There is a lot of action packed into the story, and some really fun bits. I get a particular kick out of the car chase, when the hero is using a temporal viewer which shows him the movements of the villain one hundred two hours earlier, and has to fight his way through traffic to keep the image in sight. I also appreciated the fact that the scientists were arguing about how time actually worked, each supporting a different theory and none of them completely certain of the details of his (or her) position. It is not a bad movie in any sense, and it is not even really a bad time travel movie, at least in the sense that I would recommend seeing it to anyone who wanted to try to get a sense of how time works. It simply does not work as a possible story. In fact, it does not work under any theory of time known to me.
The movie begins with a terrorist-like attack on a ferry. A bomb in a Ford Bronco detonates on the car deck, and the blast causes a secondary explosion in the fuel tanks, destroying the ship and most of the passengers. It is immediately suspected of being an attack, because the crew of the U.S.S. Nimitz (an aircraft carrier which is also featured in the time travel film Final Countdown, but which does not actually appear in this movie) is aboard for a welcoming party thrown by the host city of New Orleans. ATF agent Doug Carlin quickly determines that a bomb was used, finding pieces of detonator washed ashore. From there, the investigation is about to move into the routine, but two things happen.
The first of those two things is that a body is reported washed ashore somewhere upstream, burned and battered as if from the explosion, but found at least eight minutes before the explosion occurred. Agent Carlin apparently also does profiles; he is called in connection with this body, and quickly realizes that the bomber must have killed this girl, whom he manages to identify as Claire Kuchever from a missing persons report that morning, because an effort was made to make her appear to have been a victim of a disaster that had not yet happened. Carlin's quick investigation finds some anomalies at her house, but determines that her Ford Bronco was stolen that morning or the night before, which he correctly suspects of being the vehicle used to deliver the bomb.
The second disruption to the routine is that the FBI brings in a team from Cambridge who have a temporal viewer. The scientifically reasonable explanation is that they accidentally created a wormhole with a temporal offset between the two ends, and so they can look back in time four days, six hours and change. They intend to use this piece of equipment to attempt to solve the crime and identify the bomber so he can be apprehended, the sooner the better. Doug Carlin is tapped to participate in this aspect of the investigation, but given a major song and dance about what this thing is and how it works. He suggests that the best way to find and identify the bomber is to watch the life of Claire Kuchever, because whoever abducted and killed her did so to get her car to use for the bomb, and that will be the first clearly identifiable act connected to the bombing.
This plan plays out much as hoped. They catch the phone call inquiring about the vehicle, get surveillance footage of the phone booth from which the call was made, match a personal item carried by the bomber to the same item on surveillance footage from the ferry dock, get a clear image of the man's face, and ultimately match it to a file photo, arrest the bomber, and get enough of a confession from him to convict him of the crime.
However, the story does not end there. Agent Doug Carlin has determined that the team is lying about what this device is, and proved that it is possible to send something back in time through it. He uses it to attempt to send himself a note, which is intercepted by his partner, who is then killed by the terrorist when he attempts to apprehend the villain single-handedly. Having succeeded with the note, he persuades one of the scientists on the team to send him back, despite the certainty that his heart rhythm will be disrupted in transit. He is determined to save Claire Kuchever--and he succeeds. He then manages to get the bomb off the ferry before it explodes, saving the lives of all those on the ferry but dying in the process. The movie ends with a living Claire Kuchever on the dock following the incident, meeting an agent Doug Carlin who knows nothing of any of this, and riding away with him apparently intending to explain to him as much as she understands of what happened.
There are many more details to this story which are critical to unraveling it, but since the timelines here are extremely complex and there is a great deal of difficulty sorting out what could have happened in which, these will be introduced to our analysis as they are needed.
It will be important to understand how the technology involved here works. There is a foundation in fact for this, as we discussed in The Wormhole Theory of Time Travel on another page of this site. In short, many physicists believe that it might be possible to create a wormhole and shift one end such that it is temporally out of phase with the other, with the result that objects passing through the wormhole move forward or backward in time.
At this point the movie moves away from what is possible into what is interesting. They duck the facts that the creation of such a wormhole requires first that a planetary mass of strange matter would have to be collected and second that the dragging end of the wormhole (the end in the past) would have to be accelerated to a velocity near light speed for a period of time greater than the desired temporal displacement, by saying that it was created by accident, they still don't know how they did it, and they are terrified of losing it. They also never explain how they manage to move the other end, although it seems to have moved from Cambrige to New Orleans with this end, and they have the ability to manipulate it over an area of several miles, at least the bulk of the city itself.
More problematic is the Goggle Rig. At first glimpse this seems completely plausible. If a target is outside the range of the wormhole itself, this smaller unit can be carried some distance from the area, and will transmit images back. However, the rig is at the future end of the wormhole, and so there is no rational way for it to be able to transmit images from the past to the future. Whatever it transmits is in the future. To suggest that the rig itself also has a means of seeing into the past makes the wormhole superfluous; to suggest that it transmits information through the wormhole begs the question of how it manages to get information from the past that the wormhole cannot reach. The rig serves a number of story purposes. It gives us that wonderfully ridiculous chase scene, and it gets Doug Carlin to the location where Claire Kuchever was killed, so that he knows where to go when he attempts to rescue her. It's a nice touch which stretches the possibilities just a bit too far.
It should also be recognized that this is a wormhole, and inherently carries light and sound and matter through it in both directions. It is apparently a very limited wormhole, and the light and sound that comes from the past to the future is only useful because of the powerful amplifiers used to present the data. However, some small amount of light and sound must also travel from the future to the past. It is the nature of the device, that it opens a portal between two points in spacetime.
This also means that the device creates an infinite number of anomalies in sequence. That might not be immediately apparent, so some consideration is in order.
We are told that the wormhole creates a link to a moment in time exactly four days, six hours, three minutes, forty-five seconds, and fourteen-point-five nanoseconds in the past. (It occurs to me that the nanoseconds might have been a joke, but I will include them here.) It also appears that it is activated in New Orleans sometime "after midnight" on Wednesday morning, which we can easily determine from various cues is March 1, 2006. Let us assume for our discussion that the system is activated at 01:03:45.0000000145. That has the advantage that it means the other end is reached on Friday night, February 24, at exactly seven in the evening, or 19:00:00.0000000000.
