The following is an in-depth explanation of the plot of ARQ, a science fiction movie that was directed by Tony Elliott, and was released on Netflix in September, 2016. Needless to say, this article is only intended for those people who have already viewed this excellent 90 minutes, low-budget sci-fi thriller.
In the near future, the oil supply has dried up resulting in a post-apocalyptic world in which energy wars have consumed the planet. This post-apocalyptic landscape is dominated by Torus, an evil corporation which has plundered the Earth’s energy resources, polluted the air, and created a world reeling from food and water shortages. It also commands standing armies, fighter drones, robot soldiers (ZMPs), and nukes. Standing in the way of its plan for world domination is the Bloc, an ill-equipped band of rebels that is led by a man called “The Pope”, but viewed with suspicion by a world population faced with a constant struggle for bare subsistence. Meanwhile, Toros maintains that it is the true savior of humanity.
The story then begins with Renton (Robbie Amell), an engineer who managed to escape the clutches of Torus, and Hannah (Rachael Taylor), who was not so fortunate and was left behind to be imprisoned and tortured by the evil organization. Reunited a few years later at his hideout, the young couple are suddenly awakened in the morning by three violent masked intruders seeking to steal his “scrips”, which presumably are the currency of the day, as well as a technology being developed by Renton, called ARQ.
ARQ is designed to create unlimited energy and so put an end to the wars that have consumed humanity. It has also allowed him to power his home, air his generators, and grow plants. It soon becomes apparent that Renton’s turbine engine also inadvertently creates a closed time loop. Every three and a quarter hours, the home invasion is then endlessly repeated, beginning each time with the couple waking up at 6:16 am and reliving the violent episode all over again. Of course, this also gives Renton and Hannah the opportunity to repeat their actions and perfect a plan in which they can both escape their captors alive.
Timeline of Events
Time Loop 1: (53 secs movie time )
In the movie’s first time loop, Renton suddenly wakes up in bed at 6:16 am and appears startled, while next to his ex-girlfriend Hannah remains sleeping. Soon after, three masked intruders break down their bedroom door, and while attempting to escape, Renton falls down a flight of stairs, dies and wakes up once more in the same bed at 6:16 am.
Time Loop 2: (1m 58s)
Suspecting he had just experienced a nightmare, Renton is soon interrupted again by the same intruders, who drag him and Hannah down to his basement laboratory where ARQ is being housed. They are both tied up, and the men introduce themselves as Father, Brother, and Sonny, while the “fried” dead masked man on the floor near the machine was called Cousin/Cuz. The men then demand all his “scrips” (money), before going off to help themselves to his food.
Renton assumes that the masked men had Hannah under surveillance, and after escaping his bonds surmises that the men are not just after his scripts, especially after having unmasked the dead man and recognizing him as a Toros operative who had tried to arrest him in the past. The man was killed by 20,000 volts after touching the ARQ, and Renton is convinced the men are actually there to steal the hyper efficient energy turbine that he built. While trying to battle the intruders, Renton is shot in the stomach and killed, before waking up once more in bed at 6:16 am.
Time Loop 3: (9m 8s)
This time, despite Renton remembering everything that happened he is still captured by the masked men in his bedroom and ends up in the laboratory with Hannah. He explains to her that time is looping (“twice I think“), but neither she or the masked intruders appear to remember anything. This time Renton prepares to kill the men with cyanide gas, but Renton’s ploy ends after Hannah fails to uphold her part of the plan. Renton is subsequently recaptured and interrogated by which time it becomes apparent that Hannah is actually working with the intruders. Hannah cannot give up on the Bloc, and threatens to destroy ARQ unless Renton gives up his scripts for the Bloc.
During this loop it also becomes apparent that the Bloc members (Hannah/Mother, Father, Brother) are there simply to steal scripts to fund the Bloc, and do not want to harm anyone, although Renton, still tied up, is still shot and killed by Father. (In a subsequent loop we learn that Father is actually an undercover Toros operative, and that he was there to kill everyone and take the machine).
