The non-linear nature of the narration in ‘ARRIVAL’ has proved itself as one of the key features of the audience’s perception of the movie. As would be apparent well after down the watching, we are being introduced with what should be regarded as the end of the story in a conventional sense. What are the events of the outlasted past and what are the consequence? The opening scenes take us through a cinematic dialogue of a woman Louise, who has lost her only daughter by virtue of the agony of a disease beyond cure. Forasmuch as dealing with the prologue in the very beginning of the narration, we interpret the welcoming sequence under the lens of our established movie experience and logic, which regard the tragedy as the thing of the past, which now predetermines the ‘main’ storyline in the ‘present’.
Memory is a strange thing. It doesn’t work like I thought it did. We are so bound by time, by its order.
In continuation of the poignant monologue of Louise and a series of shots with a leaking away young girl, we see the key female character disconcerted and frustrated as it may seem. The cause-and-effect chain of events is now being engrained into the acceptance of the scenes to come. Every edge of Louise’s behavior in ‘present’, as might appear at first sight, one way or another is indicative of her loss in the ‘past’. As the story culminates one and a half-hour later, it would become apparent that Louise’s lost face expression within the semi-desolated lecture hall in the opening scenes, was in fact her initial state. One may only guess on the matter of her social isolation and frustration prior to the ‘Arrival’ of the twelve spaceships. Miss Banks, it may be so, was self-gravitated by the existential thoughts, arguably an untapped potential of one of the most brilliant linguists worldwide, was pressed upon sour relations with her mother or a paused dating life or declining interest of the students toward the education or she was just dominated by a mixture of the massive concrete ceiling of her lake house and cloudy weather.
In an effort to place all the scenes of the ‘ARRIVAL’ movie in a conventional conformist progression, the given necessity to take them up in a non-linear manner, as first sight may bring no practical sense. All it takes is an endeavor to visualize the story not successively, but rather in a full-circle way similar to the circles of Heptapods. The dimensions of the ‘beginning’ and the ‘end’ would therefore be dissolved. A particular scene with Louise inside the spaceship on her own and a ‘lucid moment’ may be regarded as a wavering reference point to put the events in some succession. Prior to this moment and the revelation of the non-linear way of thinking, a gift by Heptapods, the scenes with the daughter Hannah were regarded as a recollection of the past, thus a tragedy in advance of the main story. To fuel the narration maneuver, even more, Denis Villeneuve’s movie intentionally ignores the matter of Louise (Amy Adams) aging in the course of the years of the life of her daughter Hannah from the birth toward the death of a young girl.
But now I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings. There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived.
On subsequent rewatching of the ‘Arrival’, even being barred from an element of surprise, the very apprehension of the story is being transformed, as if we, the audience, have got a gift to appreciate time and events in a non-linear way. Now the viewer, as well as Louise, gets wise to the forthcoming death of not-yet-born Hannah, thus the beginning and the end of her story at the same time. Regardless of the events on screen, the final drama of the story would not change. No less remarkable are the details of Louise’s exposure to linguistics and the way of thinking of the alien guests. The very scene, when the protagonist gets a glimpse of the future to turn the leaves of her not-yet-written book in order to find a clue, might itself contradict the established movie experience and the cause-and-effect narration. On this occasion, the events of the future determine the present in the same way as the past conventionally does.
Like their ship or their bodies, their written language has no forward or backward direction. Linguists call this «nonlinear orthography», which raises the question: Is this how they think?
The key male character IAN voices the scientific outlook, which endues the language we use with an ability to determine our thought pattern. In a more intriguing sense, the made-up language and the line of thinking of the alien race from the fictional sci-fi movie reshapes our apprehension of the passing of time in cinematography. Whereas in the beginning, we regard the ‘arrival’ of the aliens as an exciting cause for Louise to overcome her devastating state after the loss of a daughter, the epilogue, and the subsequent rewatching reinvent what we have already seen. An attempt to correlate the traditional linear structure with a new revelation could be transformed into the following cause-and-effect line.
EMOTIONAL ISOLATION — ARRIVAL — PERSONALITY CHANGE — LOSS OF DAUGHTER
Or this way
SOLITUDE — ARRIVAL — MEETING IAN — A BIRTH OF A CHILD — LOSS OF DAUGHTER
Going back to the circle model with the perception of the time in a non-linear way, another scene from the movie should be taken into consideration as well. An associate linguist from another country gives his interpretation to one of the Heptapods’ messages as THERE’S NO TIME. Being frightened with a perspective of the alien invasion and war of annihilation, the people regard the phrase in a kind of ultimate sense: YOU HAVE NO TIME. This obscure judgment among others matters is based on the later translated message on the importance of choosing a weapon (or a tool). Therefore when we interpret the ‘There’s no time’ message in the lens of the epilogue, more philosophical and metaphorical reading springs into mind, more obvious for Heptapods: TIME DOESN’T EXIST. Relatedly, the aliens render their own thought pattern on the matter, which we generally call time. The ‘Arrival’ movie puts cinematic words in the idea that the acceptance of the timeline may be well more relative and depends on your way of thinking.
