ARQ is a Netflix original. This is a first full length feature film for Tony Elliott. It stars Robbie Amell and Rachael Taylor (you’ve seen her in the first Transformer movie) in leading roles. This is a science fiction movie involving time travel; time loops to be specific. While it is not a bad film, it’s nothing too great. It makes for a good watch but I doubt you would watch it more than once. I had gotten many requests to explain out the film so I’m going get straight to that. Here’s the film ARQ explained, spoilers ahead.
As, always, let’s start at the top. There is a lot of the plot that is revealed to the viewers over the course of the movie. For the sake of easy understanding, I’m going to give away most of the key elements right in the beginning. The story is set in a dystopian future where the world is polluted and the air is no longer suitable to breathe. Torus Corporation is an evil empire that has dominated over the rest. The Bloc is a rebel group that wants to bring down Torus.
Years ago Renton (Robbie) and Hannah (Rachael) were lovers and used to work for Torus. Renton was building a perpetual motion machine called the ARQ (Arcing Recursive Quine). A perpetual motion machine is one that that can keep running without any external supply of energy. In effect, the machine would be the solution to their energy crisis. Torus shuts down the project because they believe it would never work. Perhaps they knew it would work, although their intention was not to use it to provide the world with energy but to use it as a war machine. Renton steals the ARQ and some scrips from Torus and brings it to his hideout. Hannah however is caught and tortured for a long period of time. She is then rescued by the Bloc.
Hannah – Mother
Hannah spends time with the Bloc for years and takes on the code name Mother. The other members of the Bloc are Pope, Father, Brother, Sonny and Cuz. These are not the only members of the Bloc but they are the only ones who matter in this film. Also, you can ignore the Pope. While he is the leader of the Bloc, he has no relevance in the film. Sonny and Cuz are actually undercover mercenaries of Torus who have infiltrated the Bloc. Sonny and Cuz have been instructed by Torus to procure the location of the ARQ and call for backup. This is revealed later in the film.
Years after Hannah is freed from Torus, Renton finds her. She doesn’t disclose to him that she’s with the Bloc. Hannah hates Renton for leaving her behind. She plots with the Bloc to act like she’s gotten back with Renton so that they can steal the “scrips” that he has. These “scrips” are means of getting funds and the Bloc wants it. Hannah stays with Renton at his hideout and informs the Bloc of the whereabouts. The Bloc (Father, Brother, Sonny and Cuz) break into the hideout. The Bloc plans on holding Hannah at gunpoint and getting the scrips from Renton. Unknown to the Bloc, Sonny and Cuz are there to give out the location of the ARQ to Torus.
How does the timeloop begin and how many loops have been there?
Father, Brother, Sonny and Cuz break in. Cuz notices the ARQ. He doesn’t realize it is protected by an electric field of 20,000 Volts. Cuz touches the ARQ, it shorts, Cuz is killed. This event creates the timeloop. The ARQ, as a result of the shorting, bends time onto itself creating the timeloop. Cuz touches it at 06:11:06, which is the time of start of the time loop. The duration of the timeloop is 3 hrs, 14 min and 15 sec. The timeloop ends at 09:25:21. There is no reason explained for the length of the loop but the perimeter of a circle of diameter 1 unit is pi (p), which is 3.1415… so, perhaps something there.
The thing that is told at nearly the end of the film is that these loops have been going on for thousands of times. We’ll get to that later. The theory is that the farthest person from the ARQ is least affected and as a result gains memory from the previous loop the fastest.
The movie begins with Renton waking up with a startle. He doesn’t remember anything as such but sees the time, it’s 6:16. The Bloc come busting in, knock him unconscious. As he gains consciousness he tries to escape, falls down a flight of stairs and breaks his neck. Now remember, the timeloop does not reset soon as Renton dies. It’s not like the film The Edge of Tomorrow. The timeloop continues on till 09:25:21. But we are not shown what happens after Renton dies down the stairs.
Renton wakes up with the memory of him dying down the stairs. The time is 6:16. The Bloc come busting in. This time Renton doesn’t try and escape. They tie up Renton and Hannah. Father demands for the scrips. Renton identifies Cuz to be an agent of Torus. Renton understands that the group is not after the scrips but they are after the ARQ. Renton doesn’t yet know that Hannah is part of the Bloc. Renton frees himself and Hanna and he tries to take down the intruders but gets shot in the stomach and dies. Again, the timeloop doesn’t reset here. It resets at 09:25:21. We are not shown what happens after he dies.
Renton wakes up with the cumulative memories of the prior loops. But has very little reaction time and gets knocked out and dragged. Renton and Hannah are tied up. Renton tells Hannah that he has been looping. He gives Hannah the description of Cuz before she unmasks him. He also gives the description of the rest of the intruders. This time Renton plans to gas the team dead. He takes the help of Hannah and gives her the cyanide canister. He instructs her to throw it into the vent and wear a gas mask. Renton triggers the ventilation system but Hanna doesn’t use the cyanide canister. The intruders capture Hannah and use her to get Renton to reveal the location of the scrips.