Time Loop 4: (19m 37s)
On this next iteration, Renton tries to prevent the intruders entering his bedroom but doesn’t succeed in blocking the door. Tied up in the laboratory, Hannah and Renton escape and while in the basement setting up their next plan of attack Renton zaps Hannah and reveals that while working for Toros his supervisors called him a fraud when he told them that his machine was producing perpetual energy. Renton now believes that Toros wants the turbine as a war machine, while Hannah explains that the Bloc has no interest in his machine. Hannah agrees to work with Renton in order to stop him killing her Bloc friends.
After capturing the intruders and tying them up in the laboratory, Hannah betrays Renton by pointing a gun at him and demanding he hands all his scrips over to the Bloc. While trying to wrestle the gun from her, Renton is accidentally shot through the neck and wakes up back in bed at 6:16 am.
Time Loop 5: (30m 12s)
Renton wakes up, and then Hannah and this time she also recollects the previous loop (“just one but it feels like more“). Checking the time logs, Renton sees that the time loop begins at 06:11:06:03 before completing at 09:25:21:09, and surmises that they have so far looped five times. Renton believes Cuz electrocuting himself on the machine shorted ARQ, and caused forward time to bend back on itself, creating a closed time loop. However, they cannot shut down the machine until they are sure they can both escape alive, otherwise the loop will end and they will have to stay dead.
Hannah calls the intruders back into the room, is untied and says Renton will now give up his scrips. She also double-crosses him and says that she will now take his machine to the Bloc. Sonny then shoots everyone except Renton, and requests Toros back-up robots (ZMPs), before asking Renton how to disable the machine. Renton tries to escape, is shot, and the time loop starts all over again at 6:16am.
Time Loop 6: (40m 38s)
Cuz is electrocuted once more, and Renton and Hannah are then captured. They both recognize that Sonny is working for Toros, and when alone Hannah tells Father all about the time machine and Sonny’s main reason for being there. Nonetheless, Sonny still manages to shot Father, before Renton kills Sonny. Mistaking the scene, Brother then kills Renton, and the time loop starts all over again at 6:16am.
Time Loop 7: (50m 59s)
This time, however, Sonny becomes aware of the time loop, and kills Father and Brother right away, and disguises himself as the dead masked man on the floor while he eavesdrop on Renton and Hannah’s conversation. Renton establishes that the time machine resets when its power source runs out; in other words the ARQ is not producing unlimited energy, but it’s just using the same energy over and over. Renton says that the ARQ emits electric magnetic frequencies that can affect memory, with the conversation then going:
Hannah: “We’re furthest away from the ARQ when it resets”
Renton: “Which is why the effect wore off on us first.”
Hannah tries to persuade Renton to take the ARQ to the Bloc so that the organization could use the machine to defeat Toros. Renton refuses and says that he did not trust them, so Hannah says for him to trust her instead. Renton’s still not convinced. Rather than have ARQ fall into the hands of TOrus, Renton says that if Sonny kills him first then Hannah should destroy the ARQ, and he then gives her the self-destruct prompt, SKY. The eavesdropping Sonny does not get to learn the user ID, though, which Renton already told Hannah was the date of their last meeting.
Having heard all their conversation, Sonny subsequently gets up from the floor, captures Renton and Hannah, and demands the Log In password. Renton says that he would shut it down instead, but during a struggle manages to electrocute both himself and Sonny.
Time Loop 8: (1h22s)
On waking, Renton and Hannah are not accosted at their regular time of 6:16 am. They then secretively head to the basement where Cuz, who was originally electrocuted and died, has now been saved by Sonny after being knocked off the electrified ARQ. After Sonny kills Father and Brother it becomes apparent that Cuz, too, is working for Toros. Sonny and Cuz then try to disable ARQ before going after Renton and Hannah. Renton then tries to cyanide them through the basement’s vents, which forces Sonny to kill Cuz, and arrange a trap in which all the dead bodies are lined up in an electrocuted pool of blood by the ARQ. Sonny also places a piece of paper with the prompt word SKY in Father’s mouth, knowing it would draw Hannah into the electrified area. Sonny figures that with Hannah dead, then Renton will certainly want to restart the loop.
During an argument over whether to take the ARQ to the Bloc, Hannah throws an object at a screen which cracks it, reminding Renton of the recorded message he saw earlier. The video appears to show Renton and Hannah in the laboratory with Renton giving an interrupted message (“Listen carefully, Toros….“) just as they are killed by ZMPs and time resets. Neither of them recall the event, and the cracked screen is also different in shape. Hannah then dies after being electrocuted via the pool of blood on the floor, and so Renton refuses to shut down ARQ. In the meantime, ARQ is spinning faster and faster causing time to speed up and before long they both wake up once more in bed at 6:16 am.