Now let us suppose, just so we have something at least remotely manageable, that the smallest increment of time is one half nanosecond. Picoseconds do not actually exist. That means that at 19:00:00.0000000000 the past was changed by the future: a wormhole appeared in a position determined from a point of time in the future, and some infinitessimal quantity of light and sound leaked from the future to the past, and escaped from the past to the future. That instant has been changed. All of history must play out for the next 102:03:45.00000000145 to confirm that the event at the other end still happens, and only then can the future take the step forward to March 1, 2006, 01:03:45.00000000150. That is, for each half nanosecond of time that we advance into the future, we must rebuild all the history of the past four and a quarter days to include the fact that we changed that nanosecond four and a quarter days ago.
Your gut feeling will be that this is impossible or ridiculous, that we could not possibly wait all that time to advance another half nanosecond. However, it is worse than that, because picoseconds do exist, which means that you have to do it at least five hundred times for each half nanosecond. The good news, though, is that from one perspective it takes no time at all. No one experiences the repetition of time, and all measurements would indicate that time is still advancing at a rate of one picosecond per picosecond. Even if we determined that there was no minimum unit of time--that even the picosecond can be divided into an infinite number of smaller units--the fact is that we are moving through that infinite number of units a trillion times per second, and the experience of expanding each of those infinities to include the erasure and replacement of one hundred hours of history or one hundred centuries of history would not be experientially different.
More significantly, the clear majority of these loops are benign. The amount of interference with the past from this tiny exchange of photons and kinetic vibration will almost never make any change to the past. Of the few noticeable changes that are shown in the film, only one is unintentional. In the main, the movements of the wormhole in the past do not affect the past in any way that will alter events in the intervening history. Thus each of those trillions upon trillions of anomalies resolve to simple N-jumps, in which the change is made and confirmed as having been made.
It is standard practice in these analyses to present what must have happened in the original, unaltered, timeline. In this particular film, however, there are a number of critical values that are not given. Further, although in some ways the film makes a painstaking effort to give us quite precise time referents, there are a couple of serious gaps in the event stream and a few oddities not easily explained. Thus we must consider several alternatives in connection with this reconstruction.
It is implicit in the explanation of the system that it has been up and running for an unspecified time already. Its creators have already attempted at least twice to send something through the wormhole, on one occasion causing that huge New England blackout. However, for our purposes, the story opens at seven o'clock Friday night, the first anomaly of which we are aware, and that is as good a place as any to start. For simplicity, I will be rounding the time difference to one hundred two hours, that is, four days six hours. It is never the case that the exact time is critical at both ends of the wormhole, and on the four notable anomalies the exact time is not known at either end, so this convenience will not impact the analysis significantly.
It is surprising how many gaps we have in the story, given how tight it is in other places. For example, we know that Friday evening, probably around seven P.M., Claire's former fiance calls because he needs money and wants her to sell the blazer. We know that she goes to bed sometime later that night, but the next event in her life of which we are aware is on Sunday evening when she is as work. We know nothing that occurs between those two times. We also know that Claire was buried Wednesday or Thursday, but not which day.
Sunday evening is also poorly detailed. Our bomber, Carroll Oerstadt, calls Claire Kuchever on her cell phone while she is at work, at 7:49 P.M. She says she can't show him the Bronco until Tuesday night, and he says he needs it Tuesday morning, so he's probably going to buy the Chevy K5 Blazer he sees listed by someone else. She bemoans her bad luck, not knowing how fortunate she is. Sometime in the next almost nine hours, Oerstadt manages to get the Blazer. This is a complete unanswered mystery, but he has it when he drives to the ferry dock at four forty Monday morning. He looks around, and drives away. Since Larry Minuti is not there, he does not damage the blazer, and can use it to deliver the bomb the next morning.
Thus Claire Kuchever becomes irrelevant in this original timeline. Oerstadt does not need her car, so he does not need to kill her. She goes on her date Monday night and picks up her father at the airport Tuesday morning. She has no known connection to the bombing whatsoever.
Oerstadt, meanwhile, puts a bomb in a dark Chevy Blazer, and parks it on the ferry. He leaves on his motorcycle, stops at the top of the Algiers Bridge, looks like he is going to the bathroom (and maybe he does, just for looks), gets a look at his target at ten forty-seven, and rides away. Three minutes later, the bomb detonates, hundreds are killed, and the ferry sinks to the bottom.
In the movie, Doug's partner, ATF agent Larry Minuti, is missing. His car is found in the lot for the Algiers Ferry, and the assumption is made that he was on the ferry. Later in the film he is shot in that parking lot by Oerstadt when he follows Doug's tip to try to catch the terrorist. This then explains why his car is there. The film plays fast and loose with time travel theories, but at this point seems to be trying for a fixed time approach, that Larry's car was in the lot because Larry was shot by Oerstadt, and the team only assumed that he was on the ferry. However, again the film does not really explain itself well, and it is not entirely clear that this was the intent. We thus have three possibilities at this point.
Before we address them, we should note that one of the members of the science team suggests that the past was not changed when Larry Minuti was killed in the parking lot. He was dead before they witnessed that event and dead after they witnessed it, with the only change being how, when, and where he died. This is shoddy thinking on this point. If, as is supposed, Larry died in the ferry explosion originally, he would have been alive for another thirty hours, during which time he would have been seen and would have interacted with others. Almost certainly his car would have been in a different parking place in the ferry parking lot, and since that lot would have been crowded, someone else would have had to park in a different spot, and would have walked farther and reached the boat at a different time, and thus a different order. This would have had a ripple effect, moving enough people that the images we have of everyone boarding the ship would be inaccurate--they could not have been the same both times. Also, the number of people reported dead in the explosion would have to have been altered by one. These are all minor points, but there is a serious difference between not changing the past and not changing it in a way that impacts us in the present. Larry Minuti probably impacted someone in those thirty hours, and we have no way to gauge what difference he made.
It is also not clear that he died in the ferry explosion. That was the assumption made by the investigators, based on the location of his car, which is still in that parking lot. On a fixed time theory, nothing has changed: Larry Minuti always got that note and always died that morning in the parking lot, never on the ferry, and Doug Carlin had to send the note because since it had already arrived he had already sent it. On either the divergent dimensions or the replacement theory (both of which are hinted in some way under the term branching universe theory in the film), the past has changed, and we cannot know and never knew whether Larry Minuti was alive before we sent the note--a point mentioned briefly by one of the team, that Larry could have been standing right beside them up to the instant he died, and none of them would remember it.
