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Movie Arrival Explained and Interview with Eric Heisserer

Arrival is the best movie of the year so far. It breaks genres. It tears down stereotypes and walls. It breaks your brain the more you think about it. What more could you want from a movie? IMDB
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Let me just say this and get it off my chest. “Arrival is a great movie. Great.” This past week, I got an opportunity to go and see Arrival before it hit the theaters. But the best part? Eric Heisserer, the screenplay author, came and introduced the film and then took questions after the movie was over. Which, is a fairly awesome way to see a movie like Arrival.  And I’m still on a high from the experience.

It is a movie unlike any other movie you have ever seen. Extraordinary characters. Fantastic premise. Gorgeous cinematics. Brilliant writing. It is thoughtful and yet thrilling. It is poignant and, while still figuring out how to also simultaneously be, a complete and utter mindjob.

And it’s that last bit that brings me to the movie today – because I want to walk you through the movie from beginning to end. This movie walk through of the movie Arrival is mainly for those of you who walked out of the theater still scratching your head. It is for those of you who stopped… and said, “Waaaaait, what? How did that work again? There was LSD involved, right?” So, all that to say, this walk through is for those of you who have already seen this movie. Needless to say, spoilers abound.


Arrival Movie Prime Mover

In order to really understand the ins and outs of this movie, we need to understand the bare bones of how the movie works. The who’s, and the what’s, which will then allow us to move on to the why’s.

We begin with Louise Banks, the vaunted protagonist, and thoughtfully brilliant linguist. Quickly, we are presented with a number of “flashbacks” right out of the gate. These visions, of some other time, show Louise with her daughter being born, growing up, and then getting sick. And sadly enough, these visions ultimately end in her daughter’s death. It is this loss, this death, that carries the gravitas, and the emotional heft of the entire movie. It carries with it the prime mover for all the decisions that Louise makes and the influences that drive the rest of this movie. It defines her actions. Her responses. And really is the motivator for everything we see throughout the rest of the movie.

Keep this in mind, because it is this “foundation” that confuses everyone the most when the final shoe falls.

Arrival Movie Narrative

As the actual movie narrative starts, we see everything kick off with Louise’s failed attempt to teach her class at the university. But, we know, it doesn’t happen because of a small alien invasion. Twelve alien pods have been sent by some unknown life form. And with this arrival, all sense of normalcy in the world ends. But we don’t know what the aliens want, why they are here…anything. The world knows nothing.

Soon, Louise is pitched by the military to come in and help them learn the alien language. And the next thing Louise knows she’s standing in a clean room, getting into a bunny suit in order to go and meet the aliens. Can you imagine? Just amazing, this particular turn of events for Louise. And Louise’s counterpart is Ian…a mathematical genius, chosen to support her knowledge of language with his knowledge universal truths founded in algorithms and formulas. And over the next several months they begin to make progress in learning and decoding the language of these new arrivals to earth.

Arrival Movie – Global Conflict

Simultaneously, we begin hearing about the other eleven sites, and the various troubles they are having. Troubles communicating, troubles understanding. And more importantly, troubles in their attempt to trade and receive weapons and various support from the aliens. And while the various countries are still fairly non-conversant, the misunderstandings being piling up. And it is these misunderstandings that lead to the various sites going off-line and the cooperation among countries to end. And the black out only increases the questions, the concerns and the fear around the world.

Arrival Movie – The Visions Continue

Now, while the world is devolving into a state of fear and chaos, Louise is continuing to learn the language of the aliens. And the more she learns, the more she begins to see visions of her daughter, and her daughter’s death. It’s as if the two are somehow intertwined. It could be that Louise is just overworked, and under slept. It could be that the stress of this chaotic and important role she is playing is just starting to take a toll. Or, not.

As the narration acceleration begins to ramp up, and the near collisions continue to increase, we start to see that this could really end up badly for the entire planet. Which is when, during one unfortunate conversation between Abbott and Costello, that a planted bomb goes off. The aliens protect Louise and Ian, but Abbott is killed in the process. And taking a defensive posture, all twelve pods float higher in the sky, and all communications with the aliens end. And, as the various militaries of the world begin planning for war, a shuttle is sent down for Louise.

Which brings us to one of the most important conversations in the entire movie. Costello tells Louise that Abbott is in the process of dying as a result of the bomb blast. We also learn that we are at the pinnacle of something terrible happening. Most importantly? This is where Louise realizes that her visions that she has been seeing, are actually visions into the future, not into the past. And so Louise asks, “Who is this girl?” she asks, of the daughter she’s been envisioning the entire movie long. And right there in your theater you heard the entire audience release a collective, “WAIT WHAT?”

Simultaneously the world’s military begins evacuating from all the sites as attack plans on the pods begin to proceed. It is then, mid-evacuation, while Ian and Louise are standing in line to leave and evacuate, that Louise begins having more visions of a foreseen future. Not a past vision as we previously assumed, but rather a future vision of what might happen. General Shang, the head of the military in China, appears to Louise to tell her thank you for helping to save the day. And Shang? He was so so glad that Louise called his private number to talk to him and to convince him to not attack, and to stand down.


Until General Shang turned his phone towards him and says, ‘so glad you called this number.’ And blam, she’s back to the line waiting to be evacuated in the past. So Louise hurries to go and find a sat phone to make a call to General Shang. Flash forward – “And that message you gave to me, that message really moved me.” WHAT MESSAGE?!? Flash back, men with guns are chasing after Louise and now Ian is physically standing in front of Louise, allowing her the few precious seconds to communicate with Shang. But what is she supposed to say?!? Flash forward again to Shang – you told me the last thing my dying wife said to me… And then Shang whispers into Louise’s ear. And immediately Louise starts telling Shang in the past what he told her to say in the future.

And with that message from Louise to Shang, Shang stands down. The other nations see that China and America have stood down. And the rest of them stand down as well. And in the aftermath of the chaos, Ian and Louise realize that the aliens had given them the entirety of their language. And it was through this gift of their language, that they would be able to see into the future. As a result of this gift, they would be able to avoid chaotic confrontations like this in the future.

Arrival Story of Your Life Short Story

If you were unaware, Arrival was based on an amazing short story entitled The Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang. I highly recommend you read it. It will spell out to you very clearly how hard this movie’s script was to write. Eric Heisserer is a genius. I am certain of this. I believe this so much so, that after hearing that the Arrival movie was happening, I had to look this Eric dude up. He and I even connected via numerous DMs on Twitter discussing the intense complications involved with making this movie. And when I asked him, “How in heaven’s name does one make a movie script out of Chiang’s original story?” His answer? He just pointed me to his original screenplay to read for myself. The reason it was so complicated to make was because of the non-linear timeline of the movie. It flows equally forward and backwards simultaneously.

But Chiang’s original story had a different goal – a different ending. As the short story winds down towards its conclusion the Aliens are being pumped for weapons by the humans across the world. And the Aliens acquiesce eventually, and ship plans for some sort of military jump drive or something. And the plans went sliced to all 12 countries. But it was only later that they realized that the plans were for a technical solution that someone had already recently invented elsewhere in the world.  So, wow, what?!? WHY?

So, in effect, the aliens had given the world nothing. They gave us something that we had already invented. And then? They vanished. Completely disappeared.

The point of the short story by Chiang, was that the aliens wanted to learn from us a simple but complicated lesson. They wanted to learn how to choose a future other than any they had already foreseen. And humans only run with futures they had never seen before. So this was nothing but a training ground for them. They foresaw an end to their civilization and they wanted to know how to avert that disaster that was staring them in the face. That was the general idea of the point of the book.

Arrival and Eric Heisserer’s Script


As soon as Eric pointed me to his script I read it immediately, and I literally read it with an open mouth. To take a 50-page story and to build it out to a full 100-minute script. Especially a non-linear, all over the map, inside out script like Eric’s. And it is so good, that I will go out on a limb and say that not only will the screenplay for Arrival be nominated for an Oscar but I will also predict that it will win. It just will. (Update: It did not win. And I was agog when Moonlight won. Moonlight was great. I adored it. But this was such a difficult feat.)

But the script is significantly different from Chiang’s original short story, and even different from the final movie get the privilege of seeing. The 12 nations involved with interacting with the aliens almost become secondary to the crowds and the mob inciting riots around the borders of the compounds. We also have Ian, at the beginning of the script, but not identified. We also see the heptopods giving plans (1/12 of them to each nation) for an international spaceship that will give humans the ability to change their future.

Which brings me to the most significant change from the short story, through to Eric Heisserer’s script, over to the final movie. As I mentioned before in the short story Chiang made the gift from the aliens a pointless gift…something that the humans already had. In Heisserer’s script he changed it to an interstellar spacecraft, capable of star travel. Each country was given one twelfth of the plans which then forced the nations to work together. But in the final movie version, those two different options are dropped for a more enigmatic solution…the Aliens give the human race their language. Um, what?

The Arrival’s Gift of Language

Eric and I had exchanged a couple of tweets the week or two before the premiere. But at the premiere, I was pretty beside myself when I finally got my chance in the spotlight to ask the one question I had been dying to ask about the script and the movie. I asked:

“In terms of the transition from the original story, to the script, and then to the movie, it kept the feeling very well from the original book. And you just referred to a lot of the changes that you made, but one of the things that I did not completely understand was the decision to remove the alien’s gift of the ship to the humans. Well, from the version of the script that I had access to anyway…there was going to be an Interstellar-esque, time traveling type ship gifted from the aliens…no? Why did you choose to drop that from the movie?”

Which, as far as questions go – was possibly the best question ever. Or not, because I was so hopelessly enamored with Eric and the work that he had done, and the fact that I was talking to a future Oscar winner had me all a twist and akimbo. Veritable cornucopias of frogs were in my throat.  I sounded like I was going to die. I know, because I’ve listened to the recording of the conversation and this particular question over and over again! hahah. Anyway, here was Eric’s more than gracious response:

“You sort of answered your own question. When Interstellar came out I said, ‘We are in trouble.’ Because originally the gift that the heptopods had given us was a ship like theirs so that we could start colonizing.  And we were pretty far down that road until Interstellar came out and we knew we had to change that. So when Interstellar came out we had a pretty panicked meeting to discuss what else it could possibly be. And at that point the designs of the logograms were pretty far along and we began to thing that maybe it could just be that the language was possibly the gift itself. And ultimately we decided that was just what we do.”

Let Me Explain the Timelessness of the Arrival


One of the questions that I am certain will come up more often than others is, “What is the deal with the visions that Louise is having. I thought I understood but now? Nope.” Which is fair.

The first thing you have to realize about Arrival is that it is specifically not linear story. It’s a decidedly non-linear story actually. As the movie opens we actually kick it all off with visions of Louise’s daughter. Her birth. Her growth. And eventually her sickness and her death.

You remember these flashbacks right? These were not flashbacks. Well, they were flashbacks, but from the future. But the clever trick that sold these visions as flashbacks was how morose Louise was at the beginning of the movie. Her mother was worried about her. “Yes, mom, I’m fine already… yes.” And she walks through the campus in a daze for some reason. This is the clever con job of the movie. But we actually have absolutely no idea why she is sad. We assume it is because of the death of her child. And we also assume it is because she is obviously divorced. But all of that is false. There is no reason that we know of for Louise to be upset, or down. (Narratively speaking anyway. Obviously it is perfectly fine for people to just be depressed. And I am not trying to comment on the frailty of women… for the love of all that is good and holy. I’m just saying she isn’t upset because of her daughter or her husband BECAUSE SHE HAS NEVER HAD A DAUGHTER OR A HUSBAND. OK?!? Great, thanks.)

But notice the cycle of the visions. We get a pile of visions at the beginning of the movie. But otherwise, we don’t have any again until Louise begins to translate. And we get plenty more the further she immerses herself into the language. Ever wonder why Ian isn’t seeing the visions as well? He’s working with the aliens, right? But he isn’t learning the language. He isn’t immersing himself in the way that the heptopods think. Right? There is no beginning and no end in their language. And Louise is subjecting herself to this anti-transiential mindset, but Ian is not. Make sense?

So these pictures of a daughter, are completely bizarre to Louise. We assumed that she was reflecting back on her time with her daughter and pining for this time again. But instead, every single time she has a vision she is actually thinking…what the hell? Who is that? Which we see most poignantly play out with the conversation between General Shang and herself from the past to the future and then back again. This is only possible because of Louise’s abilities in the heptopod’s language.

Detailed Explanation of the Ending of the Arrival

The movie has been out exactly one weekend, and already people are emailing me and commenting that the ending is a bit vague and it could use some clarity. I personally am very glad that plays out exactly the way it does. But I totally understand the confusion. So let’s just see if we can talk through exactly what happens at the end of the Arrival.

When the bomb goes off inside the ship the aliens do a massive dump of their language in a spray of knowledge. This is the gift from the aliens. This is the key. But from then on all 12 nations are on the verge of attacking the aliens. They had all stopped communicating with one another. And their misunderstanding of the aliens was causing them fear of the aliens. Right? And, as the humans were beginning to retreat from the sites in advance of an attack, Louise sees in her future a conversation with the aliens and so she heads out and sees a pod coming her way. And up she goes…and then she learns that Abbott is dying. But that she is able to see the future – “Who is this girl?” – and she learns that this Hannah, is potentially her daughter……….. IN THE FUTURE. Right? But at this point Louise is only semi-capable with the language, and only seeing a very myopic view of the future. But if she were to immerse herself in all of the heptopod’s logograms she would be able to see much much further and a much wider view of the future.

No? So this gift of all of their vocabulary isn’t just a way to communicate with these aliens more fully… or even at all. The gift of their language is an ability to see the future. As a result of some of these questions I was getting, I hopped on to Twitter and asked Eric, the screenplay writer, a few of the more important ones. But to understand my question you have to know that in Chaing’s book the aliens were a deterministic, non-freewill based species. And their reason for coming to earth was to avert disaster that they were locked into. (I have tried to translate the twitter weirdness to normal language, but otherwise have left everything else the same.)

Taylor – “Hey there Eric, quick question for you. If the language is the gift (not a ship), doesn’t that lock humans on same path as aliens and an eventual demise?”

Eric – “Those who can immerse themselves in the language will experience nonlinear time & help guide humanity to eventually save them. Hence the 3000 years line from Costello.”

Taylor – “True Eric, but the language locks the one understanding the language into a timeline, no? Didn’t aliens originally want to learn flexibility from humans? Seemed like a bit part of Chiang’s original story idea.”