Time Loop 9: (1h 10m 29s)
After waking up, Renton tells Hannah that he was sorry for what he said, and that he was wrong, presumably suggesting he was now ready to hand ARQ over to the Bloc. In this iteration, Hannah stops Father and Brother from attacking them in bed, and convinces them of the time loop and Sonny and Cuz being part of Toros. At first neither Father or Brother appear to remember any of the previous loop events, but after being prompted by Renton they soon recall Sonny shooting them. Working together, they are then captured by Sonny and Cuz who expected their actions, and are subsequently taken to the laboratory.
In order to save Hannah’s life, Renton gives Sonny the Log In, (SEPT19). and the command to disable the electrified trap (F6). Sonny insists she touches the machine to confirm it has been disabled. Cuz then kills Brother, and Sonny gets Renton to instigate a manual system shut down to stop ARQ from spinning. Renton throws the switch, and a short time later all the lights go out, Father dies in the confusion while Hannah and Renton escape, and venture outside the house covered in protective items of clothing and a mask, while coughing from the polluted atmosphere.
They see a perimeter of petrified elements which Renton believes signifies the boundary of the time loop, and we also see an aerial view of a polluted and devastated city on a scorched looking Earth. Renton known of a nearby safe house, and asks Hannah to go there while he attends to the now disabled ARQ. She refuses to leave him. Cuz is still alive back at the house, and recognizing him as her torturer Hannah sets him on fire using a container of kerosene and a blow torch.
Returning to the laboratory, Sonny has restarted ARQ, and Renton struggles with him, while Hannah takes aim and accidentally shoots the screen causing it to crack. Renton then kills Sonny by grinding his face against the spinning turbine, in the process spattering his face with blood like in the video recording they watched earlier. The time logs then show 9 time loop recordings per screen indicating that they collectively represent one time loop sequence, and that their memories are reset at the end of each nine time loop sequence. The startling realization is that they have probably experienced the time loop thousands of times. The computer also shows ARQ returning an ERROR: interruption message at 07:14:23:04, when the machine was shut down, with the same error repeated endlessly on the screen. The final conversation then goes:
Renton: “The last time line on every sequence is broken. It’s when I shut down the ARQ and Sonny rebooted it. When the ARQ reboots our memories must reset.”
Hannah: “That’s why we don’t remember the video.”
Renton: “The video was recorded last year. It was a message to us.”
Hannah: “And the ZMPs stopped the message.”
A Toros military operative robot (ZMP) then enter the house, and despite considering destroying ARQ, Renton decides to let the loop reset, and try to get a message to themselves for the next loop. The message is that Toros has found them, and to trust Hannah and take ARQ to the Bloc. In the meantime, the robots sent by Toros breaks down the laboratory door, and Renton succeeds in recording his hurried video message before they are killed by the Toros robots, and the loop resets.
Next Sequence: Time Loop 1 (1h 24m 48s)
In the movie’s last scene, Hannah wakes up before Renton, apparently having remembered events from the previous sequence of loops. This could suggest that they have finally changed things in their favor, and that they may finally succeed taking ARQ to the Bloc before being attacked and killed by Toros.
The Time Loop
The time loop in the movie is created by a perpetual motion machine called ARQ, which in addition to seemingly producing unlimited energy also causes time to loop back on itself. The time loop starts after Cousin touches the ARQ and shorts it at 06:11:06:03 and continues until 09:25:21:09 before repeating, making each iteration 3 hours 14 minutes 15 seconds long. We later discover that the phenomenon is divided into ‘sequences’ of 9 time loops, and that the participants are able to progressively gain memories of previous loops during each sequence, but with all their memories subsequently reset at the end of the 9 loop sequence. This would make each sequence about 28 hours and 27 minutes long, and according to Renton the loop has repeated thousands of times, meaning that they may have potentially been trapped inside its confines for years and years.
