ARQ Movie Reviewed Explained and Discussed

ARQ is a character driven onion of a movie that is constantly moving forward regardless of how much it moves backwards. IMDB
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ARQ Movie Reviewed Explained and Discussed

To kick this discussion off, I have to say that this movie reminds me of a ton of other movies we have discussed FOREVER here. Movies like The Signal, Memento, Upstream Color, Coherence, The One I Love, Synchronicity, The Invitation, and a million others. I’m sure we’ll have a ton of fun discussing this one too. And Aaron? You have won the day by suggesting a new movie for us to discuss and investigate. This movie is called Arq, and it is brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. You can only get it from Netflix right now, but that’s ok, because everyone has Netflix. No? You all have Netflix, or you have someone’s login to Netflix anyway. So please head out to Netflix and watch the film. If you don’t just want to take my word for it… here is the trailer.

Alright, see? Trailer is good. The movie is even better. I had a lot of fun with this one straight up through to the ending. Oooh, I see what you were trying to do there. You were trying to get me to talk about the movie before I dropped a spoiler warning down. Weren’t you? Well, too bad. Tough luck. No way. So with that said, if you haven’t seen this movie, you really ought to move along because about the only thing non-spoilery from here on out will be a random comment about the appropriateness of Australia going toes up. Nope. That’s a spoiler too. DANG IT. Anyway, you get the idea. Go watch the movie and then come on back.

So with that… on to the spoilers

Quick ARQ overview 

Yes, I know you just saw the film, and then you went to Google to find out what the heck just happened… but I think it might be good to do a quick, high level overview. Basically, Renton wakes up, in bed next to his former girlfriend. And while he is stroking her face, three armed, masked bandits break in and start beating him senseless and tying him up. In the next minute, Renton dies, causing himself to start awake back in bed wondering what just happened. There is Hannah beside him. And here come the armed bandits again.

As the repetitions continue Renton is the only one that is self aware of the fact that the events are reoccurring. Soon Renton finds out that Hannah is Mother, and a member of the rebellion group Bloc. (That really startled me actually. Well played Mr. Elliott.) Hannah has actually brought the Bloc to Renton in order to still his scrips (money) of which he has over a million and a half credits (whatever that means). There was no other directive, they just wanted his money. EXCEPT that Cuzz and Sonny are not with the Bloc, they are actually agents of Torus, sent to get the ARQ back from Renton and to capture Renton dead or alive.

We then proceed to get iteration after iteration of this playing out (nine total actually) wherein Renton and Hannah slowly begin to trust one another again and begin to figure out how to solve this quandry they are in. Yes? Okay? Great, that is a good general overview for now.

What does ARQ stand for?

I have to start here. Because this is awesome. And it’s recursively awesomer and awesomer the deeper you look at this name. Ok. Ready?

ARQ stands for “Arcing Recursive Quine” – yes? I literally replayed that section of the movie 4 times before I got it. DID HE SAY TWINE? VINE? And dude, I don’t have a half bad vocabulary. But Quine didn’t come to mind immediately even though I work in IT and it should have. So check this out. Arcing. Recursive. Quine.

Arcing, is that due to the security that Renton enables on the power source? The shocking bit, that will kill you unless it’s disabled? Maybe? Or maybe it is more a reference to the power that the system creates… because remember, this is a self perpetuating power source, not a time machine. It is accidentally a power machine. We’ll get to that, I’m jumping ahead.

Recursive, as in, to recursively loop. Or more specifically, “relating to or involving a program or routine of which a part requires the application of the whole, so that its explicit interpretation requires in general many successive executions.”

Now what about Quine? This is where this gets fun. A quine is – “/kwi:n/ A program that generates a copy of its own source text as its complete output. Devising the shortest possible quine in some given programming language is a common hackish amusement.” Catch that? A quine is a program that outputs itself. (Which is trickier than it sounds. I tried writing one just now on my whiteboard as a thought exercise and was fascinated how tricky it gets – a program that outputs the program that was itself?!?)

So to rephrase what a Arcing Recursive Quine means – it would be an energy loop that outputs itself in a loop of itself. (Not sure I got all the recursions there. But I gave it a go.) All that to say, it’s a complicated name. And the name, and its complexities are extraordinarily relevant to the ending. But wait for it.

What is the ARQ?

Renton built the ARQ for Torus, as a infinite energy creation solution to the world’s energy crisis. Right? It is a cylinder that is fed by fuel, that creates energy that feeds the fuel tanks in perpetuity. So much so that he is able to create plants, apple trees, and other delicacies that the world doesn’t have anymore. He’s able to run his air generators in the home. He’s able to do a lot of things that most other homes cannot do because of the energy output of the ARQ.