When Sonny wants to kill Renton, Hannah interrupts saying no. Renton now knows Hannah is with the intruders. Hannah’s code name is Mother. Just as Hannah leaves the room Sonny shoots Renton. The timeloop goes on till 09:25:21 and resets. We are not shown what happens after he dies.
Renton wakes up with the cumulative memories. Now he knows Hannah is in on it. They are tied to the chair. This time Renton doesn’t cut Hannah loose from her chair. He goes through the ARQ video logs and notices the recordings it has been making of the previous time loops. He notices a recording of an event that hasn’t happened yet. The recording has Renton yelling “Listen carefully. Torus… Hannah!” and then gets shot.
Renton zaps Hannah and puts her down. Hannah confesses hating Renton but she also tells Renton that the Bloc has no interest in the ARQ, they want only the scrips. Hannah agrees to work with Renton as long as he doesn’t kill the intruders. They subdue the team and tie them up. Renton wants Hannah to run away with him. Hannah wants to stay and fight Torus. Renton refuses to give the scrips. Hannah threatens to shoot the ARQ. Hannah shoots Renton by accident. The timeloop goes on till 09:25:21 and resets. We are not shown what happens after he dies. But Hannah later recollects untying everyone and hearing a gunshot. She was probably shot by Sonny. No one knows Sonny is an undercover mercenary of Torus at this point.
Hannah now remembers the previous loop. She remembers shooting Renton. They are tied up again. Renton explains to Hannah that they are caught in a timeloop. Shows her the ARQ logs. They argue about fighting the war against Torus. Renton explains how Sunny is going to shoot him. Hannah is sure he won’t. So they tie themselves back to their chairs. But Renton forgets to tie his legs.
Hannah calls in the team and says she knows where the scrips are and asks for them to untie her. She tells them the location of the scrips. But Hannah also decides that they are taking the ARQ back with them. Renton is tied and is unable to do anything about it. Sonny shoots everyone else and has already noticed Renton’s legs were not tied. He reveals to Renton that he is an agent of Torus. He calls for backup and asks Renton how he can shut the ARQ down. Renton doesn’t comply. Sonny shoots Renton in the face. The timeloop goes on till 09:25:21 and resets. We are not shown what happens after he dies.
Renton and Hannah wake up. Renton tells Hannah that Sonny is a Torus merc. Renton is knocked out. Hannah tells Father to give them 5 min alone after tying them up. They two are tied up. Hannah waits for Renton to escape and calls the guys in telling them that Renton left. She asks people to leave and later tells Father that Sonny is a merc and they need to kill him. Hannah explains about the timeloop. In the meanwhile Sonny knocks out Brother and returns to Hannah and Father. Sonny lies about Renton having killed Brother. Sonny shoots Father. Renton attacks Sonny from behind and subdues him. Renton and Hannah decide to shut down the ARQ – this will stop the time from looping. They notice Father is still alive. Just as Renton is reaching for a first aid kit, Brother walks in on them. Brother thinks Renton is the cause for the bloodbath and shoots him. The timeloop goes on till 09:25:21 and resets. We are not shown what happens after he dies.
Renton and Hannah wake up. In this loop they hear gunshots and no one comes busting through the door. This is because Sonny has gained memory of the previous loop. He kills off the rest of his crew in anticipation. Hannah and Renton discuss how people are regaining their memory. They figure that the person farthest from the ARQ is the first to gain the memory from prior loops. Renton first, Hannah was next and now, Sonny.
Sonny disguises Brother’s dead body to look like himself. In turn he acts dead on the floor in Brother’s attire. Hannah and Renton get near the ARQ and argue about the Bloc or Torus gaining control over the ARQ. They decide if Sonny gets the upperhand then Hannah should destroy the ARQ with the kill key – SKY. The password is the date of their last meet. Sonny gets up from the ground, gains the upper hand and calls for backup. Renton grabs Sonny and touches the ARQ electrocuting them both to death. The timeloop goes on till 09:25:21 and resets. We are not shown what happens after they die.
Renton and Hannah wake up. No one comes busting in. They go down to the ARQ and overhear a conversation. Sonny has stopped Cuz from touching the ARQ. Cuz is not dead. Sonny shoots Father and Brother. Now they disclose that Cuz too is an agent of Torus. Renton and Hannah lock Sonny and Cuz in. Renton uses the vent to throw in the cyanide canister. Cuz thinks he’s smelling almonds. Sonny explains that it is cyanide. Sonny drags the dead bodies of Father and Brother to create a trap. He kills Cuz too and puts him alongside the dead bodies. He puts a note in Father’s mouth as bait and Sonny shoots himself.