LOUISE: WELCOMING EVERY MOMENT
As the path of Louise may be regarded as non-linear events, the contribution of the other parties may be also regarded as the circle, with daughter Hannah as the key contributor to the life of the protagonist.
DAUGHTER HANNAH. It is hard to overstate the importance of the character, who takes up the opening as well as the final scenes of the story. The emotional prologue and epilogue in a form of Louis’s words may be attributed to any period of time, from the pregnancy to the last minutes of her child in the hospital bed. The movie does something even more than retells the established wisdom, that nothing is worth more than losing a child. The drama of Hannah’s life lies in the fact that her mother knew the fate of a girl even before the birth: a short young life full of agony at the end. In a more obvious sense, Hannah was deprived of taking her own choice, as any child is.
As opposed to Hannah, Louise determined her choice for living these years next to her daughter and to inevitably lose her. As the story reveals, Ian could not deal with such revelation and leaves the family, Louise at least. Another reminiscence depicts the moment when Hannah storms at her mother with ‘I hate you’ words of despair, suggestively after Louise has revealed the fate of a girl and the fact she knew all these in advance. The key character would lose her daughter years from the present, yet she experiences pain and emotional devastation known seeing the vision of a dying girl. As opposed to this pain, Louise can see all the joy, whey would have thought these years to come, toward the end. She decides to live every moment through.
I used to think this was the beginning of your story.
As fast as Louise does first-rate in making interpretations of the Heptapods’ language, she now has a glimpse of her not-born daughter. The more successful she becomes in her linguistic work, the more visions of a strange girl burst into her mind. In a wider sense, Hannah impersonates a metaphor for life, the history of the human race, and time. Every mature human being understands the finitude of one’s life, yet we fill this life with a purpose and meaning, favoring the orientation toward the good things. Louise has the ability to see years in advance, yet she is incapable of explaining the ‘arrival’ of Heptapods in detail as well as her visions. She would name her only daughter Hannah, a palindrome that could be read equally from both sides. Hannah becomes a metaphor for the ‘arrival’, the contribution of Heptapods, and their non-linear way of thinking. Louise appreciates her child as a gift as well as humankind should regard the wisdom of the aliens. The climax of Louise’s drama comes with the understanding that she saved humanity from war and disconnectedness, but she would fail to save her only child from death.
IAN DONNELLY. To a great cinematic extent, the love story between Louise Banks and Ian Donnelly insomuch unstandard and dramatic, that it is worth reshaping our conventional representation of the drama stories. Would you yourself build relations with another human being with the knowledge of its fatal predestination? More than that, you are the bearer of the information, which would devastate this union one day. In the final scene, we see Louise and Ian together and the reminiscences of their future, or past, that depend on Louise’s new abilities. In regard to her emotional state at the very beginning of the story (beginning?), Ian apparently is the first man in her personal life over a number of years. All while Louise had to experience an abyss between herself and her Mother, students, academic associates, there was nobody to take care of her with a full breath. Ian Donnely becomes the very man who trusted Loise to the extent of his own life, protecting her from weapons.
“You know I’ve had my head tilted up to the stars for as long as I can remember. You know what surprised me the most? It wasn’t meeting them. It was meeting you.”
In the same way as for the Heptapods, general Shang, and the US military men, Ian appreciates Louise as the gift of fate. In the climax of the story, he regards an acquaintance with Louise as the most outstanding happening of these days beyond comparison. Apart from bringing Louise to light as a woman and scientist, Ian’s role lies in being the second narrator, who goes into detail with the linguistic findings of their team. Although at the initial phase he did his best to analyze the arrival of Heptapods in a scientific way, later Ian takes the side of Louise Banks. Jeremy Renner’s character impersonates a metaphor for science, which tries to analyze the extraordinary even through the lens of the established experience, yet the appearance of Heptapods improves upon the existing knowledge. Ian’s initial plan, as opposed to the one of Louise, is to get answers right here and right now.
Summing up all stated above, Ian’s character as the second key contactee with the aliens, do things halfway. The movie does not go into details on why his thinking pattern was not transformed in a way that Loise’s did. though he is the one who tries to interpret the written language of Heptapods. The second unsolved question goes in the fact that we do not see Ian in a scene with his daughter Hannah passing away. Going back in the story, it was Ian who gave us a clue on the nature of Louise’s dreams when he had asked her about seeing dreams through the lens of a foreign language. Louise in fact starts to see recollections of the future, stimulated by the Heptapods’ tool of apprehension of the time.
Louise: If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?
Ian: Maybe I’d say what I felt more often. I-I don’t know.