Eric – “I deviate from the story in that aspect — rather than locking into determinism, choice is still on the table. Which, in my humble opinion, makes it more profound that Louise could have chosen NOT to have Hannah with Ian.”

Eric – “(Also, the logograms pulse and shift slightly on close inspection, hinting at slight mutability of choice.)”

Taylor – “Now that, good sir, is a definitive answer. And I particularly dig your Hannah example as well. Thanks sir! And then I closed out with a reference to his winning an Oscar for his screenplay – “and remember, to shout “@tayoflore” from the stage when you win!”

But hopefully that will make sense, if you came here a bit confused as to how the movie ended. If not – just ask the questions that you have in the comments and we can hash them out there.

What was the Mystery Line In Arrival?


But one of the biggest questions of the movie is a super super important one. What does General Shang say to Louise in the future that his wife said to him on his deathbed?!? Well, glad that you asked. When I was at the launch showing on Thursday last week with Eric Heisserer one of the better questions asked of Eric was exactly this. What did she say? And Eric’s response was that she said,

“In war there are no winners, only widows.”

But it was his story about this interaction with Denis was the most interesting bit about this quote. He had written this landmine into his script with something like, “And General Shang whispers in Louise’s ear.” but Denis had Amy with a Chinese linguist learning the Chinese right there, right then ready to go. He could just have her say nothing! And wanting to make Denis really happy he worked and worked to come up with the perfect quote…only to find at the premiere, there were no subtitles for the quote and thus it was lost to history! hahaha.

Final Thoughts on the movie Arrival

I’m pretty close to saying that the movie Arrival is my favorite movie of the year so far. (Notice how Rogue One isn’t out yet? hahah… I left myself room to include that film still because I’m not a complete idiot.) It was fantastic in every way. The reveal with Ian having left because he was upset about her deciding to have a daughter anyway, in spite of the knowledge she had had about her eventual demise was extraordinarily compelling, and required work on the audiences part. The sound design was beyond amazing. The cinematography was crazy! The logograms were fantastic. And all of it hinged on this really clever non-linear premise that just kept the surprises coming throughout the film. It just decimated the gender bias conversations that have been killing other films the past year or two. (Can I just say that Mad Max, Star Wars Episode 7 and this movie have probably done more for gender equality than a million other movies before them? So kudos!) But over all, the movie was just fantastic in every way. I definitely can’t recommend it enough.  There were a bunch more questions from the night that I will eventually transcribe and fill in. But for now I think we’ll leave it at an almost 3,000 word blog post instead of 5,000! hahaha. Love to hear your thoughts and ideas about this amazing film.

Edited by: CY

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  • just saw the movie today, thanks for the insight, helped me a lot! the only issue i have is the audience wasn’t guided through the whole connect-the-dot process of the movie, and i think it may have left more people confused about the movie than having “a-ha!” moments. I personally think maybe a few additional scenes or lines of dialogue could have connected these moments of realization.

  • What is the disaster that was supposed to happen?? The one that the aliens were giving us the language to help avoid?

  • Hey Matt,
    Are you referring specifically to the final movie, the book, or the script? In the movie, the disaster was specifically going to impact the aliens in a few thousand years? I seem to remember that it was 3,000 years? But I don’t believe that there was an explicit disaster going to hit the humans. At least not that I remember from the movie I saw anyway!

    The idea throughout the book, the script, but not so much in the final movie, was that our super power was that we humans could change our destinies. We could change, but these aliens never did. Their strength, the ability to see their future, had become their weakness. And so the aliens had come to learn listen to us, learn from us, and figure out how to avoid this species ending catastrophe. Right?

    Which, is quite ironic if you think about it. Up until Interstellar came out the gift form the aliens was going to be the plans to a ship that could travel across the stars. But after Interstellar came out Eric and Denis (and the entire team I guess) decided that the gift should be the language itself. BUT THE LANGUAGE is the trap that caused the aliens to get locked into a path that would be their demise. Right? So in effect… the aliens were locking us into their same fate through this “gift”. Right?

    Maybe I’ll tweet at Eric and ask that question. We shall see.

  • Eric and I are chatting through these details on twitter currently if you are interested in following along. I’ll post his responses in the comments and in the post as well in a bit.

  • Hey Henry,
    You are smarter than a connect the dot movie experience. And Hollywood (imho) ruins so many movies with this sort of trope/ending. NOW FOR ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE NO IDEA WHAT JUST HAPPENED… LET ME EXPLAIN IT TO YOU. Which dashes interpretation and new insights and discovery. But that is just my opinion. I disdain movies with directors that speak to the audience pedantically.

    Just my two cents.

  • Thanks,

    Yes it all is still a little confusing to me. I really enjoyed the film and I feel I have the gist of what happened, but there was just some information I think I missed. I understand that the language (effectively being the ability to see the future) was the gift they were giving us, and I assume we were supposed to be able to use it to help them? And then we can use it to help ourselves whenever?

    So I guess you’re right. We would eventually fall into the same trap that the aliens eventually did. Why can’t they solve their own problems if they do can foresee the future? They have no ability to change their actions/fortunes?

  • My 2 cents: I don’t think it is necessarily a foregone conclusion that humans would fall into the same “trap”. I also don’t think that the reason that the aliens could not help themselves is “because they see the future”, etc.

    IMHO, I think the gist was that the aliens did a quid-pro-quo of sorts for us. They gave us a gift, which we could never have achieved on our own. It would be used to help us avoid future catastrophes based on misunderstandings, as evidenced by General Shang’s example, where he was convinced to change his mind. A strong tool indeed had been used to avoid future human calamity.

    In return, the aliens would need our help in 3000 years. How & why are not discussed, evidently on purpose — so as not to open more questions than it solves. But perhaps in 3000 years, now having this incredible tool, humans would be advanced enough in technology to have something that the aliens would end up needing. This is what the aliens saw in their future. So they made it happen, in essence, by forcing it to happen.

    Now, as to WHY the aliens could not simply help themselves, instead of needing human help, again is not discussed, but can be easily speculated. Perhaps in the future there is a war of the worlds and they need human’s help as allies to fight off an evil alien force. There are so many ways to go here.

    All in all, I think it makes perfect sense, even if I am reading too much into it, or too far between the lines. That’s just my take on it. What do you think?

  • I was also fortunate to see an advance screening of this beautiful film. So many fascinating themes wrapped up in a profoundly moving, challenging and mesmerising piece of art. My film of the year so far. It is also a very appropriate film for these current times when you consider the world is so divided right now. Just look at the divisions you have to contend with in the USA at the moment, which makes the theme of us working together and getting along together even more profound. We live in hope that we can all get along one day without the need for alien intervention!!! Ian

  • Hey Matt,
    I updated the post with the conversation between Eric and myself on Twitter this morning. I think ultimately, the heptopods broke out of history and changed their fate just by reaching out to us. And Eric was very clear that his view wasn’t necessarily a deterministic perspective. Louise’s decision to have Hannah in spite of the coming disease was proof that she wasn’t without freewill. But my retort to that would just be, she doesn’t fully understand the language yet. So sure, she is still fully a free will human. But who’s to say she doesn’t ultimately get locked into the seen future?!?

  • Hey Brendon,
    In my reading of the stuff before walking into the movie (which actually screwed me up more than it helped me understand the actual film) I presupposed that we were helping them now, in this interaction with them, by teaching them how to avoid a deterministic vantage… to willingly choose how to be of a free-will mindset. That the aliens really came with lots of baggage that assumed the future they saw was the future that had to happen.

    (which, if you are honest, you have to admit is the plot line of EVERY single time travel movie ever created. just saying.)

  • Yeah, I see your point, but I just didn’t see it that way…if they were helped by us now, why would they say they would need our help in 3000 years? I dunno, kinda seemed like a lame way to help them…I think it leaves more intrigue to not know precisely how we might help 3000 years from now. You know?

  • I enjoyed the film, but was still confused – even though I got from the ending that the “flashbacks” were “flashforwards”. Because in the middle of the movie, right after a conversation between Louise and Hannah about her father leaving, Louise says to Ian (as they’re boarding a helicopter I think) “I think I just realized why my husband left me.” (or something like that, right?) And Ian says something like… “Oh, you had a husband?” So given that Louise never had a husband, why would she say that? This one moment didn’t click when the end was revealed. And the ending seemed to show Louise and Ian together and happy, rather than divorced. What’s up with that? Seriously… this was confusing!

  • Because Time is non- linear. She was getting stuck in different loops of time, within her own memories. That’s enough to confuse anybody, I’d say, you can see how she would be confusing these memories with reality and the present.

  • The fact that they ended up together at the end of the movie doesn’t mean that they didn’t divorce later on. Remember, he divorces her AFTER their daughter dies.

  • I guess I could more easily agree with you if she seemed confused, but she seemed like she’d achieved a moment of clarity. But I understand the difficulty of communicating time-jumping in a film. (see Slaughterhouse Five for a great movie about time-jumping, btw). :)

  • He must have left earlier because for one thing, we never see him while the child is alive and every time she refers to him, the implication is that he’s not there (in their house). And she has that conversation with Hannah about why her father left while Hannah is (obviously) alive.

  • Ian divorces her after she tells him that Hannah will die from a rare disease, which is why Hannah says by the lake that “Daddy looks at her differently now.” Ian was mad that Louise knew what the outcome would be with their daughter, and she still chose to have the baby. But since Louise has access to all time frames – past, present and future – she can forgo telling Ian the news and alter the timeline and they can still be together. Or she can do everything as she has seen and arrive at the divorce.

  • OH, yeah, that’s right. He divorces her when she tells him that. So it makes sense. She is just putting the pieces together from the clues left by her future visions. So yeah, it seems like she has an epiphany because the clues are not revealed in a linear order.

  • Taylor,

    After reading your revised version with the tweets from Eric, it seems that the aliens were indeed locked into an immutable future, a fact which does not really come across easily in the film, if it was the writers’ intent…

    If that was the case, and the aliens need our help because we have free will and can thus change our future — and by extension change theirs — then I see where they were going with it.
    But the whole free will vs. fate theme was not carried out very definitively in the movie.
    I would argue that, had it not been for you reading the original literature the movie was based on, or for Eric giving you not-so subtle answers, you would probably not have picked that out of the movie, as it was presented on screen.
    It’s an interesting concept, and certainly I think holds promise for some sort of sequel or similar film being made from it, however I just don’t like it when movies have to be explained so far outside the lines that a normal intelligent person could not have figured it out without outside knowledge solely from the authors.

    Interstellar, by comparison, was such a far better film, not just for its underrated score, cinematography, acting, etc. But for the fact that it delivered an incredible theory in a way that a) was not spelled out directly to the audience but b) needed some critical thinking to solve. The theory that time is non-linear was stretched further in this film (Interstellar) because we saw that time also wraps upon itself – sort of like a multi-dimensional thing. The other part of the film was how love was somehow quantifiable and created a thread that crossed through time, like gravity, which was also a new take, I believe for the first time in film. The fact that you could watch Interstellar two, three times and keep learning things, and you didn’t need the writers to tell you what was going on — that made it a better movie than Arrival IMHO.

    Arrival is still a great movie, but due to the explanation needed to figure out what the writers wanted to convey, it drops quite a bit in my personal opinion, on the scale of good-to-great movies.
    If they had just left it open to your own interpretation, like the final scene of Inception, it would have had more merit, IMO. Kinda disappointed with the writers now…

  • In the book it was a divorce a do believe, but in the movie it just felt like Ian left but then came back after he realized he was missing out. I think anyway. We don’t have any clear guidance on that point.

  • Hey Brendon…
    No totally. I get that…. my reading and reading and reading before I walked into the film definitely gave me a leg up in understanding the prime movers and the reasons why. I highly recommend reading the original story from Chiang. (Which I’ve downloaded like 4 different times form legit sources… I do think it’s been released via pdf openly. Worst case? Get it from your library.) Because just as a short story the thing is amazing. And it comes to different conclusions and different reasons for what it is doing. So you can’t extrapolate too much from it… but I was able to understand a lot of the details that have confused a lot of the people streaming to this page looking for answers.

    So yeah, Arrival is a bit vague on the whys. But that is ok. Do we need to understand why the aliens need our help in 3,000 years? No. We don’t. But understanding that piece could flesh it out a bit more. Ian wasn’t a player in the short story. That was Eric’s concoction. And the use of the visions for solving the problem was Eric’s idea as well. Which, I give him, was brilliant. The short story is a downer! Hahah. We are selfish, and evil, and militaristic in all our dealings. And we are destined to wipe each other off the planet. But in Eric’s adaptation (and Denis’) there is a lot more hope than was originally there.

    Just saying. But yeah, I really did like Interstellar. And I get why it is being compared with Arrival. But for me? They are two completely different movies. But yeah, the emotion of interstellar, the ships, the family connection. But it was fascinating to see Eric admit to me that they rejigged the entire movie as a result of Interstellar. Which, I get looking back on it. You just don’t compete with Nolan, on anything. Avoid that man like the plague. He will own you every time. (Unless, of course you are Shane Carruth, and then it comes down to who got there first.)

    But your point is very valid. I saw things in the movie because I read extensively before I walked in. That is not even 1% of the audiences’ experience. And shouldn’t be expected. And actually… should be discouraged.

    My 2 cents.

  • I loved this movie SO much. Easily the best film i’ve seen this year; i already want to watch it again.
    I interpreted the flash forwards and Louise’s responses to them, as though she was solving a puzzle. Which is why she sounds so genuine when she says “i know why my husband left me” even though in that present day she doesn’t or has ever had a husband.
    I also think the scenes we see at the beginning of the movie, portray Louise as a single mother. But as we see more and more of these flashbacks (as we then think they are) we start to find out more details about Louise and her daughter, and father of the Hannah begins to be mentioned; but we don’t fully find out exactly “where” he is until the conversation Louise and Hannah have by the lake in which it is disclosed that Ian left because Louise made the wrong choice.
    I think the comment “he said i made the wrong choice” is not that Louise chose to have their daughter, but instead meant Louise had made the wrong choice in telling Ian about the fate of their daughter. Based on the fact that Hannah says he looks at her differently now, and asks Louise if he still likes her. Therefore, i think when the future becomes the present and Louise and Ian have actually had their daughter, Louise decides to not tell Ian about their daughters condition and instead chooses to live happily as a family, until their daughter inevitably dies. So the scenes at the end of the movie are of an alternate future which has become the reality- as appose to the single mother scenes we see at the beginning of the movie, which we had previously assumed as the past.
    Does anybody else think this?

