What Does ‘Turtles All the Way Down’ Mean?

Lead Photo: Photograph by Courtesy of Max
Photograph by Courtesy of Max

The new movie Turtles All the Way Down, based on the 2017 John Green novel of the same name, will be released on Max on Thursday, May 2nd. The movie stars Isabela Merced, Felix Mallard, Judy Reyes, and Cree Cicchino. And the title of the book and the movie comes from a very famous expression, but what does the phrase “turtles all the way down mean?”

“Turtles all the way down” is an expression related to the concept of infinite regression or the notion that every explanation requires another explanation. More specifically, particularly where it refers to the movie, the expression refers to the mythological World Turtle that carries a flat Earth on its back. That turtle is said to then rest on the back of an even larger turtle, which itself rests on the back of another larger turtle, and so on. 

It’s, as the phrase says, turtles all the way down.

Even though the title sets the tone for the movie and the book, neither is quite as philosophical as the expression makes it sound. Instead, the movie Turtles All the Way Down follows high-schooler Aza Holmes (Isabela Merced), who struggles with thought spirals due to obsessive-compulsive disorder, and her best friend Daisy Ramirez (Cree Cicchino) as they search for a fugitive billionaire and try to figure out what the next step of their life is supposed to look like – and if that next step can include Aza dating said billionaire’s son.

Turtles All the Way Down is the fifth of John Green’s books to get an adaptation, with Paper Towns, The Fault in our Stars, Looking for Alaska, and Let it Snow all previously getting adaptations.