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?
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Movie Arrival Explained and Interview with Eric Heisserer 

arrival-movie-explained

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

arrival-movieIn 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 influencers 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 concern 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 Costello 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 invisioning 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.

BUT LOUISE HAD NO IDEA WHAT HE WAS TALKING ABOUT.

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. And 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 Chaing’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

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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 Chaing’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 Chaing 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

arrival1One 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 fraility 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-transiental 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 flexability from humans? Seemed like a bit part of Chaing’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 “” 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?

arrival-explained-general-shang-whisperBut 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 Chines 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.

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173 Responses

  1. Jill

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

    Reply
  2. Michael

    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.

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      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.
      Taylor

      Reply
  3. Dr. Ruthless

    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.

    Reply
    • Michael

      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???

      Reply
  4. Nonee Friend

    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.

    Reply
    • Taylor

      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.
      Taylor

      Reply
  5. Nonee Friend

    And believe me, punctuation is the very least of this author’s problems.
    “she is playing is just starting to take a tole” TOLE?!?!?!
    “Cornecopias”?!?!?!
    “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?

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      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!

      Taylor

      Reply
  6. Senta

    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. 😀 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.

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      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.
      Taylor

      Reply
      • Senta

        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*

      • Taylor Holmes

        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.

      • Senta

        You are right! I never even thought of that. I was so…”fan-girled” out? (I am making up my own words 😀 ) 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. 🙂

  7. Pete Knoll

    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.

    Reply
  8. Laura

    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?

    Reply
  9. Taylor Holmes

    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.
    Taylor

    Reply
  10. Weylan McAnally

    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.

    Reply
  11. Allen

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

    Reply
  12. Todd

    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’.

    Reply
  13. Paris Jackson

    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”.

    Reply

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