  • Everyone keeps saying the images of her daughter were flash forwards. I didn’t get that at all. The twist in my view was that Ian was her ex-husband, even though the movie made no real indication that they knew each other.

  • So you mean that she ALREADY changed her future, but has no recollection of it?

    Interesting take, but a bit far-fetched, IMO.

  • So when it’s comes to non-linear time and the ability that the aliens have to see the future but not change their fate, it would be true the Costello always knew he would be killed or die based on the bomb planted on earth? If that’s also true than why did he appear to get Louise and Eric’s attention to the bomb behind them by banging on the glass(logogram) ?! What was the point of that if he knew it was going to get him killed and he would need to save them two anyways?! That scene is confusing to me now if they know they future and lack free will and settle for fate ….

  • Hey Scott,
    Determinism is a complicated bit of philosophy/theology to wrangle with. The quick answer was, Costello’s death was determined, but Louise and Ian’s deaths were not. Right? Easy out. In the vast view of their history, it was determined that the part that Costello would play in saving them from this threat in 3,000 years is that he would die to keep Louise alive. Right? So he willingly warned Louise, and simultaneously died to make this happen. NEVER MIND THE FACT, that the aliens haven’t learned yet how to save themselves from this pre-determined and foreseen path. Right?

    Does that make sense?

  • Wait, what?

    You didn’t see the Hannah flashes were flashforwards? Ok. Instead you saw it as curious that Ian and Louise appeared to not know each other?

    Let’s say you are right. That the Hannah pieces were backwards, it’s easy to explain just Ian and Louise as they were hurt and divorced and therefore they acted as if they didn’t know each other… right? That’s easy enough to explain. And as the movie progressed they worked out their differences, and the movie now is more about the restoration of their marriage.

    Only problem with that is this, what do you do with the quote from Louise, “Who is this girl?” She is asking Abbott I think (I get them mixed up!) – what are these visions really about? What is this girl, and why do I keep seeing her? That one quote I think singlehandedly sinks this vantage point on the movie. No? That, and his answer, which was something clunky like, “Louise seeing future”. right?


  • One thing that still confuses me…
    Louise is shown having ‘flash forwards’ at the beginning of the movie, yet she hasn’t learned the aliens’ language yet. How is that possible?

  • My take is it was the director showing you Louise’s life so that her flash-forwards would have some context. I don’t think they were her actual flash-forwards that didn’t start until after she had started learning the language (which was the aliens’ gift). Otherwise why would she be so baffled and overcome by the flash-forwards if she had already experienced them?

  • Okay, that makes sense… director’s flash forwards, not Louise’s…

    thanks Brian !

  • Hi Taylor, a few things I would like to point out. Costello was not the one that passed away from the bomb explosion, it was Abbott. Another thing, what was the exact time-span that the aliens were on planet Earth? When it was announced that China was planning on attacking the ships, the news ticker at the bottom said “Alien Crisis: Day 27”. I, for one, thought that it was unusual how much progress they had made with communicating with the aliens in less than a month, however, in here you say they had been contacting them for several months. Can I get some clarification on this?

    Overall, fantastic movie. I’ve seen it twice already, and would not be surprised if I see it again.

  • Hey Logan –
    Thanks for the Re-reminder about Costello and Abbot and who is who. In the book they are called Flappery and Raspberry and my brain just can’t get around Abbot and Costello.

    Now, in regards to your question about the timespan – this one:

    “what was the exact time-span that the aliens were on planet Earth? When it was announced that China was planning on attacking the ships, the news ticker at the bottom said “Alien Crisis: Day 27”. I, for one, thought that it was unusual how much progress they had made with communicating with the aliens in less than a month, however, in here you say they had been contacting them for several months. Can I get some clarification on this?”

    So a couple minutes ago I asked Eric for clarification:

    “Hey Eric – getting questions about the duration time Louise works with them? I seem to recall in the book it was months? Close?”

    And here was his response:

    “@tayoflore In the story it’s months, yes. Left vague in film but could be months as well, although public panic builds quickly.”

    There you have it Logan.

  • Hey Taylor

    Why did the Alien ships get destroyed at the end of the movie. And what happened after the Alien ships got destroyed and the meeting between Louise and the Chinese leader it said after few months.

  • I don’t remember that quote. I’m going to see the movie again this weekend, so I’ll reevaluate. That would be pretty important.

  • About the Louise see future, that could have been referring to her having seen the future a while back.

  • I saw the movie today and when it finished my girlfriend and I just sat in awe. Arrival was the best movie I’ve seen all year AND one of the best science fiction movies EVER!

    What a beautiful, intelligent and thought provoking film! These days it seems like audiences don’t want to have to do any thinking for themselves. They need to have it all laid out on the table before them. And when you say, “sci-fi” people want (and expect) lots of space battles and mindless entertainment . When I told my mom that I had just seen a science fiction movie it took her less than a moment to say, “Not for me!” when I know that she will love it!

    I took the “gift” to simply be the idea that “it’s better to work together than not” because until the different countries shared their information, they would be unable to figure it all out. I found that concept to be SO timely with Hillary Clinton’s “Stronger together.”

    I will definitely go back to see Arrival again very soon. Now armed with the knowledge that saw flash forwards and not flashbacks, will be interesting.

    Finally, Amy Adams damn well better get that Oscar for her performance! She was absolutely brilliant!

  • K Scott.
    I look forward to hearing back from you after you see the film again. Even after it hits Redbox (though I’m sure Eric would like me to say – GO SEE IT IN THE THEATERS) – I can be very patient indeed. Some movies on here we have been discussing for like 10 years? Memento being the oldest… I even discussed that one for years out on Epinions! hhaha.


  • I agree Randi,
    Both Amy, Eric (screenplay), Jóhann (Music), and Denis (Director) should all win in my opinion. The sound design was also so brilliant as well. Ominous, other worldly and gorgeous. Fantastic flick.

    And I also agree with your sentiment about American audiences wanting all the loose ends buttoned up and every detail nailed down. Not for me. I want to wrangle with a movie thank you very much! Thanks for swinging by!


  • Hey Taylor, thanks for having this place to discuss!

  • Sorry to disappoint, but arrival won’t win any academy awards. If there’s one thing I’ve learned after watching a crappy self-serving film like Birdman (about the “great” actors’ “process”!) basically sweep the oscars while interstellar — a far superior film– gets nil, it’s that the academy wants an artsy fartsy film to win, and more power to them if it inflates their already massive egos. (End rant).

  • Fair.
    But I am going all in that Eric wins for his script. The rest will lose. But I have to believe that Hollywood has this much of a clue.

    Come back the day after and remind me. Heck, email me. Heck, show up at my house. Heheh.
    He has to win.

  • It’s actually a self serving location that I built solely so I could attract you to come and talk to me. I’m really that lame. Heheheh.

    No really… I’m glad you dig it. Check out some of the other reviews I’ve done that you might enjoy. Or better yet, tell me what movies I should discuss but haven’t. Darko is the one big one I’m dying to get to.

  • Said the same thing about interstellar….guess what happened? I’m telling you, “the academy” is not the people’s choice awards. It’s the egocentric phonies awards. Arrivals’ script wasn’t self-serving in any way to the people who run the academy, therefore, don’t be surprised when it’s only nominated for visual effects and nothing more. It’s the biggest snob excluders club in this country. Period.

  • Thank you for the response and clarification! Does the movie follow the book pretty closely?

  • Just saw this a few hours ago. That’s why I’m here! You say Louise has free will, but to me she doesn’t, tho I get how you can say this. She goes down the same path of marriage, divorce and daughter death knowing that this would eventually all happen. She WANTS this to happen or she CAN’T HELP IT? To me, none of this would have happened if she had free will. She would have said, “the heck with this scenario, I’m not going down that road. I don’t want this misery”. Who would? Instead she’s sucked in and MUST go down this path. Just sayin’.

  • Ah, but does she? The alien language possessed more than simply showing the future; it also encompassed emotion and feeling. Maybe she has the baby but never tells her husband, changing the outcome…. at least for her marriage. She knows she will have many years of joy with her daughter, which may outweigh the loss. Or she can travel the same path, and enjoy the good moments even more.

  • The thing about all time existing at once that is very difficult to capture in a film is that All Time is Existing At Once. Moments don’t happen one after another. So there can’t be free will because you can’t change a choice. All of the moments in your life are happening all at once. There’s no order to them. They are all always available for you to examine. You can’t go “back” and change something because there is no “back”. Slaughterhouse Five (the book and to a lesser degree, the movie) gets this point across pretty well, I think.

    Slaughterhouse Five gets my grand approval. Well played sir. Well played. Totally like five.

    Louise was also a good person. She knew that she was THE ONE to connect us to the aliens and save the day. If she chose not to do it she would have let the entire human race down. Also agree with Brian. If you’ve had a child… even months with that child is better than not having that child. You are broken and emboldened by them. Literally the moment my first daughter was born I said this outloud… Ah, the meaning of life. I get it. So, I think she chose the altruistic path for humanity, but also it was a selfish path to have Hannah, even if it ended badly in the end. (Selfish is the wrong word, but you get what I mean.)

  • Please unsubscribe me! Trust me, I’m reading your blog regularly now but the email alerts are killing me! I tried to unsubscribe via your “manage” link but page not found comes up.

    Thank you and ps, I’m really enjoying the blog

  • hi I didn’t understand one thing from the movie that how did Louise called Chinese leader for the first time and stopped the attack because in the movie she saw the future where she already stopped the attack by calling him 18 months before and by accessing to the future she get to know which number to call and what to say in the present right but how did she do it for the first time?

  • Yeah, I’m trying to figure out what happened… something broke. Sorry about that.

  • Ok,
    So, here’s how this worked in a chronological order:

    1. All 12 countries shutdown their sharing
    2. All countries begin evacuating
    3. Preparations are made for attacking the aliens
    4. Louise sees vision of the future, wherein General Shang says, thanks for calling me… on my personal phone, at this number, saying this exact thing.
    5. Louise steals Sat Phone
    6. Louise calls General Shang, says exactly what he tells her
    7. General Shang calls off the attack
    8. USA stands down as well
    9. Everyone else stands down
    10. They have celebration conference wherein Shang says thankyou for calling me, on this number, saying these things

    Right? Does that make sense?

  • I got that but there is one thing missing here that is everytime she stops the attack by accessing the info from future but there should be one(first) timeline where she stopped the attack without accessing the info from future right?

  • No. She isn’t time traveling.
    She is seeing time and where it is going and where it’s been simultaneously. She is outside of time and understanding what has happened and what is going to happen. This isn’t Louise leaping forward and then backwards again. This is Louise seeing both things simultaneously. Yes?

  • yes! so here where she can see future and past simultaneously and she has choice to change the outcomes of her future by making different decisions in present right? but here how did she actually stop the attack(without taking the info from her future visions)? Without this it will be like for a simple example assume Q have exam and answer key will be released 1 hour after the exam. when he saw the question paper he don’t know the solutions but he can see his future and past simultaneously and he sees himself holding the key in the future and he fills the right answer in the present but he actually don’t know how to solve it and here since the release of key is independent on his present actions its plausible but in arrival it gets worse because her future outcome depends on her present actions.

  • Taylor Homes, et. all. (midnight after seeing the movie, searching)
    Thank you very much for this discussion as I walked out thinking “wow what was that?” Fortunately my wife and others around in the theater clued me in about “time” and the dialog I remember “if you could see your life beginning and end all at the same time, would you change anything?” Thank you all for explaining that this is not time-travel but seeing outside of time. Yes both of us are going to see it again to catch the missed dialog.
    Yes I believe she has Free Will and not determinism as choice is always present with her knowledge. So now the question of the day is:
    If you knew your life from beginning to end would you change anything in your life?

  • Meh, this movie was hardly great. Too contrived for one thing. How can anyone actually believe that all communication would be cut off between the countries like it was in the movie? Bogus. I’m guessing they would instead share info because in most cases common outside threats usually bring people and nations together.

  • Seth says when we leave our bodies after we ‘die,’ Our life flashes before our eyes and sometime during or after that process we have the option, if we so desire, to relive it, perhaps taking another path, to gain another experience. He also says one lifetime is but one night in the life of the soul, so matter what path(s) we take, in the greater perspective of things, it’s merely a wink of the eye.

  • Hi Taylor, thanks for this great post. It has really clarified the film for me. I saw it yesterday evening and concluded it’s the best film I have seen in a while.
    Now, what I am still intrigued about, is this scene where Louise is speaking with General Shang at an event. In my understanding, Louise here is seeing the future, in which Shang tells her to call him on his private cell, what number to call, and what to say to him. Louise then proceeds to do this in the “present”. The interesting thing is that Louise, in this future reality, seems unaware, at first, that she called Shang, how she called him, and what she said. Shang, in the future, is telling Louise what to do (in the past), which seems to indicate that Shang is also immersed in the aliens’ way of thinking and can see across time (which is circular). And Shang is using this ability to help Louise change events. If it is true that Shang is also able to see time in a circular manner (i.e. “see the future”), I wonder how he got that ability, as presumably he has not been focused on communicating with the aliens as closely as Louise has, since the General presumably has been more focused on military/governance matters. Do you have any thoughts on this?

  • I like Ray’s take better:
    Hey everybody!
    Let’s have some fun
    You only live but once
    And when you’re dead you’re done
    So let the good times roll………

  • Hey Saskia,
    This is is a really interesting line of thought. It could be that Shang has learned enough logogram (look at me making a language out of a writing form) to see enough of the future to help effect the outcome? But in Eric’s script we seem to be told that Louise is the only one that really has cracked that nut… thus the special pod and interview.

    But you are right, Louise seems unaware in the future of what she was going to have done in the past. Hahah. This could just be cinematography creating the best viewing experience. For example, in the beginning of the film, after seeing these flash forwards we notice Louise’s melancholy and sadness. Obviously she’s sad because she lost her husband and daughter, no? Well of course not, she has no husband or daughter, yet. It’s that they were just selling us this trick.

    Now it could be that she really was overcome by the visions and made sad by them. Likewise, it could be that because (as Eric has told me via Twitter) Louise has free will, AND she can see the future, her visions of the future are constantly changin and she is settling into a known future that solves the current dilemma best. And if that is the case, then her various tenses would be surprised ocassionally. But I do think Shang was in on it a bit. But only that he knew that Louise had the ability to see the future. Maybe? And so he used that knowledge to affect his own future and outcome.

