At the Lisbon, Maine community adult education English class, Harry Dunning reads his essay about how his father murdered his mother, sister, and brother on Halloween night, 1960. Once he's done, he admits that it isn't very long. The teacher, Jake Epping, tells him that it's a powerful story and thanks him for sharing it with the class. He tells the students that the story was good because when they heard it, it was honest. Jake gives it an A-plus as the bell rings. As Harry leaves, Jake tells him that his essay was something else. Harry asks Jake for a letter of recommendation for a job that he's applying for. Jake readily agrees.
Jake drives to the local diner and gets a meal. The owner, Al Templeton, comes over to greet his friend. Jake's ex-wife Christy comes in and she takes a seat across from Jake. She says that she wrote to Helene when she heard about Jake's dad, and Jake explains that his father died when he was on the plane to see him. Christy offers her condolences and then takes out the divorce papers for Jake to sign. Al watches as Jake signs, and then goes in the back. Christy asks if Jake is doing any writing, and he says that he isn't. Jake hands the signed papers back, and Christy wishes him all the best. As she goes, Jake says her name and then wishes her the best, too.
As Christy goes to her car, Al stumbles out of the back, coughing. Jake asks if his friend is all right, and Al tells him to get out. When Jake gets a good look at him, he realizes that Al's face has aged years in the minute since he went in the back. Al insists that he's fine as he coughs up blood, and then passes out.
Jake helps Al to his home and says that he should start calling in-home nurses. Al insists that he doesn't need a nurse, and Jake demands to know what's going on. His friend says that it's cancer, but Jake doesn't believe that he got it in five minutes. Al starts to walk out, and then tells Jake to come over the next day and he'll explain everything.
At high school, Jake is playing a film for his class. One student, Cody, bursts out into laughter. Jake insists that the patients in the film matter, and the bell rings. As the students leave, Jake asks Cody what's so funny. Cody shows him a video of a dancing parrot, and Jake sends him on his way. He goes to the diner and Al says that he's going to tell Jake something that seems crazy. However, first he needs Jake to go into the pantry closet and take a look around, and spend as much time as he needs. Jake doesn't understand, and Al says that it'll be simpler if Jake sees for himself.
Jake enters the closet and walks into the darkness... and suddenly finds himself in the middle of the street. Looking around, Jake realizes that he's back in the 1960s. A bedraggled man with a yellow card in his hat stumbles over and tells Jake that he shouldn't be there, and Jake goes back the way he came...
... and runs out of the closet at the diner in 2016. Al says that it was October 21, 1960. He doesn't know what it is, and says that it's been there since he had the diner. Nobody else knows about it, and Al figures that if anyone knew then they'd try to stop him. He wants Jake to do what he couldn't: go back and stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
Once Jake sits down, Al speculates about what would have happened if JFK had lived. He figures that if he says JFK then he saves Bobby Kennedy as well. If Kennedy had survived then the escalation in Vietnam wouldn't have continued. Jake warns that they don't know for sure what will happen if JFK lives, but Al insists that saving him will make the world a better place. The teacher points out that Al has no proof that what Al might do in the past will change the present, and Al hands him a knife and tells him to go see. He tells him to carve something in a tree and he'll have his proof.
Jake goes back through the closet and arrives in 1960. Everything is the same as the last time he was there: the factory whistle blows and a milk delivery man drops a bottle. The Yellow Card Man is there and tells Jake that he shouldn't be there. Jake goes over to a tree and carves JFK's initials in a tree. He then walks back to the spot and returns to 2016, and checks the now much-larger tree. The initials are there, and Al tells him that the next time he goes through, the carving will disappear. Each time someone goes through the portal, everything resets. It's always 11:58 on October 21, 1960. No matter how long someone stays, they come back two minutes in the present. Going back erases what happened before. Al dismisses the Yellow Card Man as a bum and insists that he's not important. He figures that Jake wants to change people's lives, and tells him to think about it.
Later at the community center, Jake watches with the vice principal, Alice Nelson, as Principal Hayles hands out diplomas. Harry goes up to get his diploma and Jake stands up to applaud. Once he sits down, Jake tells Alice that Harry is a great writer, but she isn't impressed and admits that Harry can't handle the job. Afterward, Jake goes to Al's house and asks for more information. Al takes him up to his study where he has hundreds of clippings on the JFK assassination. He explains that Lee Harvey Oswald didn't make sense. No one studied him before the assassination, but Al saw him in 1962 after he came back from Russia. He still doesn't know if Oswald is the shooter, and he wouldn’t shoot him on a possibility. Al shows Jake an article on General Clinton Walker, who ran for Texas governor. Six months before JFK was shot, there was an assassination attempt on Walker, and the same gun that killed JFK was used. Al wants Jake to go back to April 10, 1963, and confirm if Oswald took the shot at Walker.