Which brings us back to those three possibilities.
The first possibility is that Larry Minuti actually was on the ferry, and is now dead. The advantage of this theory is that it greatly simplifies our efforts to reconstruct the timeline: if Larry died on the ferry, then the time investigation team will default to tapping Doug, and Doug will be the person directing the point of view. That in turn means that at least some of the next events in the original history look much the same as those in the movie, as Doug discovers the bomb evidence, talks to FBI agent Paul Pryzwara, and becomes involved in the project. Of course, it is different in some critical ways, because Claire Kuchever is not dead and did not wash up to be reported eight minutes before the explosion, so Doug does not visit her father's house and then investigate her house. However, he does let the other agencies know that it is a crime scene, and he pursues some other lines of investigation until Pryzwara brings him in to their investigation.
Even this is not certain. After all, Doug impressed lead investigator agent Jack McCready by coming up with the connection to Claire and her Bronco by his own methods just as their reconstruction team had concluded that the bomb was contained in an SUV of some sort of that color. He would have to come up with something else to catch their attention, and since that just about fell into his lap and we know nothing else that might, it could be that the investigation proceeds without him.
It is more likely to proceed without him if Larry is still alive. After all, sometime late Sunday night (the quirk of that time will be considered later) Larry left the office headed for his vacation. Tuesday morning he would have gotten several phone calls and messages informing him of the explosion, and assuming he was not on the ferry his car would not have been in the ferry parking lot. Paul Pryzwara was looking for Minuti when he found Doug, and he told Doug to find Minuti. It seems likely that the team was going to bring in the senior officer of the partnership.
Thus our second unlikely possibility is that Larry is still alive, but the team takes Doug. Pryzwara has already seen Doug in action, climbing under the Algiers Bridge to confirm the use of ANFO in an explosive device. It might be that although they were looking for Minuti they chose Doug instead. Everything they say about Doug when they agree to use him is still true, and there is the suggestion that he distinguished himself in the Oklahoma City bombing investigation, so this is possible. It is also possible that the elder Minuti would not be interested in finding out what the FBI is doing, but would send his junior partner to work with them.
Still, the most likely scenario is that Minuti is still alive, and that the FBI asks him to help with their investigation. That means Doug does not become involved with the time observers at all in the original history. We must, then, ask how this plays out.
The investigation from here is almost entirely conjecture. There are precious few leads of any sort, and because they were not pursued in the history we see, we do not know where they might go.
The big lead is the Chevy Blazer. Already in the film McCready is launching an investigation into all sport utility vehicles, particularly those connected to theft and missing persons reports. Doug never asked where the Blazer originated, because by the time he knew about the Blazer he already had a solid connection to Oerstadt. Investigators are going to pursue this, and may well identify the origin of the car. It is also extremely likely that the car is connected to yet another murder, particularly since Oerstadt had the car late Sunday night or early Monday morning. He killed Claire so that she could not report the Bronco stolen, and he did not take that car until a day later. It is unlikely that he bought the Blazer, as that would leave a paper trail to connect him. Thus if he stole it, he also found a way to silence the owner so that the theft would not be reported prior to the explosion.
In this view, Doug is also at work, but doing the more mundane tasks of tracking down the detonator, timing device, explosive--the points he explained in his brief briefing to the other agencies when he informed them that it was a crime scene. Federal agents trained in the investigation of bombings have repeatedly proved their abilities to reconstruct explosive devices and trace the parts to their purchasers. Eventually they will find Oerstadt the old fashioned way, if they don't find him with the time viewer.
In fact, what little we know of Minuti suggests that he does not have nor appreciate Doug's flair for the hunch. We see Doug zero in on following Claire to her intersection with Oerstadt. We see him realize that one of the drivers at the funeral was the bomber, that the caller inquiring about the Bronco was the bomber, that Oerstadt's bag might be traceable by pattern matching software. We also see his argument with Minuti, in which he says that following a good hunch is good police work, against Minuti's objections. This suggests that Minuti will take a much more pedestrian investigatory approach. He will identify the owner of the Blazer, and question his or her family and friends for some hint of who might have stolen it, but will be using the temporal viewer to watch the dock. He will also assume that the silly story he's been given about seven satelites providing data for a processed image is correct, and never wonder whether anyone could travel to the past. His best shot at identifying Oerstadt will be watching the vehicles board the ferry and catching the bomber's picture when the dark Blazer appears. He might, if he is lucky, spot Oerstadt and the Blazer the morning before, when he cases out the ferry dock, if he wonders what this individual is doing there alone that late and follows him to his car, a vehicle without a license plate that fits the description of the one used to deliver the bomb. If he gets the image then, ATF will arrest Oerstadt at roughly the same time, and someone will question him. There will be no questions about Claire, who is of course still alive somewhere; there might be questions about the other victim, owner of the Blazer. However, given Oerstadt's state of mind, either Larry or Doug or in fact any interrogator ought to be able to induce him to take credit for the ferry bombing, and that will be the end of the story.
It is evident that if agent Minuti is alive and tapped for the time investigations program, nothing we see in the film will ever happen. This is the most likely scenario. In fairness, though, this site has always sought to determine whether a film offers a story that is possible, no matter how improbable. Thus we must consider what happens if Doug Carlin becomes involved with the temporal investigations unit, either because Minuti is missing and presumed dead, or because for some other reason the job falls to Doug.
With or without Minuti, Doug is going to be pursuing the same leads in his investigation that Minuti would have pursued. They have the pieces of the bomb, and they have a vague description of the vehicle. We know that the wormhole starts connecting on Friday night, and that the Blazer was stolen sometime between eight o'clock Sunday night and four o'clock Monday morning. That gives them two days to determine who owned the Blazer, and connect with him (or her) before Oerstadt gets there.
It is not certain that this will happen. Oerstadt is not careless, but is methodical in his approach. If the owner of the Blazer has not been missed, those who know him might have assumed that sometime in the middle of the night he left, perhaps for a few days of vacation or a business trip. Those two days will carry Doug into Thursday morning, though, and probably by that time someone will have reported the absence of a friend or employee. Also, it will have occurred to someone to check the classifieds and auto trader papers for any vehicles fitting the description (dark, probably black, sport utility vehicle), and to make calls attempting to determine whether these were sold, and to whom. It is at least more likely than not that the owner of the vehicle will have been identified and determined to be missing, at least, before it is too late to observe Oerstadt's actions there. Unless the vehicle is outside the target area of the wormhole, they will probably get their picture of Oerstadt Sunday night, a few hours before his appearance at the dock.
