there is no future so she doesn't have to cope with her loss.
Being stuck reliving the same day is a great metaphor for grief. Losing someone you love can make you feel as if you're trapped in an endless loop of sadness. It can make a person feel as if there is no point of going on, that there is nothing good to come. Margaret often talks about the terrible inevitability of life, how everyone is just sleepwalking through it, ignoring everything that may make living difficult in order to feign happiness. But to live is to experience pain, a hard truth that everyone must face.
Margaret believes that everything she and Mark fixes will just get broken again. That there's no point of even trying. But Margaret's mother (Jorja Fox) disagrees. "We're losing time everyday, but gaining it too," she says. Re-living the same day is forcing Margaret to relive the same pain. It's a punishment that she doesn't deserve and certainly, not what her mom wants for her. Being too afraid to move forward is how someone ends up losing time that can't be gotten back. In real life, unlike the loop, we don't have endless do-overs and there is a good reason for it. The unexpected is what makes life worth living, it is why it makes losing someone so hard.
Grieving isn't an easy process, you must choose to take a step forward, knowing there might be days where it feels as if you've taken a step back. Margaret realises that it is time to take that step. It's actually playing a video game that helps her realise this. "Death is so terrible. So terrible to lose someone," as she defeats a boss that Henry has spent the whole movie trying to take down. "And if you don't face it, if you don't deal with it then you just end up losing yourself, too."
After so many re-dos of this horrible day, she chooses herself, her future in which time will let her heal this wound and many more. She must start to move forward without her mother, as hard as that might be, but what makes it easier is knowing she's not alone. The key to escaping the loop was for both Margaret and Mark to use this time to come to terms with that.