Jake wonders what he's going to do for three years waiting for April 10, and Al shows him a metal case with fake IDs so he can hold a job and blend in. He admits that he did it when he got diagnosed, and gives Jake a notebook with sports stats. Al spent his time in the past gambling and buying cheap hamburger from the 1960s, and Jake says that he's not the right guy for it. The diner owner insists that he is, and says that it's time to go to the diner. Jake says that he has to think about it, and Al tells him that there's nothing to think about. He figures that Jake will do anything to avoid doing something important, and yells at Jake to get out of his house.
Jake drives home and goes to bed, but can't sleep. The next morning, he goes back to Al's house and knocks at the door. There's no answer, and the door is unlocked. Jake goes inside and up to the study, and finds Al dead in his chair. The knife Al gave Jake earlier is on the table, and Jake pockets it and says that he'll do it. He drives to the diner, lets himself in with Al's key, and goes through the portal. Everything happens as before, and the Yellow Card Man insists that Jake shouldn’t be there.
The teacher goes down Main Street, trying to remain innocuous despite his anachronistic clothing. He goes to a barber and gets a shave, then buys a suit. Jake pays with the money that Al gave him, and makes sure to hide his iPhone. He stops at a diner to get some pie, and realizes that the waitress is Alice. Shocked, Jake confirms that Alice goes to the local high school and she says that she's going to move rather than teach. He wishes her well, says that he might see her around, and leaves.
Next, Jake goes to a used car lot, looking to make his money last. The car salesman asks for $750, and Jake talks him down to $700 cash. Jake realizes that he's out of money and asks if there's somewhere that he can place a bet. Once he has the address of the bar, Jake drives there and memorizes some of the sports stats that Al gave him. The manager gives him 3-to-1 odds on a boxing match, but goes for 35-to-1 when Jake predicts the round. The owner, Little Eddie, okays the bet and Jakes offers $100. Everyone stares at him in surprise, and Little Eddie agrees to cover it.
Little Eddie invites Jake to have a drink with him and listen to the match. Jake's fighter comes through in an upset and everyone stares at Jake. Little Eddie pays him off and insists that Jake count it. He reluctantly does so and says that maybe he'll see them around, and quickly leaves. Little Eddie and his thug follow him out and watch as he drives away. Jake drives to a motel and gets a room for the night, and locks and chains the door behind him. He peers out the window and sees the thug spot his car. The man goes to Jake's room and finds the door unlock. When he goes inside, he finds the iPhone playing on the bed. Jake hits him in the head, grabs his suitcase and iPhone, and drives off in his car. The Yellow Card Man is standing in the driveway, and Jake swerves to avoid him and keeps going.
The next day, Jake drives to a bridge and tosses his iPhone into the river. He drives cross-country to Dallas and goes past the book depository. Jake parks nearby and finds the window that Oswald supposedly fired from, and a group of girls bump into him, knocking his papers everywhere. After they move along, a woman sitting nearby chuckles and gently mocks Jake. She walks off but forgets her purse, and Jake calls to her. They talk about reading, and Jake lets slip about a movie that hasn't been made yet. The woman introduces herself as Sadie Clayton, and a man honks his horn at her. Sadie thanks Jake for finding her purse, and warns that her husband Johnny will kill her if she loses another handbag.
Jake finds a boarding room and the landlady, Frances Boland, and she introduces him to her son Henry, who is in the ROTC. When she wonders how Jake found the place, he says that his friend Al recommended it. The woman doesn't remember Al from the previous time jump. Jake says that he's doing research for a book he's writing and takes the room. Once he's alone, Jake takes out Al's files on Oswald. He remembers Al telling him that the past doesn't want to be changed.
That night, Jake for a walk and finds a payphone. He calls Christopher Epping in Chicago but the connection goes bad and then cuts off entirely. Jake starts to walk away, but then turns to try again... and a car slams into the phone booth and crashes. He runs over and finds the driver, a woman, bloody on the streets. She opens her eyes and tells Jake that he shouldn't be there.