Whether they will be able to maintain surveillance on Oerstadt thereafter is unclear, as he might leave the target area to go to the bait shack. However, they will still arrest him on schedule.
What is missing from all of this is any reason for Doug to travel to the past, or even more specifically ever to notice Claire Kuchever. She is not part of anything that happens, and further will not become part of anything that happens unless Doug interferes. We have nothing to help us across this gap.
Well, maybe not nothing--just precious little. We know that when Doug was watching Claire Kuchever, she noticed something--something too faint to identify, but something nonetheless. As I elsewhere suggest in an article on Intuition and Surprise, people notice things below the level of consciousness and process them below the level of reason, resulting in "feelings" that reflect realities that are not consciously or cognizantly observed. That tiny flicker of light and faint murmur of sound which must be coming from the future to the past caught Claire's attention and gave her the feeling she was being watched. This in turn caught Doug's attention and got him interested in the fact that she could tell they were watching her.
This has not mattered in the analysis thus far, because Claire Kuchever is alive somewhere and Doug Carlin never suggested turning the wormhole on her. However, our analysis suggests that he did turn the wormhole on someone else, someone who owned a Chevy Blazer and was about to lose it, and probably his life, within a few hours of his identification, sometime Sunday night.
Of course, we have far more supposition and speculation here than perhaps in any analysis we have done to date. We are supposing that this unidentified person also noticed the wormhole and reacted in a way that made Doug aware that he noticed it. This happened within a few hours with Claire, but she had ideal conditions--she was alone but for a quiet cat and two probably sleeping birds, in a section of the French Quarter that was surprisingly peaceful. She might have noticed a noise or flicker. We now require that the Blazer owner also be home alone without noise or distraction, and that he be similarly sensitive to faint noises and glints of light. It is a lot to ask, but it is all we have.
Even then, we have several great leaps to make. Doug has considerably less time to wonder about this marvel he's watching. Claire noticed the wormhole Friday evening, and it was very late two nights later that Doug thought of the laser pointer trick. We don't expect the blazer owner to be found much before Sunday night, and that means that Doug has very little time to challenge what he's been told about the machine. Further, he does not have a lead on Oerstadt's bag, so he probably won't know that Oerstadt will be at the dock early the next morning.
However, the only way this works is for that anomaly to occur. The unknown owner of the Blazer must have that feeling of being watched in that very brief window between when they identify him and when Oerstadt finds him, and he must communicate it.
Of course, the change this makes to history is minor. The man feels like he is being watched, as Claire felt in her turn. Doug recognized that. The anomaly resolves to an N-jump, but it saves us at this point, because it gets Doug thinking about the nature of the wormhole, and that will be critical to the next anomaly.
Once our anomymous Blazer owner tips Doug to the fact that the wormhole goes both ways, the past moves forward to the point where Oerstadt takes the Blazer. We must assume that he finds a way to silence the owner. It must also be the case that they pull images both of Oerstadt and of his bag, and run both through the recognition software. We know that it will take a while to kick out Oerstadt's identity, but that if they run the bag they will get the image at the dock quickly.
There will be another anomaly now, because Doug wants to understand this device, and he does not believe that nothing can be sent to the past. His window of opportunity is smaller, because it was under nine hours between the call made to Claire about her car and Oerstadt's appearance at the dock, and the Blazer was stolen in that time. However, Doug will breach the field with the laser, and someone in the past will notice it and react. This will probably be Oerstadt, because at this point they will be following his movements, and the Blazer owner is going to have been eliminated before Doug gets this far. It again produces an N-jump, because the appearance of the laser might make Oerstadt momentarily nervous, but it's not going to cause any change in his plans or actions.
It does, however, set up the next anomaly. Doug's argument in the movie is that he would like one time to catch the villain before the crime, and that argument will still be here, quite apart from the connection to Claire. Thus he will send the note.
Once he sends the note, history has changed drastically. Larry, not Doug, gets the note. Larry goes to the docks, confronts Oerstadt, and is shot. Larry's car is now in the ferry parking lot, and Larry is dying. Oerstadt tosses him in the now damaged Blazer and drives him to the bait house to finish him.
Doug follows him in that wonderful car chase, but these are all N-jump anomalies. He reaches a bait house that is completely intact, but shows signs of fires on the cement in one area.
Of course, what Doug finds is in large part determined by how the rest of this one hundred two intervening hours goes. This history is now strongly reflected in the movie. Oerstadt has lost his Blazer at the last minute, and desperately needs Claire's car. He abducts her, probably Monday night after her date, and takes her vehicle. He doesn't have a lot of time, but he keeps her secure while he puts his bomb in the Bronco. Wanting her to be wrongly identified as a victim of the blast, he burns her, cutting off her fingers when she scratches him (so that there will be no traceable DNA under her nails when she is found: it is his blood under her fingernails that he sees before he reaches for the clippers), and accidentally leaving her single earring at the scene. He then loads her into her own Bronco, and dumps her body in the water somewhere off the bayou, before driving to the ferry. He leaves on his motorcycle, stopping at the top of the bridge at ten forty-seven, and then slipping away. The attack happens as it appears in the movie; we've made it this far.
Actually, we have not made it this far; there is an inconsistency in this version: Claire is wearing the wrong dress.
In the film, when Doug reports Claire's murder to the investigation team, he says that she was killed "at least two hours" before the explosion. Then, in one of those marvelous movie tricks in which all rough estimates are correct to the nearest second, he saves her from being killed exactly two hours before the explosion. He then drives her home.
What he fails to realize, at least initially, is that the dress she is wearing when he saves her is not the dress she was wearing when her body washed ashore. This fact reaches his brain when she changes out of the damaged and gasoline-soaked garment she was wearing into something clean, and happens to pick the dress in which her body was found. This disturbs him greatly, as he suddenly thinks that he has not altered anything, and that she is still in danger of somehow washing up on that shore eight minutes before the explosion, already burned.
Claire had to pick up her father at the airport at eight Tuesday morning, so she probably wanted to leave the house between seven and seven thirty. That means she awoke between six and seven and got dressed in something that she could wear to the airport, but that before she left the house Oerstadt abducted her and stole her vehicle. He would have killed her just before nine, wearing whatever she was wearing, and dumped her in the water as she was. Yet somehow she was wearing one dress when he was trying to kill her, and another when she washed ashore.
