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Arrival Review, Part 2

On the strangeness of a language telling the future

Last time we talked about the beginning of the movie Arrival, and how the main characters seemed surprisingly melancholy when aliens visit their planet. But once Louise and Ian reach the military base, everyone starts acting human. As soon as Louise and Ian began translating the alien’s language, the story gets more interesting.

Things seem to be going well for the two of them. But the situation changes once Louise decides to tell the aliens her name and takes off her suit.

Physically, Louise seems fine, but she begins having visions of a little girl. In the first part of the film, there is a montage where Louise’s child is shown to have died of some unknown disease. The monologue Louise gives makes it clear that this entire movie is a flashback, but the writers still chose to disguise the child’s death as a past event. The fact that it takes place in the future is meant to be a twist that they are waiting to reveal until the end of the film. So, when Louise starts to have these visions, she doesn’t know what they mean, but the audience is supposed to believe these images are flashbacks. We later find out that the language is causing the visions, but that calls into question why the moment she took off the suit is so significant. The movie certainly treats this event like the igniting incident, but it’s unclear how.

Major Plot Hole Alert

It also opens up a major plot hole in the script. There is another character who goes through all these same events. Ian is also learning the language and makes one of the major discoveries regarding this language later on. Ian also takes off his suit right after Louise. However, he receives no visions, nor any signs of exhaustion or anxiety. And the reason Louise receives these visions and Ian doesn’t is never explained.

Things only get more complicated. On the political side of the situation, the people of Earth are growing more apprehensive. There are riots in the streets. Soldiers begin stressing out about the persistent presence of these intergalactic beings. China begins insisting on war with the aliens. Everything comes to a head when Louise and Ian finally ask the aliens why they are on Earth. The aliens say they are “offering weapons.” Similar messages are given to the other countries, and all the militaries cease talking to one another. The collective attitude of the nations is that the aliens are trying to get them to fight for this secret weapon. Their arrival is a way to manipulate humanity into destroying itself.

Frankly, this is another aspect of the film I found unbelievable. For one thing, there is no way the different governments of the world would resolve not to be baited into a global conflict while simultaneously shutting off communications with each other. And let’s be honest, somebody is going to want that weapon, and everybody else is going to be scared that this somebody would obtain the weapon before them, unless they grabbed it first. For the world’s protection, of course. People would be clamoring for the weapon, begging the aliens to give it to them, not sitting around telling each other it’s a trap so they better stop talking to one another.

In any case, Louise thinks the aliens misunderstood the word weapon for the word tool and demands to speak with the creatures again. She and Ian are allowed to go, and she quickly clarifies that the weapon is a tool. She asks them for this technology, and the aliens send them a large collage of their symbols. Ian and Louise record the symbols, but a few treacherous soldiers plant a bomb on the ship. However, just before the explosion, one of the aliens pushes Louise and Ian out of the chamber, and the two survive the blast.

Louise is knocked unconscious, but when she wakes up, she finds out that they were able to save the images of the collage before the bomb went off, but now, the Pentagon is thinking about pulling them out area because they are afraid the aliens will retaliate. Yet the creatures don’t respond in kind. They raise their ship higher into the air instead. However, China is still making waves, so Louise and Ian begin rushing to figure out what the collage means. It’s Ian who saves the day. He discovers that the collage is their language but broken up into twelve parts. The other ships have the missing pieces, and the aliens are trying to force humanity to work together.

But although they’ve figured out what the aliens meant, they, supposedly, still have no way of communicating with the other nations. Louise decides to ask the aliens to relay the message to them. She returns to the ship which sends a pod for her. She boards the alien craft and asks one of them to tell the other nations they need to work together to use the weapon, but the alien tells her she has the weapon herself.

This response is followed by a wave of visions about Louise’s daughter. Of course, Louise doesn’t know who the child is yet, and this is when the movie decides to reveal the big twist that it had plainly stated at the beginning. Louise is seeing the future, and she is supposed to use this “gift” to relay her message to the other nations.

This is another moment where the movie lost me. If Louise already has the gift in its entirety, why does she still need the other nations? I know the movie wants to create a race against the clock for the end of the film — pacify China before the Pentagon shuts down the project — but honestly, she could’ve just translated the language later and given it to the other nations. The aliens were about to leave anyway.

When she asks why the aliens want to help humanity, the aliens respond by saying they will eventually need humanity’s help. Since their language enables them to see the future, this is their way of monkeying around with the past so they can ensure their survival.

Therefore, the language is the weapon because it gives everyone the ability to tell the future. I have thoughts, and we’ll cover those in the next review.            

Gary Varner

Gary Varner is the Assistant to the Managing and Associate Directors at the Center for Science & Culture in Seattle, Washington. He is a Science Fiction and Fantasy enthusiast with a bachelor’s degree in Theater Arts, and he spends his time working with his fellows at Discovery Institute and raising his daughter who he suspects will one day be president of the United States. For more reviews as well as serial novels, go to www.garypaulvarner.com to read more.

Arrival Review, Part 2