    But there is a massive dichotomy here. Without Shane’s personal number the event celebrating the alien peace could not have happened… so who knows! Hahaha

  • Hey Dartanian (cool name btw)
    No, communication between the sites is what was cut off. In the book it’s more clear. Basically they were sharing knowledge in their individual pursuits of understanding the aliens. And when one country tried something and got some progress they would share it. The severing of the communications on the screens was just an indication that the countries were in it for themselves now in the hunt to get the aliens to give them weapons.

    As for your opinion that common (Hollywood) threats normally bring us together… I don’t disagree that that is how Hollywood works, but that doesn’t seem realistic at all in real life. We don’t do that with regard to oil, nuclear weapons, really anything. And these aliens were seen as a way to get new technologies and weapons. So why share? It became more like a race than it did a coop.

    But I am not trying to convince you to like it. I get it that this movie couldn’t possibly be for everyone.

  • Right you are, Taylor. How many times do you hear that local, county, state, FBI don’t share their info.

  • Sure – but I still have a few questions:
    1. The correlation between the language and time – I’m willing to chalk this up to a sci fi universe, but it still is strange.
    2. General Shang. He seems to give her this information as if he knows she needs it however many years ago it was that she called him. How did he know? Did she write of this in her book? I understand her tapping in to the future to get the info, but the nature of his giving it to her seems strange to me.
    3. General Shang contd. She calls General Shang and tells him his wife’s last words, what he needs to do, etc. But I have two questions about this: Is his wife already dead or going to die in the future? If she’s already dead it makes a bit more sense, but the future would better imply that she knows only bad will come from his choice. If it is from the future, I’d expect him to be like “Ha. No. My wife is on the couch right now drinking coffee, what the hell are you talking about. *hangs up*” I might just have to think out the possibilities of each choice. But two, she pretty much gets information from herself. She got his number and the words from him, who he got from her. So shouldn’t she know it then? Or is this just some strange paradox? I suppose that’s just what happens when you try to understand time manipulation/perception/travel, etc.

  • This all good to know, sure – but I still have a few questions:
    1. The correlation between the language and time – I’m willing to chalk this up to a sci fi universe, but it still is strange.
    2. General Shang. He seems to give her this information as if he knows she needs it however many years ago it was that she called him. How did he know? Did she write of this in her book? I understand her tapping in to the future to get the info, but the nature of his giving it to her seems strange to me.
    3. General Shang contd. She calls General Shang and tells him his wife’s last words, what he needs to do, etc. But I have two questions about this: Is his wife already dead or going to die in the future? If she’s already dead it makes a bit more sense, but the future would better imply that she knows only bad will come from his choice. If it is from the future, I’d expect him to be like “Ha. No. My wife is on the couch right now drinking coffee, what the hell are you talking about. *hangs up*” I might just have to think out the possibilities of each choice. But two, she pretty much gets information from herself. She got his number and the words from him, who he got from her. So shouldn’t she know it then? Or is this just some strange paradox? I suppose that’s just what happens when you try to understand time manipulation/perception/travel, etc.

  • I apologize, my comment was sent twice. Same content in each, it just was posted 2 times.

  • No worries at all – I saw it and deleted it for you. And yes. That is the question, isn’t it? What is this interaction with Shang all about? There is something going on here. But what? I find it interesting to say the least. Maybe another question out to Eric is past due.

  • So my big question is: will she not tell Ian about Hannah’s disease again, or are futures not changeable if you have already seen an outcome?

  • Knowing her love she had for that child, she’d want to have that. Maybe it was like having her daughter back.

  • If the alien race has the ability to see an entire timeline of past and future, why did they need to waste time fumbling through learning to communicate with humans in the finite window of time during the course of their short visit? Given that Humans help them to avert crises in some distant future time, they could use this future knowledge of us and our written languages to communicate to us directly in the first meeting. They could have simply given out clear written statements of their intentions and purpose to each government in their respective native earth language and avoided the need for the mis-understanding altogether.

  • At one point collapsing at the personnel carrier vehicle, when her future husband grabs her and she comments, my husband loves me and then later, I forgot what it feels like to be hugged. One of these quotes felt out of place, because in the middle of those two she says who is that child. Or the editor took liberties with the chicken before the egg.

  • Ok everyone – sorry that the subscriptions management was all jacked up. It should be working now. (Which means you can sign up for ALL THE PAGES on taylorholmes.com… or not.)

    Please let me know if you are unable to unsubscribe, subscribe, or even scribe. (“I know you can be Overwhelmed, and Underwhelmed, but can you just be whelmed?!?”) Thanks for your patience everyone. And if you didn’t know it was broken this past week… all the better.


  • Brendon,
    That is how I interpreted it too. A quid pro quo- you help me, I help you. I don’t believe the aliens came down just to help us out and get nothing in return.

    Thanks for sharing that thought.

  • I suppose this is the only explanation that you can have for Warren’s question. Like Warren, I was scratching my head on that one. In fact, it wasn’t until my wife persuaded me that the flashbacks in the beginning were actually flash forwards that I came around on that thinking. I’m sure I was not alone in this confusion when the movie ended.

  • Thanks Logan for clearing that up. I was pretty sure Abbot died but I kept reading Costello dying. It kind of made me sad because I think I connected with Costello a wee bit more. Lol


  • 100% agree with everything you said, especially the comment regarding Amy Adams.


  • Ahhhhh, that’s the beauty of this movie, Ed. Louise counted the cost and decided she was willing to take the bad with the good. In fact, we all make that decision oqften, right? Every time I buy a pet (cat or dog) I know I will be burying that pet in about 10-12 years. This is very difficult for me to go through but I still do it. Why? Because in my way of thinking, the good far outweighs the bad. Yes? This is what I think.


  • The conversation she had with the alien when she boarded their ship was HUGE. You really have to pay close attention. I think I missed some stuff too. Fortunately for me, my wife filled me in on what I missed. Lol


  • Kavi, this was the hardest part of the movie for me to process, so you are not alone on this one.

    Somehow, Louise had to pull a conversation with Chang from the FUTURE about something that happened in his PAST (wife’s dying comment) in order to save the PRESENT. Wow! I still am trying to figure how that all works.


  • Their language was much different. Nothing would have been clear and convincing instructions. They knew Louise and he talents were the key. They had to go through her to achieve the end result they wanted. No short cuts I’m afraid.


  • Just saw that movie. Amazing film. I imagine someone can clarify this for me quickly…

    I understand the how non-linear time and the timeline of the film work together. But where does her quote at the end come in when Ian and Louis embrace? “I forgot how nice it was to be held by you.” Or something like that.

    This is what indicated to me that the life of her daughter happened sometime in the past, prior to the aliens arrival.

  • Hi,
    Just seen the movie, first weekend in Germany. There is one take I don’t understand. When Louise takes her own book out of the box and there is the alien language circle inside- is this in the future, too?

  • Yes,
    In the future Louise writes a book about the alien language, and the details she learned from the huge data download they gave us.

  • No no no.
    Think of it this way. Maybe this will be more clear if I jack with the tenses a bit for you:

    “I forgot just how much I am going to enjoy being held by you…”

    Better? She saw visions of being held by Ian. But it was outstripped by the chaos and crap of Ian walking away when he finds out Louise chose to bring Hannah into the world even though she knew she would die. Right?

  • I finally had the opportunity to see this movie for the first time today- and as someone who has been obsessed with Arrival since all the trailers and teasers were dropped, the wait was worth it.
    I absolutely loved this film, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day (The movie was at 10am, and it’s now 9pm). It’s interesting Interstellar was mentioned- because that’s also a movie I hold near and dear to my heart. My parents saw Arrival before I had, and when I asked how it was they replied with: “it’s deep, you’ll like it” and I then added: “oblivion deep or interstellar deep” and my dad said “oh definitely interstellar deep” and since then I wanted to see this film even more.
    Anyways, we were driving home from dinner, and everything finally clicked- and so I quickly typed into google “in arrival she was seeing the future not the past” and thank goodness it led me to this post. I mouthed “I was right!” and continued to read on. This film was brilliant, and I am so so happy I’m not the only one with this opinion.

  • I am confusd about her future interaction with Shiang. Did he know that they were in the future so he knew what to tell her to save them?

  • Another question- how did the little girl know about her mom and dad talking to aliens and was able to make the clay mold of the alien?? She told her mom it’s just a tv show and her mom looked so confused. If that was in the future, then amy adams future self would know what her daughter was talking about. THat made zero sense.

  • or “more than a zero-sum game,” if you will

  • Loved this movie.
    What confused me is that I thought Louise was seeing flashbacks until she has the vision of her book (which couldn’t have been a flashback or she would have known that language already). But how did Hannah knew about Louise and Ian talking to the aliens? Could she see the future too? Cause Louise loooked confused by the TV show story (she wouldn’t have ever been confused if she had told Hannah about their encounter with the aliens before she was born). And Ian’s comment in the back of the trunk “this all leads back to us” and at the end talking about the stars “I was aiming at you” and Louise’s “I forgot how it was to be held by you” all signal to them maybe known each other previously. Maybe these are all tricks of the story telling but lead to confusion.

  • This made no sense to me too. I am so confused.

  • Hey Hillary and Cris –
    Personally, I’m a little confused about what is confusing! hahah. Go back to the beginning of the movie in your mind. All of the visions of Hannah, of her birth, of her death… all of those visions were visions were of the future. When the aliens arrive, Louise had never been married. When the aliens arrived there was no child – dead or otherwise.

    And as the movie progresses those visions become stronger and stronger. Louise learns the alien language and begins to understand how the aliens think, which is outside of time. One of the concepts that we are told about is that when you learn a different language you begin to think more like the culture that speaks the language you are studying because a people’s language helps you understand them and how they think. Well, the aliens think outside of time. And the key to this perspective is their language. Right?

    So as Louise learns more and more she sees more and more. As Louise realizes that this girl, Hannah, is her future, she begins to understand what is happening. And it is only through Louise’ love for Ian that they willingly make Hannah. Which Louise chooses in spite of the negative outcome. Which eventually will drive Ian away. But will also allow Louise to save the human race. And to save the Septapods as well. And she does that willingly, even though she knows the costs.

    Does that make more sense?

  • I understand all of that. What does not make sense is the part in the future when she is with general shang. In her vision of the future, her future self doesn’t know how she stops China from attacking- so Shang tells her what to do in order for her past self to do it. If it was a vision of the future, then how the hell did her future self not know how she saved everything? And how did Shang know that he had to tell her those things? Also, her future self doesn’t understand what her daughter is talking about when she draws the ‘cartoon show’ – well if it’s her future self, then she should already know what happened in the past with the aliens. It made it seem as though her future was changing as the present was happening – was that supposed to be how it was happening? Did that just make any sense??

  • OH and i also did not mean to respond to Cris’ post. I am not confused in the way she is ha. She thinks the daughter was alive before the aliens. Eek

  • When Ian asks if she wants another baby. ….is that not AFTER Hannah died? Louise is hugging him and she said “I forgot how good it felt to hold you” (or something like that)…as he had been gone for a while because of their split following Louise telling Ian about Hannah’a disease. So we see that its not over for them, that Hannah dying brought then back together and they are still going to be a family with another kid (a hopeful ending for Hannah and Ian)

    Am I wrong here?

  • The part that doesn’t seem to fit to me is the interaction between Louise and General Shang. Why doesn’t she remember making the the phone call–she’s clearly confused about it when he approaches her. Yet, linearly, the call happened before the gala event, in fact precipitated the gala for the unification, and was witnessed (and documented on the official’s cell phone). Why would the Louise at the gala not remember phoning him? At first I thought, well there are infinite instances of Louise all existing at the same “time,” and perhaps their enlightenment is gradual. But still–THAT Louise made the phone call in her past, and should remember it, no? Regardless, lovely movie!!

  • Hey Aaron,
    I have responded to your comment three times now – maybe I need to moderate my own comments now!?!?

    Yes, you are incorrect. When Ian says to Louise, “let’s make a baby” what he’s saying is, “hey Louise, I know we just met, and we’ve never even dated… but what do you say about making a baby? And what if we name her Hannah… I just like the sound of it.” And Louise is sitting there thinking… if I say yes, then we will create Hannah and she will die. And as a result it will have helped me save the human race and an alien race. Or I can say no, and choose to not have a baby, and not save humanity. But I will say yes because even a shortened tragic life is a better life than not at all.

    Right? That is the entire point of the movie. Imho


  • Time isn’t linear so those who are confused about how Shang knew she to tell Louise his number and what to say I believe you are considering it to be time travel where time is still a straight line forward and back. i was also confused at first because it is non sensical that the same person she was trying to convince of standing down gave her the very key to convincing him and she got that info without having to have lived the alternate (going to war, where that event would never have happened) and she couldn’t have arrived at that point at the gala without having stopped the war first. Therefore it is more like a multiverse where there is an infinite amount of timeline and possibilities and she could maybe see any of them and obviously get information from the ‘future’. Time is just non existent for her. At least that is the only way I can sort of explain it, even if it’s not very clear… but, Why do you say that she had to have Hannah to be able to save humanity and the septapods? Isn’t that a completely separate situation? In my opinion she just decided to enjoy the ‘time’ she had with her daughter.

  • “there were no subtitles for the quote and thus it was lost to history! hahaha.” Um, it wasn’t lost to history, it was only lost to those who don’t speak Mandarin (or whatever dialect the general spoke.

  • Hey, folks. It’s FICTION! I love sci-fi, I love time travel stories, but there is the paradox you cannot avoid. “non-linear time is a fine ficitional deceit, but it always spawn determinism, unless it ends with all the disasters that could occur by NOT doing what you see in the future. In that respect, The Butterfly Effect is one of my favorites.

    With Arrival, I was fooled by the voiceover at the beginning, which I, as I was led to, thought explained Louise’s malaise. So I read the end as yet another flashback revealing Ian to be Louise’s ex, father of her already lost daughter. I missed the “who is this girl” line. My bad. That being said, why WOULD Louise tell Ian about the future death of their daughter, thus wrecking the relationship between Hannah and her father? When she KNEW that would happen? To me, that doesn’t make sense.

    Reading that these were flash forwards, though, explained the “Mommy and Daddy talk to the animals.” UNLESS Hannah were just prescient herself. And why not?

  • I totally agree, although if I had remembered that line, I would have have thought the last scene to be a flashback.