As odd as it sounds, the best explanation is that history was changed by one of these anomalies. In the original timeline, Claire was going to wear the dress in which she died to pick up her father, and so she was wearing it when she was killed. The version of those events which we see, in which she is rescued, does not occur until the fourth noticeable anomaly, three of which involved her directly. In the first, she became aware of that feeling of being watched; in the second, she was touched by the red dot of a laser pointer fired from the future. To this point we have assumed that these events changed nothing of consequence. From a certain perspective, that remains true--there is no real difference made by what dress Claire wears. At the same time, these choices of the insignificant, such as which of several equally valid outfits to don, are determined by very subtle subconscious thoughts. In this case, it seems that something from the future has caused Claire to change which dress she wore that morning. In the original history she wore the dress in which her body was found; after she had felt the prying eyes of the wormhole and been touched by the laser and Larry Minuti was killed and Doug traveled from the future, there was enough of a change in her subconscious process that she chose a different dress to wear. It was then not quite coincidence that when she returned home alive she changed into the dress she had chosen in the original history. After all, it is likely that that morning she looked at both dresses and chose one to wear to the airport, and when the one she chose in the altered timeline was damaged, she switched to the other.
It has taken quite an effort to get to the point where the opening events of the film have become possible. If you're lost, don't be too distressed--it's taking me quite an effort to keep all this straight myself. Let's recap all the timelines that bring us to the point where Claire Kuchever washes up on shore eight minutes before the explosion.
In the original history, the wormhole was busy in Cambridge on Friday night February 24th, because no signal from the future moved it to New Orleans. Carroll Oerstadt called Claire Kuchever at 7:49 Sunday evening the 26th to inquire about acquiring her Ford Bronco, but was disappointed by her schedule, so he stole a Chevy Blazer and killed the owner. He then cased out the ferry early Monday morning the 27th, loaded his stolen Blazer with a bomb, and on Tuesday the 28th parked it on the car deck of the Algiers Ferry. At 10:47 he stopped at the top of the bridge to take a last look at his target, but was ignored by investigators when they examined the video, who perceived that he was going to the bathroom. Then at 10:50 the bomb exploded, killing five hundred forty-three people, including most of the crew of the U.S.S. Nimitz. Doug Carlin finds the detonator parts and traces of ANFO under the bridge, and his partner Larry Minuti returns to pursue those leads while the time investigation team taps Doug to help them. The wormhole is moved to New Orleans, and although technically we now begin an infinite number of anomalies, these are all benign for the present, as no one is aware of anything that is different. They are hunting around somewhat aimlessly Wednesday and Thursday, March 1st and 2nd, looking at events from the previous Friday and Saturday, the 24th and 25th, until probably sometime on Thursday March 2nd or Friday March 3rd they identify the owner of the Blazer, discover that he is missing at least, and zero in on him still alive probably early on Sunday February 26th. Then at some moment the owner of the Blazer realizes that he is being watched, and we have our first significant anomaly--we must stop time for Doug Carlin and his team and the entire world sometime on Thursday or Friday of the first week of March, because the world has changed one hundred two hours before, and it has to be replayed to account for the change.
All of the events leading up to Sunday are the same. However, sometime on Sunday our unknown Blazer owner had that feeling that he was being watched. This ultimately changed nothing for him, or at least nothing of consequence, and so the events described above repeat exactly as stated, including his murder and the theft of his vehicle, right up to Thursday night, when Doug realizes that this person noticed he was being watched. From there, history continues, but within a couple of hours (there is a very small window of opportunity here) this new history also comes to an end, as Doug Carlin fires a laser pointer from sometime Friday morning to hit Carroll Oerstadt sometime Sunday evening, and again we must back up to the point in the past where events have changed, and play through it all again.
Oerstadt might have been made uncomfortable by the laser pointer. After all, he will almost certainly think it a targeting laser for a sniper rifle, and will jump to cover. This is going to stick in his mind from this point forward, and perhaps have him on edge in a couple hours when he cases the ferry dock. However, nothing happens there, and he continues executing his plan, blows up the ferry and escapes on his cycle. Again the investigation finds the Blazer owner, zeroes in on him, connects to Oerstadt, and hits him with the laser pointer. This time, though, Doug Carlin is determined to prevent the ferry bombing. Oerstadt can be caught before he does it, and since he killed the Blazer owner he can be convicted of murder plus the planning of a terrorist act for which steps were taken. At Doug's direction, the note is drafted and sent back in time one hundred two hours to hit Doug's desk sometime between Sunday evening's dinner rush and Monday morning's predawn light.
Forgive the digression, but this is one of those odd moments in the movie. It is February, of course, so it gets dark early, even as far south as New Orleans. The time stamp on the surveillance video of the payphone booth makes it Sunday February 26th at 7:49 P.M. We know from the dock video time stamp that Oerstadt is at the dock at 4:40 Monday morning, and we know from Doug's comment that the note was sent about seven hours prior to that--which is 9:40 Sunday night. What are agents Doug Carlin and Larry Minuti doing in their office at 9:40 Sunday night when, as far as they would have known, nothing is happening? Confusing this, when Minuti gets the note he looks at his watch, and the blurry imagee looks like 8:20 (analog time) as it flashes across the screen. This would make it more than eight hours before Oerstadt reaches the dock, and allow only half an hour between the call to Claire and the note, in which time the bag must be matched, the laser pointer fired, and the argument settled. Also, Claire has to get home from work and be putting Beth's daughter Abbey to bed before the laser is fired, despite the fact that the restaurant was a madhouse which needed all hands on deck. It is a challenge to fit everything into that space--either our ATF agents are terribly overworked, or someone wasn't thinking straight on this.
Getting back to our anomalies, it is somewhere around 3:00 Friday morning, March 3rd, when Doug and company send the note back one hundred two hours; it is somewhere around 9:00 Sunday night, February 26th, that Larry Minuti gets it. He's just fought with his junior partner, so he decides to follow up this lead and see whether it's true, and maybe be the hero. There is another odd time lapse, as Larry leaves the office immediately but does not reach the dock until after Oerstadt, seven hours later. He parks his car in the Algiers Ferry lot, and then is killed by Oerstadt. No one knows this at this point, because history has to move past the sending of the note before anyone can observe (the future cannot be written until the past is written). Oerstadt takes the body and disposes of it as indicated in the movie. He now has holes in the door of his Blazer, however, so he needs another vehicle. He already spoke to Claire Kuchever, and knows that she has a date Monday night, but decides to abduct her Tuesday morning early, and use her vehicle. This he accomplishes, finding her in the first dress as she is preparing to fetch her father from the airport, and taking her to the bait house to kill her, burn her body, and dump it in the water. He makes the mistake of dumping it too soon and too far upstream, such that a couple of kids find the body in the shallows and report it eight minutes prior to the explosion.