But what does it become? Well, strangely enough, when Cuz touches the ARQ at precisely 06:11:06:03 am it kills him, and it also causes the machine to short and loop time every 3 hours and 14 minutes.

start> 06:11:06:03   end> 09:25:21:09   complete

There are details on this screen that actually help us understand the ending a lot better. Let’s just say that the detail was very well thought through here.

Arq Movie World Building Details

When the movie first started I was most curious about what was happening in the world outside of the house. As we progress 30 seconds into the film we start to see blacked out windows. We then see news announcements talking about the chaos going on around the world. And then we start to hear comments by someone called The Pope? And maybe she has been captured? It is a surreal sort of opening and we are getting lots of very key side details that point to an extraordinarily intense world outside.

Tony Elliott (who has written for Black Orphan (can I get an amen?) and 12 Monkeys (oh, yeah…) said in an interview that I read last night after the movie ended (think it was on Oh here we go, here’s the link for you to check out if you’d like.) “Obviously there is a degree of liberty whenever you explore time manipulation, but I wanted the story to feel as grounded and plausible as possible. So after establishing the temporal angle, I started world-building — extrapolating the world’s current conflicts, issues, and potential outcomes — and saw tehmatic parallels. So while that’s all cool stuff with great texture, what ultimately matters are the characters and their journeys.” And I can’t agree with him there more… BUT… the WORLD man! What the heck is going on in this crazy world of yours?!  Let me take a swipe at pulling a few details together about this world that we are experiencing and see if they float with all of you:

  1. There is massive energy crisis that has hit the entire world.
  2. Australia has basically imploded (that is said multiple times – or one time, over and over again?) and everyone is dead there?
  3. There is a massive war raging all the way around the world.
  4. The war is between Torus – a multinational Big Brother equivalent that likes to torture and lay waste to the planet to get what they want – and the Bloc – which is the Colonialists equivalent, I think?
  5. The air of the world is unbreatheable, and requires air filtration masks for going outside
  6. Torus has a robot army that fights its wars for them
  7. The leader of the Bloc (torus resistance movement) is The Pope (I think?)

I’m sure there are more details that we can derive about the world, but you get the general idea. It’s a very hostile world. A world filled with war, torture, inhospitable environments, and death. Oh, and a

Time Travel Rules for the Movie ARQ

So there are definitely a number of very specific rules upon which the movie ARQ is based.

Tony Elliott definitely had a serious plan in place and did a fantastic job world building for the time travel details for this movie despite the fact that I was 100% wrong about how the time travel actually worked at minute 20. But after we get to the end of the movie we see some very clear rules for how the system works.

  1. “Time” loop starts at 06:11:06:03
  2. “Time” loop stops at 09:25:21:09
  3. The diameter of the time loop is something like 300 feet around the house
  4. The further into the loop the faster “time” moves
  5. Those closest to the ARQ remember less
  6. Those furthest from the ARQ remember loops more
  7. <Serious Spoiler highlight to read> – The ARQ Loops 9 times, and then resets
  8. <Serious Spoiler highlight to read> – Upon reset their memories are wiped for all prior loops

I have included to the right a screen scrape of the perimeter around the house demarking the limit of the time anomaly that is indicated in rule number 3. Which, reminds me a ton of The One I Love, except in that movie, someone actually tried to cross the boundary. What do you think would happen if they were to actually try and step over? Personally? Bedlam. I think all manner of bedlam would happen. But that is a topic for Mr. Elliott if one of you would screw up the courage to ask him. I’ve already bombarded him with way too many questions.

And It was actually a fairly simple question that I asked Mr. Elliott that got me thinking. And thinking. And even before he responded I had watched the ending again and realized my error, and which led me to understand Time Travel Rule #’s 7 and 8. But if you look closely at the ARQ screen, it shows evidence of this sub-recursive loop in the numbering of the loops that have occurred and then the nine main line that takes over again. So maybe we should talk through the ending of the movie in detail in order to explain how rules number 7 and 8 work.

The Ending of ARQ Explained

Well, I was fairly confused when I first started thinking about the ending because I didn’t like the “distance from the ARQ” detail. How could it possibly explain why NOW of all loops that they started realizing what was happening? Made zero sense to me. But then I saw evidence of the sub-routine looping on the screen that pointed to a whole ‘nother layer of rules I hadn’t at first understood. So thinking about it programmatically, the loops worked something like this:

Mainthread start
Initially main routine…



start> 06:011:06:03   end>   09:25:21:09   COMPLETE
start> 06:011:06:03   end>   09:25:21:09   COMPLETE
start> 06:011:06:03   end>   09:25:21:09   COMPLETE
start> 06:011:06:03   end>   09:25:21:09   COMPLETE
start> 06:011:06:03   end>   09:25:21:09   COMPLETE
start> 06:011:06:03   end>   09:25:21:09   COMPLETE
start> 06:011:06:03   end>   09:25:21:09   COMPLETE
start> 06:011:06:03   end>   09:25:21:09   COMPLETE
start> 06:011:06:03   end>   09:25:21:09   COMPLETE



start> 06:011:06:03   end>   09:25:21:09   COMPLETE
start> 06:011:06:03   end>   09:25:21:09   COMPLETE
start> 06:011:06:03   end…