  • No, Taylor. I don’t see. At this point, she has already saved humanity and the aliens by learning their language. Just why, exactly, does she actually have to have the child of her visions? Why does having Hannah, and watching her die, make it possible for her to save the world, which she has already done. I loved the movie, but you just can’t get around the paradox of time “travel,” or just even “knowing the future.”

  • I only asked it once. I’m not going through all those comments to find it if you spoke about that very thing I have asked. But, thanks for responding directly to my comment

  • The directorsecond intent is what determines the meaning if this. But Art, I like your point. I also think that my first perception is a better ending, but oh well.

  • No no no… so sorry Aaron. What I meant was.

    I responded. My site ate my response.
    I responded. My site ate my response.

    Not that I responded to you same dumb repeated questions! Hahahah. No. it was a great question. And I tried to answer a couple of times. And failed. I was just trying to explain the delay I think? But sorry again for the confusing comment.

    As for others and there confusion about General Shang. I love it. Please! Disagree with me. This site sucks when everyone agrees. Find other possibilities. Find the flaws in my linear or myopic thinking. That is the best. (It also drives visits… but that is another topic entirely.) occasionally I willingly choose outlandish theories in order to drive discussion. Here are a few examples:

    Uncanny – postulated nearly everyone in that movie was actually a robot, including castle and joy I think?

    Inception – Postulated that there were not only not just three layers to the dream heist, but seven.

    Prestige – Require by law for everyone to admit that not only does the machine not work, but every that thinks idiot admit they are idiots.

    Etc. etc. you get the idea. Discourse is the name of the game here. Great thanks for allowing me to get that off my chest.

  • Save for the fact that it was edited into an incoherent jumble of whisper, cuts, and mashed mandarin. Louise talks for a while, and we only here a few short phrases.

  • I’m really curious as to what Louise does with the future . Since she goes ahead and has the child , does she then decide not to destroy her marriage with the secret but weather the storm together with their daughters death?

  • In the book it is over. Finished, between her husband and herself. But Eric has added hope here where there was none. The screenplay also seems to hint at a better future ahead, that maybe Ian comes back to see Hannah before she dies, and maybe, just maybe?

    But yeah, these are great questions the both of you have here about Louise’s future path. I personally feel that choosing the knowledge of the future locks you into it. But Eric answered my question definitively, that he thinks allowing the free will to choose makes Louise choice all the more poignant and dramatically touching. So it could be that she takes the seen future by the collar and changes it. But who knows.

  • One other thing I can’t stop thinking about is that Ian bailed on his daughter and marriage right ? Although i remember Louise saying to Hannah she’d see her dad that weekend . Was he a part of her life ? Why wasn’t he there at her death in the hospital ? Seems awefully cold of him regardless of his wife’s mistake to not be at your dying child’s side am I wrong ?

  • Hey Sarah, I took that as an encouraging sign – that he was actually realizing how stupid it was for him to leave and was on his way back?

    But maybe that was the optimist in me. It creeps in occasionally (rarely, but occasionally).

  • Mg
    December 6, 2016
    I don’t understand her behavior with Shang in the crucial “flash forward” in which he gives her his wife’s final words. Why does she seem to not remember him or those words?

  • You guys aren’t considering the possibility that this was the aliens’ ‘hail mary’ and that even after teaching Louise their language, it still doesn’t / didn’t (guess verb tenses don’t matter in their language) work out for them in 3000 years.

    I think this is highly likely given the fact that Louise couldn’t even save her own daughter from ‘the extremely rare disease’ that she and the global medical community had roughly 20 years to figure out and cure.

    If they can’t do that, how can we expect them to save the universe?

  • Hey TS,
    I completely and totally agree. I have said this numerous times that accepting the ‘gift’ of this alien language means you also accept the potential drawbacks. Yes, Louise had free will to choose to move along this path of saving the aliens and our world, but it came with the drawbacks of losing her daughter and not being able to do anything about it.


  • I’m from Buenos Aires, so , first of all, excuse my English! I’ve seen “Arrival” yesterday, and it’s a movie that haunts me since I left the theatre. Just one question : isn’t a little hard to believe that the linguists resolve the aliens language in so little time? Is it believable that a language so far from us could be understand at all? Apart from this, the movie is mesmerizing. I love Amy Adams’ performance. In the last scenes, her acting and the music (“On the nature of daylight”) brought me to tears. Thanks a lot!

  • Forgive the cliche, but I think the book was better than the film. Ted Chiang’s aliens were visiting Earth only to see/observe. It’s what creatures who know the future would do – Once you know and accept how things are going to turn out, you would have no desire to “change” anything.

    They weren’t trying to give or take anything from the humans; they did not endow Louise with the ability to see the future – that is an unintended side effect of the linguists immersing themselves in the alien language. (Other linguists apart from Louise had the same experience)

    In the film, Louise is gifted (I’d say cursed) with foreknowledge on purpose. And she goes on to write a book about the alien language, so the rest of the world can learn it too.

    My version of the film story :
    The aliens are villainous, pure evil. They want to subjugate the human race, not by war or force, but by mind control. They show Louise a vision of one possibility of her future, an immensely difficult one in which she loses her child. Louise falls for it. Having “seen” it in her mind, she is unable to envisage and believe in any other future. She does what the aliens manipulated her to do.
    The aliens’ goal being one or both of the below :
    1. They want to test how well they can manipulate human behaviour – they impress Louise with the visions of Hannah to see whether or not she would follow through on the path suggested to her. This objective was certainly achieved.
    2. They want Louise to completely explore the “Universal Language” and dumb it down for the rest of the world. Once the entire (Earth) world has learnt the alien language, it would be a perfect time for the aliens to take over the planet peacefully. Just manipulate everyone the same way Louise was manipulated. Conquest without war and weapons. The aliens get free human slaves who believe they are acting out of free will.

    I admit I cannot quote any part of the film or script to corroborate that theory, yet it’s the only one that makes sense to me.
    (A tragedy in three thousand years is way too thin.. Probably homo sapiens would have killed off one another by then)


  • Hey again Maya,
    I don’t necessarily disagree with your assessment of the film and the book. But they are decidedly different mediums. The book is beyond amazing because the written word can do things that film cannot. Having read the book, and two versions of the script and also having seen the movie I have to say I respect the attempt. There were aspects of the transition that I wasn’t fond of. Most specifically the change of the ending. Eric chose to make it an interstellar space ship technology that required the world to collaborate in order to achieve it. But then in the film the chose to make the gift the language.

    Here’s the problem. In the book the gift was NOTHING. It was just a ruse. They gave us technology we already had. Which, I have to admit, seems like a pretty massive betrayal of the book. But Chaing has not objected at all. Which, I’m more than a little confused about. So yeah, I have to sort of compartmentalize the various stories and enjoy each one for what they are and not think of them as being the same.


  • I wish I had a fuller understanding of non-linear time and parallel universes. I saw this movie the day before Christmas and for the first time in 9 years I smiled on Christmas Day. I went to see this movie not knowing anything about it. I left the movie in tears. You see my daughter died nine years ago from a rare disease. I have hated the nature of life ever since. I left this movie with the feeling that she sent me to this movie to let me know she is OK. Possible living in a parallel universe? Maybe? My takeaway from the movie was also that through all 23 years of her life, all the pain and suffering we both went through, I learned so much from her strength and love that if given the option of seeing my future beforehand, I would not change a thing. I could not have said that before seeing the movie. Thank you for your blog.

  • Holy cow Cindi…
    I am buying a plane ticket, I am going to get a taxi, and I going to knock on your door. So when a stranger soon knocks on your door, please just give him a huge hug. And then he’s going to go get back in the taxi, and then back on the plane. Literally and definitely the most touching post on my blog ever. Emailing in second.

    Thanks again Cindi for your comment.

  • Cindi, you deserve a much longer response, but I am away from my actual keyboard so I’m working my thumbs in a remote seaboard to say: Thank you. For sharing. This is why I write, and after a couple I know lost their 13-year-old son, I wrote to showcase their own powerful hope as a beacon for others. You have given the world a gift. Thank you.

  • It was more story than we could film, but I always saw Ian off in some lab, desperately trying to find a cure.

  • The more frequently the time jumps happen to her, the more confusing it tends to make her at first. Like whiplash. At first she’s not self-aware enough in the moment, but later it affects her enough to ask her daughter, “What day is it?” By the time she’s with the general, it’s happening so fast she gets a little lost. But she knows this will happen and at some point tells the general before the gala, “Remind me when you see me.”

  • The implications of this part of the ‘flash forward’ process confused me. Surely if you were able to see into the future – even if only to the end of your own life – you would see what technological or medical progress had been made, and apply it to the time of the flash forward happening. So for example if you were a 20 year old scientist trying to discover a cure for cancer, you lived to the age of 80, and you had the ability of non-linear visions, you would know what progress had been made 60 years into your future and apply that knowledge to your 20 year old self. So that would become the new baseline of your knowledge. Then have another flash forward and now 60 years in the future progress would have taken yet another leap, or short cut, again setting a new baseline at age 20. It would seem to me there would be in effect a principle of infinite improvement which would apply? This bends my brain!

  • Thank goodness “Interstellar” forced you to change the script. Makes for a much more satisfying experience. (“Interstellar”, which was pitched as “hard” Sci-Fi, struck me as both preposterous & maudlin, but, then again, my standards for Sci-Fi on the big screen are high. Put another way, Arrival was the first such film that really worked for me since Neil Blomkamp’s excellent “District 9”.)

  • Eric, thank you. My thoughts are with the family you mentioned who lost their son.

  • I guess as see can see more future she doesnt know if she is seeing the present or the future.
    Maybe better like this:

    Eric Heisserer
    December 28, 2016
    The more frequently the time jumps happen to her, the more confusing it tends to make her at first. Like whiplash. At first she’s not self-aware enough in the moment, but later it affects her enough to ask her daughter, “What day is it?” By the time she’s with the general, it’s happening so fast she gets a little lost. But she knows this will happen and at some point tells the general before the gala, “Remind me when you see me.”

    I was trying to explain it but my English is too bad so I just copypasted it. Hahaha. :S

  • Hi Taylor

    I’m in Australia and have only just seen the film, one question…was Louise alway clairvoyant? She has clear ‘future visions’ before she has had any conntact or any understanding of the Alien’s visual dialog.

  • No,
    But the trickiness of timelessness is that it’s timeless. We do see a pre-vision prior to her interaction with the aliens, but I just assumed that timelessness splash damage before it really hits. (Never mind that it sold everyone on her having a dead daughter, right? Some of it is just good storytelling at the end of the day.)


  • Hey Peter, quick follow up question if you don’t mind… I used to know a ‘Peter’, named Peter not Pete, and who had the last name of Berg. Are you MY Peter Berg or a Peter Berg?

    No offense either way!! But I don’t recognize the email addie. But I wouldn’t. Because it’s like down under and what not.


  • I just saw this movie last night and I have been in awe of it ever since. I have spent last night and most of today reading up about the film online. I was confused about the details so I googled “does anyone understand Arrival” and this site was one of many that came up. I have read all the posts here and I want to thank everyone for their contribution. I appreciate everyone’s interpretions as it has really helped me to better understand this beautifully haunting and thought provoking film. I saw this film with my parents and we couldn’t stop discussing it last night. We even referenced Einstein and the Dalai Lama (as my mother is currently reading “The book of Joy”). I have always longed for an intelligent alien movie that promotes communication rather than war. This movie has fulfilled that dream. I loved Louise and Ian’s charachters and I was very moved at the end. Cannot wait to purchase the DVD. Definitely want to see this again! Cindi, I was very touched by your story – it moved me to tears! Thank you for sharing. Thank to you Eric and the team for creating such a beautiful masterpiece!

  • Hi Taylor,

    What a spectacular movie. It very much reminded me of a cross between Signs and Interstellar (two of my faves).

    However my one issue I have from a filmic perspective is this – we see what we are made to believe tonne flashbacks from the off, we learn by the end they are essentially flash forwards.

    So my question is, did Louise have the “gift” from the beginning? Seeing as we are seeing these flash forwards as a viewer from the start. It confuses me as I assumed the aliens gave her the gift upon her contact with them.


  • Hi Taylor,

    Although I liked the movie and now cleared up the plot through your tweets with Eric, the movie cannot make sense anymore and here is why.

    Eric stated that Louise has free will to choose, this cannot be true because Louise had already seen what ALREADY happened in the future.

    If you change your decision upon seeing the future, then the future is no longer accurate and thus what you saw was not the future but a POSSIBLE OUTCOME.

    Next, I want to add that the theme of the movie was to introduce to the audience that time is “non-linear”. Heres the thing, what exactly is the difference between linear and non-linear time?

    Lets establish some possibilities and facts.
    1. Time does not exist when time is non-linear.
    -If this is true then there cannot be free will or choice as all events happened at the exact same time thus if you saw event A transpire, events B-Z has already transpired as well. This means that you cannot change the past to change the future as all events has ALREADY transpired.

    2. Time exists but it is not linear.
    -What difference does it make if time is a straight line or a circle/non straight line/any shape?
    You still have only 3 options regardless: 1. Go backwards to the past. 2. Go forwards into the future and 3. Live in the present. The only possibility I can imagine where time is non-linear is what I’ve said above which was time does not exist and every event occurs at the same time, otherwise time MUST have a past, a present and a future in which case the shape of the timeline does not matter.

    There are other movies which explain time a lot better than this one, the only way time has made sense to me where time travel is also possible is if;

    Parallel universes.

    Imagine the bigger picture, what if you view a series of events as frames per second thats plotted against a timeline. However, rather than the stereotypical understanding that there is only one world and one universe, there are X amount of worlds or universes which make up EVERY SINGLE possibility and outcome? Now everything makes sense, you have the illusion of “free will” but in reality, you’ve already made every possible choice against every possible decision and thus you are eluded into thinking you made a decision when in fact, there are no decisions to be made as every scenario has been played out.

    Looking forward to your thoughts.

  • Hey Star,
    I am on the record in this blog and also commenting directly to Eric that you can’t have your time travel deterministic cake and eat it too. You just can’t. If she learns the language and see the future she is now locked into a deterministic timeline. She chooses not to learn the language she can choose not to marry and have a child etc. But Eric likes the idea of having her cake and eating it too. She CHOOSES to be locked in by helping the aliens, and having a child. Eh? Right?