Upon venturing outside, and seeing a large circle of petrified elements surrounding the house’s lawn, Renton concludes that the time loop is a localized phenomenon, and that time is continuing to run in a linear fashion outside of the time loop’s circular boundary. It is never established whether or not Renton is correct in his assumption, but if he is then this raises many question on how events and people inside the time loop are interacting with things on the outside. One major concern is how the people inside the loop are experiencing the outside world, e.g. sunlight, TV transmissions, etc, which leads onto another potential problem; what is the nature of Sonny’s radio contact with Toros?
ZMPs and Sonny’s Radio Call
The loop only intersects with the outside world’s timeline at one point, meaning after the first time loop when Sonny contacts Toros the corporation would be aware of Renton and the ARQ’s location. Nevertheless, it all happened just once in the past as far as Toros is concerned and they would only remember receiving a single message from Sonny, and having sent in its ZMPs a single time. Present day Toros would then be unable to re-enter the time loop from the outside again, and therefore the house in the past, due to the time loop’s perimeter.
Meanwhile, all time, space, and matter would likely stay contained inside of the time loop, including the same photons of light and transmissions which entered at the time of the very first loop. Even the view of the outside world seen by Renton and Hannah would be an echo from the first loop, as would be the TV broadcast, Sonny’s radio call, and Toros’ robot response. Consequently, we can conclude that the ZMP robots must have entered the house’s perimeter on the very first occassion just before the loop reset, and this event repeats intself in further iterations, meaning Sonny will continue to receive Toros back-up and ZMP robots near the end of each loop.
Possible Time Loop Scenarios
Time running in a linear fashion outside of the time loop could produce a number of different theoretical outcomes, depending on your preference, such as each iteration resulting in a revised world timeline; or creating an alternate reality at the conclusion of each loop. Another possibility is that all the major events that took place in the first loop are predestined to repeat themselves endlessly in other loops, resulting in the same ultimate outcomes including Cousin shorting the ARQ to cause the loop, the ZMPs attacking, and Renton and Hannah being unable to take the ARQ to the Bloc in time. On that last point, it also seems unlikely that people inside the time loop’s perimeter could just casually stroll outside of its boundary without being blocked, returned to the present, or some other scenario.
Observations and References
TORUS: The Torus Corporation is the name of the organization responsible for plunging the world into chaos as it plunders the Earth’s energy resources. In geometry, a torus is defined as:
“a surface of revolution generated by revolving a circle in three-dimensional space about an axis coplanar with the circle. If the axis of revolution does not touch the circle, the surface has a ring shape and is called a torus of revolution.”
According to Einstein three-dimensional space may be curved and be closed into a torus. In the last decade, physicist Amos Ori from Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, proposed a new type of toroidal time machine which does not require exotic forms of matter to work, but instead consists of a “toroidal vacuum embedded in a sphere of normal matter.”
ARQ: In the field of data transmission, an Automatic Repeat ReQuest, or Automatic Repeat Query, (ARQ) is a protocol in which the detection of errors in a data packet results in a call for the transmitter to retransmit the data packet to the receiver. This process is then repeated until the packet is error free or reaches a set number of transmissions. In the movie, however, ARQ stands for “Arcing Recursive Quine” which suggests a self-perpetuating power source on a recursive loop that generates a copy of its own source code as output.
Mobius: Sonny’s Toros code name is Mobius Common, apparently in reference to the Mobius Strip, a one-sided surface whose boundary is a closed curve. It is often used as a symbol for infinity, and can be created by joining two ends of a piece of paper together to form a continuous loop, but twisting one end 180° before they meet so that only one side is formed. Its infinite nature can be envisioned by imagining an ant crawling along both sides of its entire length and returning to its starting point without ever having crossed an edge.
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called “Time Squared”, we are introduced to the Theory of the Moebius, and as Worf explains:”There is the Theory of the Moebius, a twist in the fabric of space, where time becomes a loop, from which there is no escape. Geordi La Forge then states that “when we reach that point, whatever happened will happen again.”
Time Loop (3:14:15): Each time loop in the movie lasts exactly 3:14:15, which is the first five digits of the mathematical constant “pi”, or the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Renton’s house has a circle perimeter around the house representing the perimeter of the time loop. Pi is also an irrational number with an infinite number of decimal digits that does not end, which in the movie might signify the infinite nature of the time loop.