In the course of that last dialogue with Ian, Louise makes her actual choice. All while she forecasted the future events, this future had not been predestined before her decision. The ‘Arrival’ movie redefines the well-appraised wisdom, that life is a journey, rather than some target point on the horizon. Human beings are destined to live through this journey not only with joy but sorrow and pain as well. Louise comes to the realization that the road is more important than its ending and even the knowledge of Hannah’s death, herself or of any other human, would not stop the passing of time.
Despite knowing the journey… and where it leads… I embrace it… and I welcome every moment of it.
THE ‘ALIENS’. Even if we leave aside the fact that IAN and LOUISE gave the aliens names of Abbott and Costello, the Heptapods are the supporting characters and the contributors to Louise’s personality. Their arrival to the Earth may be regarded as a persuasive means for the protagonist to leave her emotional desolation, which had not been dominated by a loss of a daughter, as it would be later clear. Previously incarcerated into a colorless life, Louise now sees the carrot to break her comfort zone in order to depart for the unknown in the middle of the night with no more than 10 minutes of consideration.
Heptapods not only visit Earth in an “eco-friendly manner,” leaving no trace in our environment. They create specific conditions for contactees in twelve countries: gravity, airspace, appropriate temperature, and pressure, a glass-type barrier, a certain comfortable sound level, lighting, and safety measures. When several distraught American militaries sabotage the spaceship and the mission of Loise, the Heptapods push her and Ian out, thus saving their lives and possibly sacrificing one of their own (In the process of dying). In an effort to give the two aliens human features, the two key characters give them human names, notably perceiving Heptapods as intelligent beings. Abbott and Costello are reflections of Ian and Louise, on the other side of the conventional barrier.
The Heptapods grant Louise with an external impetus to change her life, to get out of apathy, an incentive to teach herself and all mankind new unique knowledge far beyond the conventional scientific or linguistic ones. At the level of personal state and status, she reshapes herself from a teacher of half-attended lecture halls and a periodic consultant to the military to the most famous woman in the whole world, the hope of humanity for peace with the alien species. For Heptapods, who see events in a non-linear and cyclical manner, Louise is the key to everything that happens, their hope not only for successful contact with humanity. Notably, the knowledge that humanity will come to their aid in 3000 years to come. Like General Shang later on, the Heptapods arrived, in a narrower sense, to ger encounters with Louise. Inside their ‘mist’ in the ship, she begins to see time as well as the alien guests and finally transforms her way of thinking. Louise gets to know the father of her unborn child, whose fate she knows in advance.
And «purpose» requires an understanding of intent. We need to find out, do they make conscious choices or is their motivation so instinctive that they don’t understand a «why» question at all.
THE MILITARY MEN. Even though Louise had previous classified cooperation with the US army, no one ever had to face such unprecedented challenges of communication with the alien beings. In the context of this story, the military men, the CIA agent, the Chinese general: all impersonate our human passions, including a fear of the unknown, a natural need of giving an explanation to everything around us, a desire to put the world straight and controlled. The colonel (Forest Whitaker) leaves Louise for the first time when she fails to give him an immediate solution right here and right now and later he expresses impatience as well as the representatives of the other countries. Considering a challenge of this kind, the military men are aimed to get the answers as fast as possible.
“Remember what happened to the Aborigines. A more advanced race nearly wiped ’em out.”
Agent Halpern: We have to consider the idea that our visitors are prodding us to fight among ourselves until only one faction prevails.
Louise: There’s no evidence of that.
Agent Halpern: Sure there is. Just grab a history book.
With their pursuit to get a definite answer from the offbeat creatures in the unorthodox circumstances, the military men impersonate a metaphor for our natural impatience as opposed to Louise, who does one step at a time. Her first educated enthusiasm suggests an effort to say hello to the aliens rather than producing ultimatums. The contact team is obliged to follow the orders, to report on every tiny decision and planned action she has in her mind, to undergo medical tests, and not to remove one’s protective suit. As the story progresses and Louise gains ground with the Heptapods, she shifts away from the initial instructions and adopts herself and humankind to the actuality.
In strong contrast to a methodological. philosophical and non-aggressive means of the linguists from twelve counties, the army warlords have no intention to wait with democracy and are ready to go with the means of bare force toward the aliens. Their impatience and literal interpretation of the events brings humanity to a nonsense situation when the beingы of the same species are way more disengaged, than the scientists from two different worlds. Who is a better candidate to see the light at the end of the tunnel: a linguist Louise Banks or general Shang with his rockets. Even his ‘domino’ nickname makes reference to our hostile nature. Military men and intelligence officials take the words of the Heptapods too literally, in the worst scenario, and through the prism of our essence, our own history. On the other hand, Louise finds a simple solution to the use of visual symbols and writing, which the best minds on the planet have not thought of before.
“Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”