    I get the point you are making and understand. Personally love the optimism of the pessimism. She can willingly choose her deterministic future. Ok. But I don’t think it makes logical sense. Regardless I adore this movie either way. Love the feel of it. Love the logic of it, even if it cracks under scrutiny. But that’s just me.


  • What I get from the movie is completely the opposite from the concept of free will. What I get is everything is there for a reason and there is no way to escape from it, even though you can see your future.

    The alien comes to earth is not because they want to learn the free will from human, but it is their purpose to be on earth to pass their language which in turn will help to save their own future. (I believe in this movie, everything is already determined since beginning, and human do not have any free will at all).

    Human do not have any free will made even more obvious by Louis choice to still wanted to have baby. Even though she know she going to be in pain because of losing her, since she loved her daughter so much, she had no choice other than to have the baby so that she can meet her.

    This deterministic concept is also very important to make sense of the story. As if the human have free will, and Louis choose to do not have any baby then everything in the story will become a paradox.

  • I LOVE this movie much and paid full attention to it in every second. One thing I would like to ask why Louise looks so unhappy at the beginning. Was it going to mislead us that her daughter was dead before movie starts? Another question is why she still goes school working after aliens come and nobody is in school (let soldier finds her)?

    My only answer is this is her personality and she is lonely :p

    I think the dictionary is important for human communicating with them 3000 years later and it is the most important to save them. But who knows? It’s 3000years later.

    Anyway, this is a movie which we can have much much imagination to discuss. I am also interested in non-linear timeline. They are in present because of the outcome in future, no one can fully understand as we are linear.

  • What were aliens about to do when they changed their position from vertically to horizontally in the end , attack ?

  • Vaporize the planet! No. I have no idea.
    I assumed they were leaving. Anyone else know?

  • Great great article. makes me want to re watch the movie.

    by the way, do you think the screenwriter/director wanted us to relate Hannah with while wearing the horse costume (resembling herself an alien if we’re comparing silhouettes) to the aliens? The similarities don’t end there: both costello and Hannah die while Louise seems to know (by envisioning the future) that both will have the same tragic fate. i may be over reaching but it seems everything in this movie has a second meaning, or at least has some kind of meaning other than for instance hannah happening to be playing outside with a costume that makes her resemble the aliens portrayed in the movie.

  • My point of view is a predestination time plot. Aliens see future by 3k years thus would see themselves visiting earth just as Louise would see the future but no matter if she believed she had a choice or not her future would play out as it would have been seen by the aliens beforehand. The aliens essentially gifted the ability of looking into the magical globe but not altering it even if they thought they could. Destination is predestinational by a higher order. Essentially all involved are playing a prewritten script.

  • Finally watched it and really enjoyed it (don’t know why it took me so long). Thanks for your write up and everyone’s comments. The only thing that I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around, that I didn’t see brought up above is Ian not having ANY “memories” of the “future”.
    Midway through the movie when Louise and Ian are discussing the theory of when you learn a language your perception of things around you changes. And then he asks her if she’s been having dreams/visions.
    So here’s the thing, he’s a smart man, he’s been spending EVERYDAY working with Louise and the Septopods, he was the one to make a breakthrough on the final communication from Abbott after the explosion. So it’s fair to say that he was learning the language, right? Perhaps not as well as Louise but learning it nonetheless. So shouldn’t he have been having some dreams/visions/flash forwards the same way Louise was before she had the big reveal at the end? And if so, wouldn’t he have seen (even in small fragments), his future involved a relationship with Louise, and Hannah/her death?

  • Hi Taylor,
    I get that Louise earns from the alien’s language an ability to read the future as memory reads the past – “memory is a strange thing” says the opening line – so
    she forwards events (the death of her daughter), emotions (the feeling of being hugged by Ian) and knowledge (General Shang’s phone number). To me that’s pretty straightforward and doesn’t call the traditional, mind meddling time-travel issues.
    But given that she eventually writes that book “The Universal Language” for everyone to be able to learn this language and thus gain the very ability to read the future, why would her husband ignore their daughter’s fate? everyone on earth would learn such language and use the gift right?
    My conclusion is that it’d take Louise 10 years to write the book and she’d reveal the truth to her husband when it’s done (as the daughter seems to be 10 when she asks Louise why her father doesn’t look at her the same way anymore). But yeah no this is far fetched. How would you explain that? Do you agree that any human would be able to read the future learning the Alien’s language, not only Louise yeah?

    Also, I’m a bit surprised nobody mentioned what I consider a brilliant take of the film: questioning our western (and nowadays universal) conception that Technology is the one unique tool to mesure a civilization’s greatness. The movie deliberately puts that a researcher in theoretical physics would be first sent to talk to the aliens – and Ian’s first question would be “Can they overcome the speed of light with their ships” and other time-related wonders. What the aliens teach us is that our civilization could find answers to questions we try to treat from a scientific perspective, by treating them from a profoundly different approach, a new language, a new culture. I can’t help but think this echoes to Human kinds History and how we have progressively narrowed down our mind to thinking only from that scientific perspective, forgetting other possible approaches that might have had seeds in ancient cultures.
    I feel this whole take on the uniformity of civilization is further emphasised by the fact the Alien send 12 vessels on earth with no clear logic in their location – well except the fact there is basically one for each main cultural zone on the planet (Western world, Latin America, Middle-East, Africa, India, China, Russia, Japan…).
    So imo all this points to some interesting critic of how we Human have became a bit narrow-minded in the way we treat the fundamental question of the universe. This contributes to making this movie such an intelligent tale that goes beyond what sci-fi has to offer, and questions the choices Human kind took along its journey in History.

  • i just watched Arrival few weeks ago and i have an important question that bothers me: i understood the non-linear thing about the story but how did General Shang tell Louise something he didn’t see himself doing in the future when he gave the information that led to China standing down and peace with the Aliens?? did he learn the Alien language and saw himself in the futute telling her those things and gave her his number??

  • Is it possible that in 3,000 years, humans, having mastered the alien’s language, would gave evolved into the hectapods themselves and become masters of time. In doing so, their comment on them helping themselves would make sense: the hectapods (evolved humans) intervene 3,000 years before humanity has united and bestow upon them this ‘gift’ of language and world peace, and the circle repeats like a bootstrap time paradox.

  • my interpretation is the same as Saskia, where Shang in the future is actually hinting/instructing future Louise because he knew Louise would’ve needed it 18 months ago.
    This means Shang eventually also picked up alien language. This is understandable since the entire celebration is to celebrate Louise’ books on alien language, so it would make sense if Shang has read those books. And once he read the books and can see the past, he realized that the past Louise needed his personal phone to call him, so the future Shang came to “see Louise in person” and kept telling her to look at his number.
    The point is, Shang does not need to know alien language in present time. He only needs to learn the language some time in the future (in the movie it’s some time between stand-down and 18th month), and that’s enough for him to come rescue Louise in the 18-months-later celebration.

  • Shang does not need to know alien language in present time. He only needs to learn the language some time in the future (in the movie it’s some time between stand-down and 18th month, presumably reading Louise’s book called “the universal language”), and that’s enough for him to see Louise’ need in the past, and come rescue Louise in the 18-months-later celebration.

  • This article is confusing when you mix up parts of the movie, retelling it incorrectly. For example:
    “Yes mom, I’m fine already… yes.” And she walks through the campus in a daze for some reason.

    This conversation with her mother happens when she gets home. It doesn’t happen on the campus “in a daze.”

  • Hey there Mr Frank,
    You are correct – I made a mistake in that regard. My apologies for the non sequitur.


  • Hi. It wasn’t clear to me if Louise still told Ian that their daughter would die once she learned the language and learned that would essentially be the cause of their divorce. Did she still tell him knowing they would divorce or did she change that part of her future history?
    By the way, I thought the movie was EXCELLENT!

  • You can tell the ending was changed pretty late in the process because parts of it are still present in the film. Right at the end Louise is talking about each shell being a part and how humanity has to work together to connect the shells.

    Knowing how the script was different and that they changed it actually makes me think they threw the ending together a bit rushed. For one thing, Ian’s character is completely one-dimensional. He has no backstory and he’s pretty meaningless in the film right up until the ending.

  • I understood that she told him she would come down with a rare disease. Eric commented in this thread somewhere that it was his idea that he was off trying to cure the disease. Dunno.

  • Yes, that line, “I just realized why my husband left me […undiscernable line…]” I replayed it over and over and have not been able to discern the words following “why my husband left me…” Annoying. No matter. I also noticed that the Colonel’s lines were consistently delivered in a staccato which also annoyed me, but I wondered if he was directed to deliver his lines like that, considering it was about “non-linear language.” I suspect that perhaps the lines being delivered all choppy might be one reason some people say they need to see it again. Did anyone else have trouble distinguishing the dialogue at times? I am glad I saw it on computer and not in theater, so that I could go back and replay dialogue that seemed muffled, occasionally competing with extraneous audio.

  • The reason that you think highly about rogue one and believe in ”gender bias” in movies, really makes me doubt your credibility as critic and free thinker.

    The movie didn’t break any stereotypes at all:
    You have the female that knows she will be a singlemother and still becomes a singlemother, not to mention that she IS a singlemother.

    You have the military CO and CIA agent acting irrational.
    CIA agent has no intend on working on a solution, and only wants to kill the hyptopods.

    throughout the movie both China and Russia are being looked upon as agressors and warmongerers.

    You have de delluded social media broadcaster spreading propoganda lies, about an alien invasion.

    You have the brainwashed/dillusioned soldier going rogue, due to some ”fake news” propoganda.

    You have the female/mother who’s afraid to die because of aliens and goes all hysterical and acts irrational. (very emotional)

    I don’t see anywhere, where stereotypes are being struck down?

    Not to mention the amount of propoganda throwing into this movie, about western colonialism. (as if only the west colonized) And globalism :”We’re a world with no single leader, it’s impossible to just deal with one of us…”

    I have to say though is that the core of the movie (aliens coming and needing our help, sort of trade going on with language etc.), is very original and interesting. Especially going through the process of understanding them. It’s just a shame that it was so short and that the ending was actually quite boring and lame.
    It focussed too much on the protagonist, rather than the grand scheme of things.

    It also has major plot holes:
    Why would aliens not contact all of humanity if they need help?
    sitting inside a ”ship” waiting for someone to come, seems like a very dumb idea to do and it’s throwing some dice hoping for good things to happen. it’s gambel on their part.

    It’s a movie great for cinemasins, that i can tell you……

  • Wow.
    SLOW GOLF CLAP. Just wow. Hahaha. That was one long fantastic rant. I haven’t been that well filleted in a while. Congratz.

    First, I am not a movie critic. I am not credentialed. Never said I was. I am, at best, a hobbyist. Need a mobile app, or web solution built and a technologist to solve your diciest technical legacy problems? I’m your guy. I will stand on those credentials. But to lambaste me for applauding The Arrival for being gender affirming and forward thinking is about as myopic as it gets. Sci-Fi is hardly ever empowering for women at all. And to hinge this movie on Amy’s performance was a rarity regardless of what you believe to be true. I am not a bastion for women’s rights and liberality. I never said I was. But I will applaud Hollywood when they make a step in the right direction.

    And yet you bash the movie for not walking away from the woman at its center and making it a grander and larger spectacle? Hahaha. Independence Day 3 anyone? Seems you missed the entirety of the point that Chiang’s original short story was trying to make. I do agree that the ending should have followed the short story more closely and had the aliens giving the world a technology we already had. Heheh. It would have confounded movie goers into complete bafflement. But maybe would have pushed them to think more deeply about why the aliens came in the first place.

    But regardless… kudos to you for the most eye opening comment of the week.

  • I am still not clear on why Hannah made the clay animals and drew the picture that Louise seemed surprised/confused about.

  • Here’s my issue with Arrival, and you mentioned it already in your article but it didn’t seem to bother you. There is no narratives reason why she is sad in the beginning. It bugs me having an actor pretend to have a flashback only to later insinuate she wasn’t really having a flashback, it was just a clever trick to fool the viewer. That sort of story telling bugs me and it is not necessary in these types of films.

  • Mike.
    Buddy. Yes, it’s a plot device. But it’s ok, not just because it’s brilliantly played, but because I’ve been sad before. So have you. She could just be a melancholic sort of human. It’s plausible.

    You are just horqued because you didn’t see it coming. Hahaha. No offense.

  • Determinism. There is no free will and there can’t be if this story can make sense. The alien language is the end-all to all other possibilities. Your whole life exists all at once. You have the ability to experience any moment in any order your mind chooses. You cannot make changes or else it could not exist all at once. It would constantly be edited and you could not revisit the same moment twice. You would have a mind full of alternate memories. Every possible scenario would be reality in your mind.
    If there was free will, everyone would use future visions to tweak every detail of their lives. Louise would never get that book written if she could be trying to cure or prevent her daughter’s disease.
    There should not have ever been a scene where she is using the vision of the future to acquire information that she could not have gotten any other way. The Chinese general scene was a big mistake in the film. I know it was fun to watch but it only caught us all off guard because you could not have logically foreseen it. I think Bill & Ted used similar tactics. I’m sorry but that is lazy writing. You have to find another way to make the story work and stay within the parameters you have set forth. I want to be clear that I am not defecating on this story. I am only pointing out how close it was to perfection.
    I don’t like everyone is making something great and deep out of Louise “choosing” to continue down her predetermined path to have Hannah with Ian. We all like the question because the answer makes you feel good about yourself. Would you do it if you know the pain of the loss? Having Hannah is not that difficult a choice. There are so many more difficult scenarios and choices.

    What if she was indecisive? What if she just needed extra time to be sure she wanted to be with Ian when she knows he is a flight risk? He gets frustrated and falls for someone else. No Hannah.
    What if she was concerned that extensive time aboard an alien vessel gave Hannah a birth defect that manifested into a rare disease? She decides to stay off the ship and never has the breakthrough with the aliens. No book, no hope for humans, no saving heptapods in 3000 years. You see how complicated this thing gets? You cannot allow the infinite choices to affect the future or the story does not work.
    My point is that free will allows too many choices which create too many future changing variables. You could not have a vision of something that is constantly being rewritten. The story works if its determinism. Anything else is cheating and passionate viewers like me will notice.
    That being said, It was still the best movie I’ve seen in a while.

  • Isn’t the whole idea of determinism underfunded by the aliens themselves. They are doing exactly what Louisa does. They saw into the future 3000 years and realized they will need Humans to save their kind. So in the present they came to Earth to save themselves. When Louisa saw into the future it was to stop Humans from making a big mistake and attacking the aliens. If beings don’t use this ability to look into the future and solve a problem what is the point of having this ability???