This, then, is the situation we see as the movie opens. Oerstadt's plan, with modifications, has worked; the ferry explodes. Minuti is already dead, his body missing but his car in the ferry parking lot creating the assumption that he died in the blast. Claire Kuchever washed up on the shore wearing the first dress, and was reported to the local sheriff. Doug Carlin begins his investigation, finds the detonator and the ANFO, and then becomes intrigued by the body that appeared too soon.
It should be noted that he received no call from Claire's house. Claire was already dead before that call was made. However, the fact that this woman was made to appear a victim of a disaster that had not yet happened points him to her father, where he discovers that she had a Ford Bronco which is missing, and correctly guesses that she was killed so that her car could be used to deliver the bomb. This connects him to the investigation team, and he is there as they make the connection to the past.
Claire was abducted from her house, and her car stolen. However, neither Doug's investigation nor the examinations by the forensics unit will find much amiss at Claire's house. They certainly will not find blood in the sink trap, bloody rags and bandages in the trash, Doug's fingerprints all over the place, or a message on the magnet board. Those things cannot exist unless Doug has traveled to the past.
There will be phone messages from her father, asking where she is, and one from her friend asking whether she was all right because she did not call the night before. Claire will not, of course, pick up that phone, as she was already dead. There also is no message from Doug, because he had no call to return.
The cat who does not like strangers will not come to beg food from Doug, because he is still a stranger.
Someone might wonder why Claire's murder was not observed from the future. The argument would go something like this: the time team watched Oerstadt murder Minuti, then followed him using the Goggle Rig to the bait house, then kept on him as he returned on Sunday morning to steal Claire's car and kill her. All the time team has to do is keep an eye on Oerstadt, and he will lead them directly to Claire, and they will know about the theft of the other car. The reason this does not work should be evident. Once Minuti has been killed, that black Blazer was never used for the bomb, and thus the time travel team that sent the message to Minuti because they were tracking the theft of the black Blazer can no longer exist. Before the time team can watch another second of history, all of the history between Minuti's execution and Carlin's observation must be rewritten, and the link to the Blazer owner vanishes in the process. Thus in the history in which Claire's body washes up on the shore, there's no connection to the Blazer, only to the Bronco which was hers.
However, it is clear that she was abducted and murdered, and that her car was stolen, and thus Carlin will announce the connection to McCready and Pryzwara, minus the phone call that was never made. He then becomes part of the time travel team, and focuses his attention on Claire Kuchever immediately, for the same reason he does in the film, for the same reason he previously did on the Blazer owner, because watching her will lead to the identity of the unknown bomber.
In what might be a first for this site, two of the anomalies that led to the present situation are now undone completely--made never to have happened. You might think--and for some time I thought--that it is at this point the film collapses into impossibility. It is not, though. Because of the way these anomalies overlap and nest within each other, the events of the newly created timeline, including the replacement anomalies, all occur before the history collapses, and thus as the old causes are erased the new causes are put in place, and everything survives. Think of Marty McFly in Back to the Future running around trying to bring his parents back together before his own existence is entirely undone, and you will have some notion of what is happening here.
Within minutes of relocating the wormhole to New Orleans, the team, directed by Doug Carlin, points it at Claire Kuchever, instead of wandering somewhat aimlessly around the city looking for a lead. This is a change to history, but it is not yet a meaningful change. After all, those events in the past are still dependent on events in the future which have not yet been rewritten. Around 3:00 Friday morning, March 3rd, Doug sent a note back to 9:00 Sunday night, February 26th, and that note arrived. The cause of the arrival of that note is the sending of that note, and that note remains as having been sent, and thus having arrived, until the new history is created to reach the cause, the sending, at 3:00 A.M. March 3rd. Until that moment is rewritten, this history is still supported by that one.
It is Wednesday morning, March 1st, 2006 at the future end of the wormhole as history is changed on Friday night, February 24th. No one is looking for the owner of a blazer; we have the owner of the Bronco that was used. We will watch her. In this timeline she does not yet notice the wormhole because the future has not yet been created in which the wormhole is viewing that point in the past; nor does she see the laser pointer, because the moment in the future from which the laser pointer strikes her has not yet come. However, the sending of the note has not yet been undone, so that note still arrives, Larry Minuti is killed, Claire Kuchever is kidnapped, and her vehicle is used. Doug becomes part of the time travel team, and by Wednesday morning for him, Friday evening for her, he has focused the wormhole on her, and she has had the feeling of being watched.
Notice--and this is critical--that although Doug did not see anyone who noticed the wormhole from the past, before the point in time was reached when he had to know to send the note a new overlapping anomaly occurred, as Claire noticed the wormhole. This sets up the next new anomaly, as Doug sometime Friday morning fires a laser pointer back through the wormhole which hits and is seen by Claire. We have an N-jump, this impacting nothing that matters, but once history reconfigures to the point where the laser beam has been incorporated, Doug argues for sending the note. He makes the same arguments and reaches the same answer, sending the note back to his desk in time for Larry to find it, get himself killed, and get Claire killed in turn.
In other words, by a remarkable turn of events Doug Carlin has erased the anomalies which led to Larry's and Claire's deaths and replaced them with a new set of anomalies that also lead to Larry's and Claire's deaths. Like Marty McFly running around trying to bring his parents together, but without knowing that he has to do it, Doug has saved time. In the process, the Blazer owner drops out of the investigation, the new causes of their information coming entirely from Claire's body on the shore. It suddenly looks like fixed time, because the original history now has, in any real sense, "never happened". The Blazer is replaced by the Bronco, and the new trail leads to the same destination.
Claire is again kidnapped and murdered, and winds up in the reeds eight minutes before the explosion--but is she now wearing the wrong dress?
