Perhaps the best scene ever written about the mind-bending, headache-inducing difficulties of time travel is in 2012’s Looper. In that movie, the older, wearier version of the main character (played by Bruce Willis) sits down at a diner with the younger version of himself (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and tells him that he doesn’t have time to talk about time travel, because then they’d “be here all day, drawing diagrams with straws.”
Designer Michael Talley was inspired by that scene and decided to explain the movie’s complex narrative through (what else?) a diagram with straws. Now, with the fifth movie in the Terminator franchise out in theaters, we asked Talley to make another diagram with straws, this time for the even twistier timelines of the 30-year-old series. As in the Looper diagram, each straw represents a character, and each dotted line represents time travel. (Click on the image to view a much, much larger version.)
How did Talley put it all together? “Terminator 2 was the first movie I ever saw (I saw it on opening day as a baby), so I’ve always loved the franchise,” he said. In preparation, he rewatched most of the movies, and fact-checked dates against the Terminator Wiki, but added, “Sadly, most of this is just in my head.”
Still, “unlike Looper,” he said, “the Terminator movies don’t really obey a lot of their own rules,” so he had to make some “Judgements.” Rather than attempt to paraphrase his thinking, I’ll quote it here in full:
All five feature films are represented in the chart (the television show Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and the Universal Studios attraction T2 3-D: Battle Across Time are not included), but Talley notes that “the ‘To Be Continued’ refers to whatever … Hollywood decides to throw at us” next.