  • I just watched the movie on DVD. My take is that the protag HAD to live the future life she saw in her dreams. If not, humans would not be able to help the septopod aliens 3000 years in the future. The protag says her daughter dies of a rare disease, not just cancer. My impression was that humans would learn from Hannah’s disease and that knowledge would save the aliens 3000 years in the future. She sacrifices her daughter for the good of mankind and to save the aliens.

  • Lana makes a great point. I think her interpretation is much more relatable.

  • Here is the Arrival screenplay for those who want to refer to it.


  • Ooooh. Wonder what version this one is? Should ask.

  • You sound like her husband!

    Seriously, though there is evidence in the movie that she chose that path despite the eventual heartbreak.

    Consider how miserable she appeared at the start compared to how happy she looked in her memories of the ‘moments in the middle’.

  • I’m a little late here haha, but wasn’t it Abbott who died from the bomb explosion inside of the ship instead Costello ? Hence Costello saying “Abbott is death process”.

  • I have to say, this article, while illuminating is very poorly written. The author seems to have a tenuous grasp of punctuation. You need a good copy editor.

  • And believe me, punctuation is the very least of this author’s problems.
    “she is playing is just starting to take a tole” TOLE?!?!?!
    “at the university she is obviously a professor at”?!?!?!?
    “(Can I just say that Mad Max, Star Wars Episode 7..” There was no closing parenthese
    “He had written this mine into his script with something like…” Mine?!?!?!!?
    “But hopefully that will make since if you…” Since?!?!?!

    Readers should not have to figure out what you really meant.
    This is just a small sample. All I am saying is that the writing is very sloppy, and you should use a proofreader/editor.
    Oh, and I guess it didn’t win for best adapted screenplay. Moonlight did. Right?

  • You are hired. By the way, the site makes about $12 a year. That enough? You can have all of it. Hahahah.

    Thanks for the editing you did, I will be happy to incorporate your illuminating edits.

  • I’m 75% of the way through editing it from top to bottom. Yes, I do this as a hobby, but I could have waited an extra day or two to release this piece after I had more thoroughly vetted it. Thanks for the ‘encouragement’ to add more elbow grease to my pieces. And sorry to everyone that was confused by my less than stellar grammar!


  • First things first, I really loved this cinema. Thank you so much for recommending it to me, Taylor! It has just become one of my top favorites, which says something because my list is practically non-existent. I have even recommended it to my friends back home. Everyone in my family really enjoyed it and we are not a cinema family, as you know, so that is a real compliment.

    My sister and I did something different this time. Whereas previously my sister and I took turns keyboarding responses to each other, awkward at best, this time we used the software Dragon Naturally, a program in my father’s laptop. He does a lot of dictation and the program is invaluable to him; and since he has a really nice microphone, we gave it a try. Since I am writing this intro after the fact, I can tell you that it worked about 75% of the time. We tended to talk too fast and we did not use any of the verbal command prompts like, period, or comma, because that would be ridiculous. We simply blathered on, leaving us to insert a lot of periods and commas at the end. :D As a backup, we also recorded it so that I could make sense of a lot of gibberish. Nonetheless, the sum is a real-time conversation in half the time of keyboarding it, not to mention the ease in editing out conversation chatter to keep it as tight on point as possible whilst at once giving it the feel of something live. Very cool, yes?

    Since you have already broken down the movie, we avoided plot points and discussed the more philosophical aspects of the movie. It might give you something more interesting to read rather than a rehash of the movie itself. Basically, what you have is two sisters blathering about a really fine movie. :)

    Senta: Ready when you are.

    Saoirse: We have watched the movie ARRIVAL and I have to say this is a fantastic screenplay, very much my kind of story. We watched it as a family, which is rare, because our mother gets easily bored with movies. Documentaries, yes. Avengers, no. I think being a math/science programmer, she is far too analytical to be sucked in by the unreality of cinema. Our father is more open and will watch anything if you can convince him to, that being the catch. Very often he will make a deal. If the movie is horrible, we have to cook him a dinner, or make him cookies, some such nonsense. This movie however was a nice surprise. It shows what the Hollywood machine can do if it focuses on the importance of material and good writing. Although, there was that opening exchange. Remember? You know, where the colonel walks into her office? The tape recorder? Remember?

    Senta: Oh, right, yes, that was bad! We all groaned. Who wrote that?

    Saoirse: Seriously? Some moaning and a few clicks and he asks her to translate it whilst he is sitting there!

    Senta: It was crazy because he was serious. What does it mean? Bon sang! Ridiculous, I know! Perhaps the writer was deliberately trying to insult the military. A fifth grade intelligence would have surmised that you cannot fathom an alien language from two moans and a click. I think we were all out of the movie at that point because no one could be that ignorant.

    Saoirse: First thoughts. Theme?

    Senta: Spiritual versus science. Hands down.

    Saoirse: I affirm. It struck that chord in the opening round in the helicopter when Ian quotes from Louise’s book. “Language is the foundation of civilization, the glue that holds it together.” He acts impressed, then bluntly says, it is wrong, that science is the cornerstone of civilization. Boom, the gauntlet is down.

    Senta: Oi! The whole family was set off. “Wrong!” We believed Louise, even maman, the hard science geek.

    Saoirse: Sans language, sans civilization. We need language to communicate. If we cannot communicate, we cannot interact. If we cannot interact, we cannot build. Technology hinges on language. How can you create anything without language?

    Senta: We think in language. A child does not gain her intelligence until she starts to learn a language. If we take a toddler, her brain is fuzzy at best. She cannot truly interact, except for a child’s innate emotional ability to show anger or sorrow to get what they want. Their one-dimensional intellect is incapable of interaction beyond temperament. There is no way for them to-

    Saoirse: To grasp, or understand the world around them. Exactement. They are cut off, except for emotions. They read faces and sounds. A child cannot grow in intelligence this way. It is only as they assimilate language. Abracadabra, voila, the fireworks start.

    Senta: Ouais! Intelligence begins. It is a proven fact, a child raised in complete isolation from learning a language will be stunted forever. Once they cross a certain point in early child development, they are finished if they do not learn a language. Even if they do late in life, they will be stunted; they will never excel beyond a certain point. They will be as simpletons. Language is so very important. It is the cornerstone of intelligence and the advancement of any civilization. Science without having a language first will remain in the Stone Age.

    Saoirse: Stone Age, yes! It is too obvious. Ian is an idiot. I recently read a treatise on intelligent design and it stated at its core that language is proof of intelligent design, that without-

    Senta: I read that! Profound. Who wrote it, do you remember?

    Saoirse: Da might know, but it is a common thread in the proof of intelligent design. Language is quite complicated. We take it for granted because a child can learn it easily. Their brain is set up for it; all the pathways are open and primed to learn a language. Biological science proves it. At five, the average child will speak better than an adult learning a second language. Even to create a language like Tolkien, for instance, is problematic, and yet easy because he already had a template to build off of: his own language. Once you know a language and how it works, the world opens up to you.

    Senta: There is the belief that God created man complete. Contrary to evolutionists, who believe man had to struggle through millennia’s of time to create a language, or to learn what foods were good for him, which ones poisonous, or how to make fire, religions believe in gods creating and endowing man with all these gifts of knowledge. I hold this to be sensible. If there is a god, and if kindness is any measure of greatness, then he would have created man in his entirety, not piecemeal.

    Saoirse: Agree. If I were to create a life form, I would create it complete so that it could take care of itself, but mainly I would wish to communicate with it on my level, otherwise it would get tedious.

    Senta: Adam came fully installed.

    Soairse: Ouais! All software running. Very good.

    Senta: That would make sense. For instance, how else would God be able to communicate with Adam? Adam as we know him in the Bible was not created as a baby. He was fully grown and ready to live, proving God would not create him with a newborn’s mind. He came ready to interact immediately with God, proving even in mythology that language is the cornerstone to relationships, to learning, to becoming a whole being. It is the whole of any society. In Ian’s defense, I can say that language is to civilization what math is to science. Without math, science goes nowhere. Indeed, math is perhaps the cornerstone of existence-

    Saoirse: Existence! [That is] Maman! The mathematician speaks. I concur. Math is a language in itself. Everything can be translated in to numbers. Break it down and biology, astronomy, geology, it is all numerical. All matters of existence can be mathematically mapped. Even logic is mathematical; hard logic is all math, thus math is pure logic. Language on the other hand, is more spiritual, it has infinite shades of color. In math, two plus two always equals four. It is anchored, not so for language. In language, we have expression, imagination, emotions; we have infinite variables. Language is the salt of relationships, much as math is the salt of discovering the world around us. Math breaks down the science to create a civilization, but it cannot begin without a language to map it out.

    Senta: I think you have already said it, but we completely take language for granted. It…it simply is. I cannot remember life without it, and because we have it, we can create a civilization using words and numbers to create technology. Maman will be very proud.

    Saoirse: Indeed.

    Senta: We are drifting. We need to talk about the cinema.

    Saoirse: We are, silly. The movie is about language.

    Senta: A red herring though.

    Saoirse: Ah, the hyper leap.

    Senta: Jump to light speed.

    Saoirse: Yes, point taken. The movie leads us in that direction, but nothing is what it seems here. A somewhat antiseptic, low-key sci-fi movie that reveled in its sci-fi geekdom, literally pulls the rug out from under you. It comes with an emotional denouement that is far from scientific. I am sure had we known, we may not have watched it, especially maman. That was something we did not see coming. How about if we go in da’s direction? Agreed?

    Senta: Yes, this would be a good choice.

    Saoirse: For those who do not know, our father is Christian. We have a very odd family because our mother is agnostic, formerly an atheist. This is very typical French, so you can imagine when they were dating how this could be a problem. You have a Christian scientist and an Atheist scientist. Never the twain shall meet, right? Well, guess again. True love won out. I am sure it has everything to do with our father not being a Bible-thumping Christian, rather he lives the talk, walks the walk. This is what won our mother over. He is a complete mensch. What math egghead woman would not fall in love with a kind soul who is as geeky as she is? To maman’s credit, she is neither a hateful atheist as many are, nor is she intolerant. Da was free to worship his God, maman was free to let him. It was a match. Perhaps this is why maman is agnostic now. She gave da some ground. She may not believe in a Christian God but she believes anything is possible. It is middle ground, a sort of respectful truce based on love. Anyway, we keep digressing. In the movie, Louise keeps having memories of a daughter she has lost to cancer. And because she is so somber, the audience buys into the illusion. This is the double-blind dupe, because at the end of the movie, we realize that these are all future events. There is no child yet. Louise is seeing her own future. She will have a daughter and that daughter will die from an incurable cancer. We begin to realize this early on, when Louise, lost in her seeming reveries, is standing by a lake with her daughter whose boot has come off, and the daughter is asking her to put it back on. We are seeing a future event, and Louise is completely outside of the moment, so much so that she asks her daughter, what day is it? Very odd. It gets even stranger when later her daughter, much older, asks her a question about terminology concerning a win-win situation-

    Senta: Non-zero-sum-game! I loved that part, although I did not really get it until later. She is experiencing this back and forth-

    Saoirse: Exchange through time where it either overlaps-

    Senta: Inspires, perhaps.

    Saoirse: Sure, why not. Whatever is going on, it is some kind of variable time lapse, where she seemingly answers her daughter’s future question-

    Senta: From the past! That was so cool! Although it would make perfect sense that she simply remembers in the future, the past we just witnessed. Either way, that was when I started to sense there was something else going on with her memories. It was as if she was aware in both time periods, which would be impossible. Time hiccuped.

    Saoirse: I like this term, hiccup. It was a marker for all of us. Maman was the first to realize something was going on when Louise was in a fog in the present and the past, or what we had thought was the past, when she had to ask her daughter what day it was?

    Senta: Of course, maman runs on logic. If logic takes a holiday, she will know.

    Saoirse: That part was not so obvious. It was not until Louise sees the future again at a gala. She meets the Chinese general, and he shows her his phone number so that she can call him in the past. He also told her what she had told him in the past. Why? If this is the future, how come she does not know, and why is he telling her? That part still throws me. It is one of those paradoxes one must deal with whenever time travel comes into play.

    Senta: I know! Technically, it is impossible in the way they show it. For instance, I believe that one can possibly observe the past as one would watch a movie, but you would be unable to interact with it since it is the past and already done. That kind of time travel makes sense, but to go back in time and actually interact with it, will invariably change the future for someone, as it does for the aliens.

    Saoirse: I agree, absolutely. Time can only be observed, not touched. What is extremely naive about this movie, da called it hyper-optimism, is the idea if the world learns this language, then we will have billions of people traveling through time, manipulating their own lives. Just because Louise decides to be judicious with her gift, does not mean everyone else will. And what of criminals and despots. If they can travel back and forth, and mess with time, then we would have complete chaos. Or imagine children jumping through time. One irresponsible ten-year-old could obliterate the future. Could you imagine if someone like Stalin, or Hitler had this power? It would be insane. No matter how anyone explains time travel, it will not hold together. It only works in movies and the mythology the writer creates for it. If Louise was the only person at the time who knew the language and could thus travel through time, how did Chang know she was going to need that information to call him in the past, unless he time-traveled himself, and we know that could not have been so. Huge hole. Huge. (my sister was doing a very bad impression of your president!)

    Senta: You need to hold up your hands when you do that. Huge. I would like to time travel for him and tell him what he must do as the most powerful office in the world.

    Saoirse: I would tell him to stop tweeting.

    Senta: You and me, both! Seriously, there are tells in the cinema where things are the same forward as backward. Louise is aware, because time is circular to the aliens, so she would be able to be aware and remember both forward and backward. The symbol of the alien language is very obvious. A circle is infinite without beginning or end. It is the same no matter where you stand. Like the name of the daughter.

    Saoirse: Remember how both our Hannah’s told us their names were palindromes, like a million times? That is grade school all the way. We must tease them that their names made it into a movie and the whole world now knows their name is a palindrome. Yes, I got that, that time is liquid, it has no beginning, no end if you are traveling through it in a circle. In the Youtube reviews we watched, a couple of critics said that Louise had no choice but to go along with her future, and that she must accept it even though she knows the outcome. I do not accept this.

    Senta: Challenge! Explain!

