Arrival (2016) Explained | Language, Weapon, Time

I went to see a film yesterday after a very long time. I went to see it because it was directed by Villeneuve and I trust that man; he is an awesome director and he did not disappoint me. Arrival is a fantastic movie. It was not cliched and that made it different. The director did not try to spoonfeed everything to the audience. Call it pretentious but it gives the viewer a reason to do some research on his own. It is like making a connection with your audience.
When the movie ended, I was not sure of what I saw. Did you feel the same? If yes, then do not worry, most of the people are as confused as you are. It took Eric Heisserer more than 6 years and 100 drafts to write the screenplay. He basically turned a 50 page short story called “Story of Your Life”(written by Ted Chiang) into a 2 hour film. So it is going to be a bit difficult to grasp. So let’s start with the beginning because that is where you made your first big mistake. The beginning of the film is not actually the beginning. It is Louise having visions of the future. She does not have a kid at that point of time. She does not even know who the girl is. She is confused by whatever is happening to her. Then one day, the heptapods appear and you know the rest of the story. Now, I will try to explain some basic concepts that will make it easy for you to understand the film.
arrival movie explained
SPOILERS AHEAD.

Arrival (2016): The Weapon Explained

Halfway through the film, when Dr. Louise talks to the heptapods, they mention some kind of weapon and ask her to use it. At this point, we have no idea what they are talking about. We immidiately think that they are talking about something special they want to give us or maybe they are asking us to fight with other countries using our own weapons. But that is not what they are talking about. The weapon that they are talking about is their language. Now, you must be wondering how a language can be a weapon? Well, let’s talk about their langauge which is fascinating.

Arrival (2016): The Universal Language Explained

According to Sapir-Whorf hyposthesis, the language you speak decides how your mind works and can change your cognitive abilities. At one point in the film, Ian asks Louise if she dreams in foreign languages because she can speak and read many languages. Apply this hypothesis in real life and you get a fantastic story like Arrival. Their language is the source of their ability to live in a non-linear timeline.
The language that the heptapods speak or understand is quite different from human languages. What’s special about their language is that it is based on logograms. The words and sentences in their language are depicted using the circular shapes that the heptapods create using the ink released by their tentacles. Their language does not have a beginning or end; nor does it have a specific time when it is spoken (or drawn, in this case). The Aliens experience time in a non-linear way because they speak a non-linear language (and thus their mind works in a different way). In their world, everything is happening at once, be it- past, present or future. So, everything they want to say is written at once unlike our languages which take 10-15 seconds to write a sentence. With the help of these logograms or circles, they can write complex sentences  within seconds.
Once Louise learns the language, she starts experiencing these visions. Because her mind starts to rewire itself with the help of her new ability to understand the language that is free from the barries of time. She is speaking and understanding a language that is non-linear in nature. As a result, she starts experiencing time in a non-linear way (kind of like Coop did in Interstellar, not exactly same though). Rememebr, sapir-whorf hypothesis? She soon learns that she can look into the future (Remember, how she tells her daughter about the non zero sum game by looking into the events of the future). It is sort of like remembering your future as you remember your past. Interesting, isn’t it?

Arrival (2016): Non-Linear Time Explained

Well, I have already told you how their language works. So there isn’t much left to understand about time. The time travel in this film isn’t physical, it is mental. Dr. Louise does not travel in time but it is her mind which can look into the events of future. She does not have go inside a fancy looking machine, press some buttons, slow some stuff up and make a jump into time. She just has to be in the present and her mind does the rest. Once she starts learning the language, she starts getting the glimpses of the future.

Now, I shall try to answer some questions that you may have about the film.
Why are the Aliens called Heptapods?
Because they have seven legs and seven is also called Hepta.
Why are the Heptapods here on Earth? What to they actually want?
One of the best things about Arrival is that the aliens in this movie do not act like the aliens in other films. They are not here to kill people; their motives are different. They have the ability to see the future since they live in a non-linear timeline. They know that they will need our help in 3000 years (We do not know why or how). So they are here to give us the weapon. They want us to be ready before the time comes.
Why are there 12 Alien Pods? Why didn’t they choose to appear at just one place?
They placed the pods throughout the Earth so that the whole world can come together as one.
How would Dr. Louise help them by learning the language?
Well, once she learns the language, she will pass this knowledge down to others. She does this by writing a book titled “The Universal Language”. Soon, Earth will have an army of people who have this ability.
Why did Ian choose to leave Louise?
Ian and Louise have a daughter named Hannah. As, Louise can look into the future, she sees the inevitable event of her daughter’s death. She tells Ian that Hannah would die of cancer. Ian, knowing that Louise knew it from the beginning and still chose to have Hannah, decides to leave her. Since it would be very hard for him to live with the truth that the daughter he is seeing everyday is going to die soon. This is why Arrival is a very emotional experience. To quote Frederick Nietzsche:
“The idea of being able to embrace and even celebrate one’s life even if you know the outcome will be less than great.”
How did Louise stop the Chinese General from attacking the aliens?
She looks into the future at a moment that takes place after 18 months. She is in an event where the Chinese general congratulates her for her work. He tells her that she did a great job by calling him on his private number and stopping him from going to war. He then tells her, his private number. He also tells her about what Louise said that changed his mind about the War with aliens (his wife’s last words). She then, uses this information in the present to convince the Chinese General to stop the army.
Now, a bonus question that nobody seems to be asking.
How did they appear and where did they vanish in the end? They just appeared and disappeared.
Because they are the fourth dimensional beings (Time being the fourth dimension). If we were to enter a 2D world, the 2D people will be baffled by what they will see. We will appear out of nowhere into their 2D world. Now, if we were to leave that world, we will have to enter our 3D space and it will appear to them as we vanished into thin year since they do not have the understanding of the Third dimension. They can not see it. Apply the same approach to a 3D world. If a fourth dimentional object were to enter our 3D world, it will appear out of nowhere and vanish into thin air when it leaves. Because we do not have the understanding of the fourth dimension.
I hope, this will help many people out there. Cheers !
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I am from Rishikesh (India) - A small town situated at the Banks of Ganges. I am an ECE Graduate working at B.O.B as an IT Specialist Officer. I completed my B.Tech from KEC, Dwarahat (2010-2014). I have founded and sold many blogs till date.

One thought on “Arrival (2016) Explained | Language, Weapon, Time

  1. The Best movie of the year. its rare for Science Fiction films to make you cry but my wife cried during this movie.Truly amazing.

     

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