We can credit the change of outfit from the one in which she was killed to the one in which she was rescued to any event in the past that was caused by an event in the future. She has had the feeling of being watched, and she has been struck by the laser pointer. Larry Minuti's death had no impact on her whatsoever. Therefore whatever psychological quirks caused her to pick the second dress instead of the first in the history in which she is rescued should have caused her to do so by now. She still washes up on the shore at the right time, but isn't she in the other dress?
This is critical, because it would mean that the Doug Carlin who travels back in time to save her cannot have seen her in the first dress. If her decision is made based on the previous temporal events, in the timeline in which she is killed and Doug travels back to save her, she must be wearing the second dress when she washes ashore. There is nothing else that would cause her to change her mind--unless--
Hold that thought a moment. We're going to travel forward through all this time again. Let us assume that Claire is wearing the dress in which she was found, and that the laser pointer had nothing to do with it. There is something else that might have made the difference that is directly caused by Doug's arrival in the past that would have impacted Claire and might have altered her wardrobe choices that morning, but before we get there we have to play through to that moment.
Larry has been killed, Claire's body is found, Doug becomes part of the temporal investigative group, focuses on Claire, confirms the existing anomalies, and now has pictures of Oerstadt running against recognition software as of 4:40 Monday morning. At 8:50 Tuesday morning Claire will be killed; that is twenty-eight hours and ten minutes after Oerstadt's photo starts running.
It is odd that the photo match happens at ATF. It is Doug's co-workers who identify Oerstadt from the photo, match him to the property deed at the bait house and to another deed for another local property, and bring him in. Doug is part of that, and questions him. He gets a confession, and they close up the program. Yet no one ever asks where that photo originated, or how it was connected to the bomber--they just run it and arrest him. They find sufficient evidence to hold him as they do so (although how they got an arrest warrant without explaining why the man was a suspect is unclear), and then wheedle a confession from him. Since they saw Larry killed at 10:40 Friday morning, they spend most of the day on this.
Then, late in the day, Doug is told by an unhappy McCready that the program is ending. He tells us that Claire will be killed in twelve hours, but since it is early March and still daylight (and yesterday it was completely dark by 7:49) it cannot be so late as nine o'clock, and is probably closer to six. He revisits Claire's house, then calls Dr. Denny at 12:17 A.M. Saturday, March 4th. He then arrives at the wormhole location and gets sent back to a New Orleans hospital, one hundred two hours earlier. If we assume he leaves immediately, he could arrive as early as six thirty Monday evening, having a heart attack. However, this is one of those temporal oddities. It seems that it is dark in New Orleans when Doug arrives. In fact, his arrival causes a blackout which is mentioned on the news as happening early that morning. Personally I don't see a newscaster referring to "early this morning" as any earlier than two, but that means that it would have been eight in the morning when he left. Even if we push his departure back to six in the morning, that puts his arrival at midnight (actually, almost four minutes before--we've rounded down), and that's definitely "last night", not "this morning". Thus the best we can do is assume he left around six thirty and arrived around twelve thirty, blacking out the city as he did so. That causes us to wonder why anyone was still at the time machine at six in the morning, after having been up nearly constantly for most of four days and having received the order to shut down at least ten hours previously but not yet having removed anything that would prevent the machine from functioning. It's an error in someone's thinking, because it's not really credible--but it's not a temporal anomaly, so we'll let it slide.
The blackout also does not make sense. Apparently the thinking is that when they send objects they draw so much power they black out the city momentarily at both ends of the wormhole. Since the power systems that operate and maintain the wormhole are all at the future end, there isn't any logical way for it to draw power on the trailing end. The blackout is just goofy.
However, it is, or must be, the event that impacts Claire Kuchever's wardrobe decision. Perhaps her alarm clock did not go off, and she was rushing to get out. Perhaps she was awakened by the power outage or restoration, and so was more tired and chose different clothes. Somehow, the power outage must have been the event that triggered the change. That is the only impact the future had on the past that would have permitted Doug Carlin to see the body of Claire Kuchever in one dress, but have her wear another when he came back to rescue her. Because of the blackout, Claire Kuchever dons a different dress that morning.
Doug is saved by the crash team, and placed, unidentified, in a bed in what looks more like an emergency room or old style open ward than a modern hospital intensive care unit--but perhaps Katrina has left them with insufficient modern medical facilities, and they're making due. He manages to disconnect his telemetry unit without triggering the alarm at the desk that would automatically sound when it stops receiving his heartbeat, steal the clothes of the guy in the next bed which would actually have been bagged and tagged and put away for safekeeping, and slips out of the hospital in the early light of day, stealing a gun and an ambulance to get where he needs to be. He drives to the bait house, rescues Claire, gets in a firefight with Oerstadt, destroys the ambulance and the building, and then heads to her house to dress his wounds. This is when he puts the rags in the trash, the blood in the trap, his fingerprints on everything, and the message on the magnet board.
Claire changes to the other outfit, and then there's the confrontation where she does not believe him. She calls the ATF office and talks to agent Donnelly, who confirms Doug's appearance and takes her number for him to call her. Then her friend calls, Doug predicts what she will say, she picks up and asks if it's a joke, and leaves with him.
This creates the ending events we see in the film. Oerstadt never reaches the top of the bridge, because he spots the damaged Blazer when he reaches the street and doubles back to protect his bomb from the ATF agent he thought was dead. Claire also doubles back. Together, Doug and Claire kill Oerstadt and drive the bomb off the boat. Claire gets out of the truck, but Doug does not. She is fished out of the water, and then, in what we are to accept as the happy ending, she is introduced to Doug Carlin, ATF agent who does not recognize her at all, and she rides off with him, preparing to tell him the most important thing in the world that he will never believe.
I hope they make the best of their time. In a very short time, the world comes to an end, thanks to them.
There is another nice touch that deserves mention in all this. When Doug Carlin is interviewing bomber Carroll Oerstadt, he gets as far in the questions about the murder of Claire Kuchever as having her soaked in accelerant, and then when he asks what happened next Oerstadt says, "I think you know what happened next." At the time he--and we--take it to mean that it is obvious that Oerstadt cut off her fingers, set her afire, and dumped her body in the river. Doug presses him, wanting a confession, but then leaps ahead to Oerstadt destroying the ferry. What makes the conversation interesting is that we might think Oerstadt said "I think you know" specifically to Doug, because Doug was there. Oerstadt's confession never says that he killed Claire, only that he was preparing to do so in a way that would have made her appear to be a victim of the explosion. He could have made the exact same statement had Doug already rescued her, as is shown in the film subsequent to the interview.