You get the idea. Most of this information I pulled from the screen of the movie itself. The mainline stuff I made up to help point out the fact that there is a master controller that is maintining session state and memory handling and dumping memory (literally.) So, at the risk of saying it one more time a different way, there are MILLIONS of loops that Hannah and Renton have experienced. But they can only (at max) remember 9 of them at any give loop of the subroutine. Yeah, I didn’t understand that at first. Did you catch that?

So the reason their task to video a message in time is so vital, it will be the only memory that they will have during the next loop. It’s like Memento, his only method of communicating with himself was via his tattoos. Renton’s only method of communicating with himself post the 9 loop event is the video he could record in the ARQ system itself. Yes? Please tell me that makes sense. Or that I’m an idiot for not getting that at first. Thanks. No, not that forcefully thanks.

ARQ Theories and Possibilities

ARQ Theory #1 – the ever optimist theory

Mr. Elliott has said in a couple of interviews that his larger point was to build a system that encourages optimism in the human experiment. That in life, we try to do good, we fail, and we try again. In the movie this same thing is true. Renton and Hannah strive to figure this thing out. They struggle they fail, the try again, and make some progress and fail again. It matches Tony Elliott’s view of the world and human nature. So in this theory, there is real hope, that if Renton was able to get just enough of a message out to himself, that maybe, just maybe they’d be able to get the ARQ out before the police arrive. That they’d be able to kill Cuz and Sonny early enough. That they’d finally be able to push through and turn the corner on this entire enterprise.

ARQ Theory #2 – the ever pessimist theory

And I will tell you right now, this is where I am in this thing. Seriously. Right here in pessimism land. Look, these guys have unwittingly played this scenario out hundreds of thousands of times most likely. Right? This time, they may have made a small lick of progress on the video. Next time? Maybe they fall all the way backwards and spend all nine attempts getting killed back in the bedroom. Hahha. I just don’t think this system is a setup for much optimism. It’s as if Tony Elliott has stood there next to Nietzsche (who also dug this analogy) and said, look at Sisyphus. Have you ever seen such a brilliant picture of determination and brilliance in your life? Nietzsche literally made the argument in one of his books (I’ve long since forgotten which one) that Sisyphus, as he was reaching the top of his hill, in the millisecond, he would have overcome. He would have made it, in spite of the fact that the gods were about to kick the rock back down the hill and force him to bring it back up again for all eternity. Really? This is an optimistic scenario? No.

I not only argue that this experiment is a pessimistic exercise, but I also make the argument that they are never going to solve this problem. There is seriously no way that they are going to overcome the impediments set out in front of them. Just isn’t going to happen. They are caught in this loop until some larger intercessor, that is outside this loop makes something different happen.

ARQ Theory #3 – arq as allegory theory

Or, maybe something else is going on here? Maybe what we are seeing is a modern day interpretation of the Philosopher’s Cave (or Plato’s Cave) being played out before us. Plato gave this analogy, or allegory explaining the role of the Philosopher several thousand years ago. He said, being a philosopher is similar to being chained up in a cave. And these people are being forced to watch shadows on the wall of the cave, and it is these shadows that we see as reality. But actually, the philosopher’s role is to break free from the chains of the cave, to go outside, and return to tell everyone trapped there about the things he has found. Right?

Maybe what Mr. Elliott has given to us is a modern day Philosopher’s Cave. Renton and Hannah are attempting to break from the chains of time, to see beyond the walls of the cave, and return and make a difference by explaining what it is that they are seeing. To wake us up to the realities of life. To move beyond the hum-drum of the daily life. To push on and see things for what they really are. If that is the case, then we really have to hope that someone breaks free just so that we can all wake up to the world we have created for ourselves. The pollution. The disease. The chaos. Cause in the world shown to us in ARQ, we are really going to hate life if this really becomes reality.

ARQ Theory #4 – a simple cautionary tale

And finally, maybe it is simply this… if we continue going on the path we are on (pesticides, global war, corporate greed, etc), we will all be doomed to these failures over and over again. We will have painted ourselves into this terrible corner that we will never get out of. We will be forced to scrap, and tear, and bite and claw over and over again in a Sisyphusian way. This will become our new normal. And it will be ourselves that brought ourselves to this end.

I don’t know. What do you think the movie is all about? Let me know in the comments how wrong I am. Let the arguing begin now. Commence!