Hannah and Renton come in and again have an argument around using the ARQ for the purposes of the Bloc. Hanna throws something and it cracks the screen behind Renton. This reminds Renton about the recording he saw earlier. The one where he says “Listen carefully. Torus… Hannah!” and then gets shot. They notice that the crack is different from the one in the video. They still don’t understand why that video exists as they can’t remember that event happening. Hannah now notices the note in Father’s mouth that reads SKY. She falls for the trap Sonny sets. She walks up to Father but steps on the blood by mistake. The blood conducts electricity from the ARQ and kills her. Sonny knew if this happened, Renton would not disconnect the ARQ and would result in the time looping. The timeloop goes on till 09:25:21 and resets. This is the first time we are shown what happens when the end of the timeloop is reached, how it looks when the timeloop resets.
Renton and Hannah wake up. Father and Brother come busting in. Hannah stops them and explains that they are in a loop. Father also recollects being shot by Sonny. They wonder why Sonny has let them come up to Renton and Hannah. They feel it is a trap. And it is, indeed. Sonny and Cuz hold the four of them at gunpoint and take them to the ARQ. Sonny gets Renton to give out the password. September19 – that’s the date when Renton and Hannah last meet. Sonny gets Renton to power down the ARQ. The lights go out for a brief moment and Hannah and Renton escape. Father gets shot. The two leave the house. They air is hard to breathe in. They share an air mask. They reach a burnt patch which Renton believes is the boundary of the ARQ’s timeloop. Renton thinks that the effect of the ARQ ends at that boundary.
Renton wants Hannah to leave while he goes back to take down Sonny and Cuz. Hannah refuses and the two go back in. Cuz is shown singing a christmas song as he looks for Hannah. She mentions earlier that her torturer plays the same christmas song over and over. Cuz was that guy. The three confront each other and Hannah pours kerosene and burns Cuz. Now the two go after Sonny, who has already called for backup. They go back to notice that the ARQ has been started again. Looks like Sonny wants the time to loop again because he is unable to kill Renton. Sonny and Renton fight. Hannah shoots and hits the screen by mistake. Renton shoves Sonny’s face on the spinning ARQ and kills him. The blood spatters on the screen and Renton. This time the screen and blood look like the recording they are unable to recollect.
Here’s what has been happening. The 9 loops that they’ve counted are part of a single sequence. On the ARQ’s logs they find thousands of such sequences with 9 loops each. Because the ARQ has been reset, the next loop will be the first of a new sequence. Because the ARQ was reset, their memories will not get passed to the next loop. While they think they have been looping 9 times, they have actually been looping thousands of times. Because of the nature of the events and the short time window, it has always resulted in a similar sequence of timeloops where the 9th one involves having the ARQ being reset. The ZMPs (war machines of Torus) start attacking.
Renton and Hannah decide to continue the timeloop. They know that they haven’t succeeded in any of the previous sequences. Buy allowing the time to loop again, they will wake up with no memory of these 9 loops (that we have seen in the film, they don’t have memories of the previous sequences anyway). But Renton suggests leaving themselves a video message. The previous recording (the one with the blood spatter that they are unable to recollect) is also their attempt at leaving themselves a message. But due to lack of time in the previous sequence, all that gets recorded is “Listen carefully. Torus… Hannah!”. They weren’t able to make much of it. This time the events are slightly different so Renton has a little extra time. He records a video message “Listen carefully. Torus…Hannah! Torus found you. Take the ARQ to the Bloc and trust Hannah!” after which he gets shot. In this sequence Renton has been able to record a slightly longer message. The timeloop goes on till 09:25:21 and resets.
A new sequence begins.
Hannah wakes up. The film ends.
Remember the person farthest from the ARQ gets their memory back the first? Looks like in the previous loop, due to slightly modified events, Hannah now ends up being the farthest. In the last sequence, the first to recollect his memories was Renton. This time it is Hannah. So they have changed the pattern from the previous sequence. They have also managed to record a longer message.
Would this be enough to get the ARQ successfully to the Bloc? May be, maybe not. The warning message from the previous cycle may be enough to give Hannah and Renton an upper hand in this sequence. But now given Hannah is the first to wake up, it may lead to them not checking the logs soon enough. Renton is the one who knows the ARQ has logs, so the later he regains memories from the sequence of loops, the later he will check the logs. Sadly, we will not know, ever. That is for you to assume how they end up.
Renton mentions that there is a perimeter to the effect of the ARQ. The effect of the timeloops is only within the perimeter. This means that the rest of the word has regular time. Sonny calls for backup in multiple loops. Which implies that Torus should get calls for backup over and over again. They would smell something funny. But they don’t. The ZMPs show up only after the call for backup. Also thousands of loops means years would have passed for the rest of the world. The Bloc and Torus would wonder why their men are missing and send out search parties. Nothing of the sort happens. It is just more consistent to assume that Renton was wrong about the boundary and follow an assumption that the timeloop applies without a boundary.
In the 8th Loop, Sonny stops Cuz from touching the ARQ. The shorting that Cuz does by touching the ARQ is what causes the time to loop. Given that Cuz hasn’t touched the ARQ. The current timeline should no longer loop back on itself. The loop should break. Which means the thousands of loops shouldn’t have taken place.
If any of you have some theories around this, please do drop a comment.