The problem with this idea, though, is that we would need a history in which Doug Carlin rescues Claire Kuchever from Carroll Oerstadt, but Carroll Oerstadt still destroys the ferry and escapes to be arrested later, and we have no way to get that particular history. If we assume that Doug did rescue Claire, but did not get to the ferry in time, there is no cause for any change that will mean Doug in a subsequent timeline rescues Claire and kills Oerstadt, and the events in the film are impossible. Thus despite the potential alternate meaning in Oerstadt's statement, it must be that he killed Claire in that history. After all, we have Claire's body, and if we did not have Claire's body we would not have saved Claire.
Yes, you can see where this is going; we're almost there.
Doug rescues Claire from Oerstadt. In the process they completely destroy the bait house between them, with the ambulance inside. He races back to Claire's house, presumably to leave her there and treat his injuries, and in the process leaves his blood and fingerprints all over the place. He leaves a note to himself on the magnet board.
What he does not and cannot do in this timeline is recognize the changes he made to the crime scene. He is here because Claire Kuchever is alive, and next he will prevent the ferry explosion and kill the bomber. He never saw this crime scene looking like this. Even if Oerstadt grabbed Claire in the house, he did not leave bloodied rags in the trash can, and he certainly did not leave Doug's fingerprints at the scene. Doug never saw any of this.
He will, however, recognize the incoming phone calls. This time, though, Claire will answer--which she did not do on the version he originally heard, because she was dead. The tape now matches what we heard in the movie. She leaves a message at ATF for Doug to call.
Not only has he never seen nor heard any of this, he never will. All of these are changes made in the timeline in which he saves Claire, and they cannot exist in the timeline in which she dies. Even if we imagine a history in which he goees back but fails to save her, he will not come here without her.
Abridging the action, Doug and Claire kill Oerstadt, and Claire, but not Doug, survives to tell the tale, to the duplicate Doug. What happens next?
The real point is what does not happen next. Oh, they'll probably confirm Claire's story to the degree that they can--identify the body of the man on the ferry, find the bomb materials in his home, match them to the debris at the scene, check the destroyed bait house. However, there is now nothing to solve. No one is going to move a multi-million dollar science project from Massachusetts to New Orleans to investigate a crime that was thwarted and has already been solved. Claire is going to spin a crazy story about how she met Doug already, and she has his DNA on bandages to prove it. Doug has no knowledge of the wormhole, and no one is going to tell him about it (if they wouldn't tell him when he needed to know, they're certainly not apt to tell him when he doesn't). Claire's body is not found at all, because she was never killed. There is no investigation.
But if there is no investigation, everything starts to unravel. Doug does not see Claire notice the wormhole, and he does not fire the laser pointer, and he does not send the note. Larry is not killed, and Oerstadt does not need Claire's vehicle. Claire's body does not wash up on the shore, and Doug does not travel back to the past to save her. The unraveling process is complex in the extreme, but as of early Saturday morning when Doug should have left for the past and does not do so, everything has been undone, and all history reverts to the original timeline, in which Carroll Oerstadt kills the owner of a Chevy Blazer and uses that car to blow up a ferry. We have one of the most complex infinity loops ever devised.
It may be that the writers are thinking of a Law of Time found in Happy Accidents, known as Cheeseman's Emotional Energy Theory. It doesn't really work there, and it certainly does not work here. The idea that Doug and Claire have poured enough emotion into their two hours together to create an alternate history based on the events of the original history does not seem credible. Were it so, no one who was loved would ever die.
Thus in the end, it is the end. Claire and Doug have one hundred hours before his failure to travel to the past results in her death and the destruction of history and time as we know it. Neither can live while the other survives in any event--even if they managed to get the time machine and make the necessary events happen, it would mean that on Saturday morning Doug must leave for his appointment with death, and must die in the past to save Claire.
Is there another possibility? Can the film be saved by any means?
Actually it can--it just won't.
In order for Claire to be alive, Doug must travel to the past and save her. In order for that to happen, he must have access to the time machine, and he must have that access by Saturday morning, and know that he has to travel to the past to save her. As of 11:00 Tuesday morning, he does not even know that this time machine exists; but the anomalies are starting to unravel.
It is also necessary for Doug to send the note back to Larry, because he cannot save Claire if Claire is never in danger, and Claire will not be involved if Larry does not get killed first. That means that before 3:00 Friday morning, March 3rd, Doug has to know to send the note back--the note which gets Larry Minuti killed. Otherwise, there is no one to rescue on Tuesday morning, because Claire is not involved.
There seems little to no possibility that anyone will spill the truth about the time machine. If it were up to the scientific team, they would probably tell him--they might even suspect that there was a necessity to send Doug Carlin back to the past, to avoid some sort of temporal paradox. However, it will be decided by Jack McCready, who will not be happy at the possibility that Doug Carlin broke protocol in the lost history and wants to do it again in the new history. Doug will wonder how his blood and fingerprints (which they will match to him, trying to identify the man who impersonated him) got into Claire's house, right up until it is too late.
Even if, by some miracle, McCready is persuaded that the time machine has to be used to protect time, no one now knows about that note. Doug never told Claire that he used a time machine; he certainly never told her that by sending a note back to himself identifying the bomber he got his partner killed. That Doug is dead. No one will send that note, because there is no investigation and no one knows the note was sent.
Then, if by some miracle the note gets sent, Doug has to make the trip back on Saturday morning to save Claire. This part he knows, and Claire can tell him some of the details--but he knows much less than the other Doug knew, because there has not been the sort of investigation previously conducted. Further, in the confrontation with Oerstadt, Doug threw ideas at him that he had said in his interrogation, and this Doug does not have that information either. The entire rescue plays out differently.
That might result in that Doug surviving. It's not certain, of course, but it might happen. He then informs himself of the situation, gets the time machine brought to New Orleans, and gets himself to repeat the actions previously done. Of course, it means intentionally causing the death of his partner Larry Minuti, and it will appear that he is trading Larry's life for Claire's, but actually it has to be done to preserve time. There will be a brief sawtooth snap until it stabilizes, when the Doug who leaves from the future is the same Doug who arrives in the past, but there's some hope that such a scenario would eventually resolve to an N-jump.
I think you'll agree that all of this is more unlikely than anything portrayed in the film to this point, and that Deja Vu, unfortunately, brings the world to an end.