Back at the boarding house, Jake staggers up to his room and throws up. Frances knocks on the door and asks if he's all right, and Jake says that he's fine. The next day, Jake goes down to breakfast and Frances is relieved that he's feeling better. Henry comes in and says that he's heading into the Army when he turns 18, and Jake asks why. The boy says he wants to serve his country, and Jake falls silent. Back in his room, Jake goes over Al's files and finds a note to follow George de Mohrenschidt. He remembers Al telling him that George is one of the other leads. George is a Russian ex-pat who belongs to the Dallas Petroleum Club. In 1962 he becomes Oswald's best friend.
Al plays a video of an interview with George and his wife Jeanne. George claims that they had heard that the Oswalds were moving to the U.S. from Russia and were having a bad time of it. Jeanne describes how Oswald used to abuse his wife, and Al figures that it Oswald had a handler then it was George. He wants Jake to eliminate that possibility... and then kill Oswald.
Jake drives to George's home and watches him leave. George drives to a convention center where Kennedy is giving a speech. Jake follows him inside and takes a seat. He spots George seated lower down. He walks out as everyone applauds, and Jake watches him go upstairs to a private room. The guard won't let Jake through until Jake claims that he's with George.
Upstairs, a VIP party is going on. Kennedy and his wife Jackie come up and George greets them, just as the doorman confronts Jake and says that he shouldn’t be there. Jake runs for it and the security guards give chase. The teacher runs into the basement and finds Yellow Card Man. Continuing on, Jake hides in a room and hundreds of cockroaches swarm him. When he tries to get out, Jake discovers that the door is jammed. He finally gets the door open... and a guard knocks him out.
Later, Jake wakes up and the Secret Service question him. Jake says that he just came to see Kennedy, He insists that he loves Kennedy, and they point out that he ran way. They demand to know who Jake really is, and Jake notices that they've set aside Al's knife without noticing it has 1961 – 1973 printed on it. Eager to distract them, Jake insists that Kennedy is on the right track, and he came out there to shake Kennedy's hand. Convinced, they warn him off and Jake picks up the knife and his wallet before leaving.
Al suggests that George might be an informant, and has interests in Haiti. In 1977 George claimed that the CIA gave him Oswald's address and then he testified before the House Committee on assassinations. The next day, he committed suicide. Al followed him in 1960 and one night he felt the past push back. George took Jeanne out to a restaurant, El Conejo, where all the important people in Dallas ate. An argument broke out near the restaurant, and Al advises Jake to avoid it.
Jake follows George and Jeanne to El Conejo and avoids the fight. He goes inside and follows George into the main room as Jeanne goes to the restroom. Jake tips the manager to get him a table near George,
Al says that when he went to the table, his arm was caught in the flame from a spilled candle, and he had to go to the hospital rather than see who George met with.
Jake just avoids a waiter carrying a tray with a candle, who drops the candle. Using his coat, Jake smothers the flame. The waitress takes him to his table, and a chandelier drops from the ceiling, just missing Jake. Once Jake is seated, he watches George talk with two men, apparently CIA. He dismisses the waitress and tries to listen in, but a blender goes off and the diners at the next table start laughing loudly. Jake manages to hear George mention Oswald, just as a waiter drops a tray of plates. The two CIA men leave and after a moment, George goes as well. Jake follows him backstage and sees George having sex with a singer. Shocked, Jake runs out and drives back to his boarding house, realizing that Al was right about George meeting with the CIA.
As Jake pulls up to the boarding house, he sees smoke and flames. His room is burning, and Frances sobs over her dead son Henry. Once the fire dies down, Jake goes through the ruins of his room and discovers that all of the files are destroyed. A firefighter comes in and says that Jake shouldn't be there, and he agrees, saying that he can't do it. Jake drives back to Lisbon, but gets lost in the country. He stops in Kentucky to check his map, and remembers Harry saying that he and his family lived in Holden, Kentucky.
A boy comes over and Jake asks him where Holden is. The boy gives him directions, and Jake says that he's going there because he might be able to do one thing. When he gets to Holden, he watches a young Harry and his sister outside their house. Harry's father Frank pulls up and gets Harry's siblings into the car for ice cream. Doris tells Frank to get them home by 6, and Harry finally gets in the car with Frank. They drive off as Jake watches.
Written by Gadfly on Feb 16, 2016