    Saoirse: Old ideal: time travel hinges on time being locked; nothing can change because the past is already written in stone. New ideal: You can go back in time and interact with it, but you cannot change anything lest you change the future-

    Senta: The Butterfly Effect.

    Saoirse: Yes, but this movie plays fast with this paradox. If the aliens foresaw their own future, then they are manipulating our time to affect their time, in essence, they have changed time by interfering with us and our timeline. They made a choice. And I suppose we can say that the alien who sacrificed itself for Louise and Ian, knew it was going to die if they involved us in their dilemma, but it did it anyway. Time was definitely changed by their liquid language of time travel. Chang gave Louise his phone number in the future, not knowing why, but as it turned out, she did not know his phone number to call him in the past. Did I say that right? One can get dizzy in time paradox. How is this possible? The problem, or in this case, the mythology created in the script, says time is being changed, it is being manipulated.

    Senta: Yes. I got that, so what is your point? You are babbling.

    Saoirse: Hush. Let me think. Yes, the critics were saying that Louise is forced to accept her future no matter how painful because she has no choice, so to them the future is written in stone. They called it her “being resigned to the future.” To me this does not work scientifically in the movie’s mythology of time travel, nor does it fit psychologically. It also weakens the ending because we all felt that-

    Senta: Louise chose the future herself as opposed to it-

    Saoirse: Being something she could not avoid. Exactement. This is the beauty of the ending. She had free will, free choice. This is where da opened it up for us. For him and his Christian faith, God gives us free choice. We can choose our own destiny, our own future. Mainly, we can choose to follow God or not. That is a powerful sentiment. It speaks highly of the Christian god who does not demand your worship but allows you to choose because he loves humanity. He wants real love, not forced love. Indeed, there is no such thing as forced love. It would not be love. Louise has a choice. She sees the future. She sees herself marrying Ian and having Hannah. Hannah is going to die from an incurable disease and Ian is going to leave her. Complete and utter desolation and tragedy. It is a bleak future. She can back out. She can ditch Ian, stay away from him, and change her future. Free choice. But she does not. She chooses to go through with it, no matter the cost. Why? Love.

    Senta: Chills.

    Saoirse: I do not know how many people caught it, but when she hugs Ian in the end, just before they depart the military base, she says, she “has forgotten how good it felt to be hugged by him.” What? They had never hugged before anywhere in the movie, except in the future. But this is easy to understand. Louise has been going back and forth through liquid time, living in the future as much as the past, the circle you were talking about. She has lived with him and without him, and she knows the pain of losing him, but in this moment, he is there, and she cherishes it. She chooses to go along with fate, not because of gain, and not because she has no choice. If one knows the future, one can change their destiny. But Louise chooses love. It is that old saying, echoed in so many marriages, “If you had it to do over again, would you still have married me?” Louise follows through because she loves Ian and she loves Hannah. If she pushes Ian away, then she loses them both. It is a choice between a lot of pain coupled with a lot of love, or an unknown future yet to be mapped out. Which does she choose? Therein is the true power of this movie – the plight of human existence and how love fills the gap. Love is worth it. Love trumps.

    Senta: I have nothing more to add. You said that so well. I hope it is enough. Love, I mean.

    Saoirse: I know it is. Love is forever, bébé. True, when maman saw the ending, it was devastating. No one saw that coming. No one’s fault. There was no way to prepare for it. Had we known, would we have watched it? Irrelevant, because we did. Maman said she was not sorry. That is maman. A mother’s love for her child has no bounds. There can be no regrets. None. Maman would still choose to marry da, she would still have had me, and she would still have you all over again. You are worth it. Love is worth it. She would do it a thousand times. And a thousand more. No regrets.

    Senta: There is one catch.

    Saoirse: OK?

    Senta: In the human condition, there is hope, as well as love. Right? What you said, that time can be manipulated. If the aliens manipulated their timeline to save themselves, then we can manipulate ours. So theoretically, Louise can find a cure. She can go way into the future and bring back a cure. It would be easy in liquid time. Hannah could still live. She is not dead yet.

    Saoirse: Not yet. There is always hope. It is not over until the fat lady sings. I intend to go into the future and give her amnesia.

    Senta: You are the best sister ever.

    Saoirse: I am.

  • After reading this, I was unsure what to do. I sat and stared at it and stared at it. And then I thought, “I wonder what Eric Heisserer would think of this comment?” …

    So I asked him. Wanna know what he said in reply? Yeah, we all do. Here’s what he said after reading it.

    “Wow. I adore those sisters. What a great family.”

    Pretty much sums it all up. Well done you two. Kudos to you both.

  • I do not know what to say? I am very moved by this. …Wow. He really read it? Oh là là… My da, when he was uni student, once said hello to Ray Bradbury at a symposium. It was as close as he has ever gotten to celebrity. I can say Eric Heisserer, the screenwriter/producer of ARRIVAL, read a comment of mine and liked it. :) How cool is that?!

    I am glad this worked for you, especially after building up your expectation. We were afraid of boring you to death. My sister is awesome; she is very helpful. She really is the best big sister ever. :)

    Thank you, Taylor! *a hug*

  • Oh you are welcome. It’s more a compliment to Eric that he took the time to wander over to my corner of the interweb and check out your comment. He’s just such a cool and approachable person. Can’t wait to see the new stuff he is working on so incredibly exciting to see him vault over the moon all of a sudden. But yeah, kudos to him. Regardless, you are welcome.

  • You are right! I never even thought of that. I was so…”fan-girled” out? (I am making up my own words :D ) that I am not thinking straight. If you talk to him again, tell him that he is very thoughtful and kind to have taken the time to read what we wrote. The patience! He is wonderful. I will never forget it. :)

  • Beings capable of what these were, would be so far advanced over us that we would be like ants. Their interstellar capabilities, gravity control, technology would make us look like the Stone Age creatures we are. And yet, man decides to attack this race of super beings, even succeeding inkilling one. Not even in our wildest dreams. We can’t be that stupid….well, maybe. Look who is President. But that makes no sense. The opportunity of once ina hundred thousand years. And we act like the Stone Age savages we evolved from? Just doesn’t fit.

  • Super late to this but I just found your site! I guess I found it unbelievable that Ian, although not wanting to bring their daughter into the world because she would eventually suffer and die (of which I have a whole host of issues with) would just walk out of their lives! Completely. I haven’t watched this in a while but that was my biggest take away. That is what I sat, staring at the credits as they rolled by, and thought about. Why would Ian leave them? His daughter who would one day need him. It made me hate him and then I hated the movie because I thought it was an unfortunate plot twist just to stick it to Ian. I don’t know why I just can’t get pass that. Was that in the original short story?

  • Sorry for being so late. I have a list a mile long of movies to watch and zero free time.

    As I understood it Louise is slightly sad before the ‘flashbacks’ but I think it’s more due to the fact that she is alone. There was a conversation about still being alone even when you understand language. She seems to have everything: decent job/job history, nice house, etc. but knowbody to share it with.
    During the visits and the start of the flashbacks I got the impression (apon reflection after realising what the flashbacks were) she was nervous rather than sad.
    -also sorry if this has already been discussed

  • Yeah, I had to come to that realization as well. It was a fantastic head fake by Eric, that is for sure. Super super clever head fake.

  • Her husband was right. To choose to deliberately have a child with a fatal illness that will kill them young… maybe it could be justified if she were having the child alone, or if she and Ian were in agreement. But to trick Ian into watching his daughter die just because she wanted it? Remember, she didn’t tell Ian she knew their child would die a long, drawn-out death until after the kid was a few years old, and he left her for it. She knew he would never consent to that if she told him the truth.

    I found the character of Louise unlikable from the beginning, and while I tried to drum up some liking for her, the ending killed it all, and then some. Tricking someone into watching their child die slowly and painfully is despicable, and not something that can be forgiven. Louise is an utter monster, and frankly, the villain of the movie. And the villain won.

  • Completely agree with you about Ian’s character being one-dimensional. I forgot his name like 6 or 7 times *during* the movie, and I just tend to refer to him as “what’s his face guy” as he really had no development.

  • I loved this show.

    But I think what upset David is he was never told that their daughter would get sick and die. That Louise knew that information from before they became a couple and didn’t share it is what tore them apart, not the illness per se. It’s one thing to realize you are about to lose a child. But to learn the person you created that child with knew beforehand that this tragedy would occur made it even more unbearable.

    Yes she enters in knowing the heartache that will play out, but David is clearly is blindsided.

    It’s a wild irony that she saves the world by learning to communicate on a different level than anyone before her, but dooms her marriage by not communicating information that robs her husband of the choice of an informed consent.

    It’s never made clear why she doesn’t tell him, only that he bails because he’s that hurt by her actions. She does have a certain amount of pride. She knocks the abilities of another noted linguist early on but never grovelled to be hired. She just made it clear that she knew she was the best scholar for the job. That confidence may be what enables her to navigate the Alien language. But it may also set her up to be a willing martyr, whether or not it was actually necessary.

    It may be arrogance that makes her assume the death of her daughter and disintegration of her marriage is something she must accept must play out the way her visions reveal them. As her visions so clearly guide her to how to save the world we assume as an audience she maybe shouldn’t mess with what the future may bring. But perhaps in her crash course in pod-linguistics she missed the bit about just because you can foresee the outcome doesn’t mean you must accept it.

  • Shocked me he’d even do it in the first place. I mean, what was he thinking? Must have been considering bailing on russia from the start? Seems weird to me. But you are right, his movement across the canvass of this movie was incredible.

  • Just rewatched this and managed it without bawling (which is a feat as I bawl over long distance commercials).

    Apologies I changed Ian’s name to David for some weird reason in my last post.

    The second time through I realize they suggest she does change the outcome of her marriage.

    Beginning of movie after we watch montage of her child’s life with no father visible she says something about how she used to think this was the end of your (her daughter’s) story, but now she thinks it’s actually the beginning.

    When the visions start happening in the movie after she starts wrapping around the pod language she’s very much along for the ride. Ian is never a visible presence in the visions, he has bailed.

    But once she really “gets” the pod language after her solo trip to the space ship she has a vision where she explained to her daughter how her lie of omission caused daddy to leave. She collapses in Ian’s arms and says “I know why my husband left me”.

    Now starts the visions where she pieces together she can effect change in the present by using information from a possible future. She puts her life on the line and calls the Chinese general winning him over with his wife’s favourite quote.

    Next set of visions Ian is present in nearly everyone of them. He calls his daughter Star Stuff. We hear him asking Louise “do you want to make a baby?”

    In present Louise says “if you knew you could change your entire future would you?” to Ian. He talks about communicating his feelings more.

    So although it isn’t guaranteed that Louise and Ian stay together, there’s a suggestion that perhaps when in the future they start talking about having a baby instead of remaining silent she says “Yes, but there’s something you need to know …” and instead a future where together they share the joys and heartache of their daughter’s short life occurs. (If you are attuned to the visions there is no need to hammer us with dialogue explaining what we should all be grasping.)

    Otherwise the gift of the Pod linguistics is pointless. Perhaps some future things can’t be changed (incurable illness), but those things that human choices can effect by sharing knowledge by communicating through can be altered.

    Language the cornerstone of our lives saves the world and a marriage.

    Break out more tissue.

  • Astrophysics, if you like reading or watching broadcasts about this subject, explains that through space and time we can only move forward not backward in time. My favorite kinds of sci-fi films are directed by people who collect info from various astrophysicists/scientists and apply it to their filmstory in making it align with current science knowledge.

    For instance, astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, often shares his frustration or disappointment while watching a sci-fi movie—for instance, a Star Wars—where sound is projected to the audience in spaceship maneuver, usually in battle sequences, when the vacuum of deep space will not produce such an effect.

    Multiverses, time travel are fascinating subjects a filmmaker should take the time to discuss with experts and then proceed with creative poetic license to produce. James Cameron is one director I know of who actually reads up or may interview scholars prior to making a futuristic film…yet, proceed to use poetic license in its creation.

    The Arrival is a very good movie but I wouldn’t gush over it because had the makers of this film taken the time to do a little reading or communication with an astrophysicist, the eerie facts about time and space, as is known at this time, would’ve made it an even better film. Yet, Arrival is somewhat already a Classic film because of its unique storyline.

    Multiverses, discovery of dimensions past the known third dimension in which we exist, should be of great interest and valued as a way to teach and promote astrophysical knowledge to a vast audience who may never take a course or do further reading about science subject after graduation from K-12.

    This movie could’ve contrasted the biblical or spiritual belief systems with physics’ mind boggling multiverse, multidimensional studies. Alas, it did not go there. An audience is left viewing the main character’s dealing with a very narrow futuristic dimension in which she has to make a (heartbreaking) familial decision.

  • Eric himself has got wrong – never seems to have found out – the exact meaning of the Chinese imparted in the film – at the point when the subtitles were not included in English. Examination of the meaning of the Chinese reveals the presence of a word which means ‘appearance of a ghost in a dream with a message’. This implies that Louise had a natural, human, dream and it was on the basis of this that she was motivated to phone General Shang. His number was obviously available on the cellphone which she borrows (not ‘steals’). We need to track the true story through the many equivocations and unnecessary compensations which Villeneuve, Eric and Chiang have visited upon it. Due to the archetypal nature of its themes (Pentecost, Ascension, Redemption) they are unable to do it sufficient damage to destroy it completely. Thus it remains a great – if flawed – work of art. And that is a high compliment. A final point: a work of art must convince in its aesthetics, as it advances. Whatever Chiang or Eric or Denis hope we believe; want us to believe, boots nothing if the film they have left us with fails to deliver the image they have in mind. We can but live with that. I still hope for a re-make with no ‘wanna make a baby’. The rest would fall into place within the traditions of Strindberg or Bergman. The key error in the view that the tragedy with ‘Hannah’ is in the past – it is entirely unbelivable and unpredicated artistically in the future – is Ian’s leaving the menage when he finds out about the inevitable terminal illness. He would have been in on this intimate secret from the start. On this particular, the narrative fails to convince psychologically. In that way you can leave to one side as ultimately unimportant a hybrid and ambiguous message about whether the flashes are forward or backwards; and thus save a meritorious film from being eventually forgotten: due to its saccharine clunkiness and its over-asssiduous, over-worked logics. All admiration, nontheless, to its makers; and I am sorry Johansson has departed this world. A fine score – nice ‘backward music’ bits – and the E flat dirge is livable-with. The concluding Sinfonia, to those grossly overdone titles, was a penance. A web reference would have sufficed in 2016.

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