Finally got some time to write the explanation of one mind bender of a movie Arrival! Such a beautiful concept the movie has that it explodes you, when you figure it all out. It is a movie that teases you with its inklings until it drops the bomb at you. But the true nature of its beauty lies in its profound direction, of how the rest of the world interprets the word ‘alien’, and their incapability to understand the unexplained.
Without wasting any more time let’s dig into it. Also, if you haven’t seen Arrival movie yet, there was no point coming to this page. You should go first watch it, read our review maybe first, and then proceed, coz it’s full of spoilers!
Arrival Movie Explained (Major Spoilers Ahead)
The best way to understand Arrival movie is via the fact that there is no definite order to things. There are no tenses. So if you are being shown a scene that looks like a memory it could very well not be.
- We see what appears to be a flashback of memories, frames that show our protagonist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) playing with her daughter, raising her up all by herself. Then we see her grow up to be a beautiful teen, but unfortunately one day she passes away from a disease that looks like cancer.
- We move on to gather the profession of Louise Banks. She is a linguist who teaches in a college. That’s when 12 Alien Spaceships appear all across the globe at different locations. Everybody freaks and leave as she too gets the day off and decides to hit home. She is least interested in what’s going on, as she speaks to her mother.
- Forgetting about the huge repercussions of Alien ships, she goes to the university yet again to find it deserted. That’s when enters the U.S. Army Colonel Weber asking for her help. She is briefed on to help them understand why the Aliens are here, as she joins the team that comprises of Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner).
You can understand communication and still end up single.
Visiting a Spaceship
- In Montana, they are brought in to check out one of the spacecrafts. On entering they find the spacecraft had its own strong gravity that explains how throwing something upwards rivets it to one side.
- They follow the path to meet two huge aliens behind what appears like a protective glass. Ian names those heptapods Abbott and Costello in an effort to make them understand the concept of introduction.
- It is there where they discover their language was, well, alien. Huge confusing circular symbols are drawn on the glass with a disappearing ink. With that begins ceaseless session of questions and answers in an attempt to understand what the hell the aliens were really trying to say.
- Meanwhile, Louise Banks keeps getting visions of her daughter. Let’s not forget that! Till this point she thinks those were mere dreams. Also, Ian makes an allusion that Louise could be dreaming in a foreign language, the language of Heptapods.
The Huge Twist of Arrival
- Then comes the huge twist. When Louise and Ian finally fixate and relate their letters to our letters, Louise asks a question about the nature of their visit. They answer with the word ‘Use Weapon’. Even though Louise is convinced that the word weapon is open to more than one interpretation, the rest of the world goes loco and opts to attack the pods instead.
- Further communications are barred as Louise and Ian make one final attempt to understand what Abbott and Costello were trying to say. In the backdrop an explosive was put in the spaceship to knock it out of space. A series of complex messages are left by the Heptapods, to decipher in a hurry. But the bomb goes off, as Abbott saves their lives in process.
- Ian and Louise wind up in military beds, and the spacecrafts go further up in the atmosphere for their safety. Ian deciphers the symbols that were left by the aliens to be pointing towards the concept of time. That it was nothing but one-twelfth of a gift they intended to give. Thus they figure out that the heptapods want all the nations where the 12 spaceships were present to cooperate with each other so that the intended gift can be utilized.
- But it is too late. Chaos has ensued. Entropy of life has seeped in. All communications have failed, and the world is ready to attack the innocent ships that have come seeking our help and are hanging mid-air gawking at their certain sealed fate. That’s when a pod is sent for Louise by the heptapods.
- It is here that we get to understand what is really happening. When she reaches the spaceship Costello communicates with her telling her that Abbott was on its deathbed.
- When she asks the heptapod who was the girl she has been seeing, you realize that her daughter “Hannah” wasn’t actually born, and that it wasn’t a memory we were being constantly shown.
- The heptapod explains to her that what she has been seeing (her dreams) the future all this time. That time is non-linear from their perspective.
- 3000 years from now they would be needing humanity’s help, and that it is crucial for them to teach us how to use the gift which was nothing else but their language, something that gave us the ability to fathom time, its surreal non-linearity. If we understood that, using its help we could be helping them out in the near future somehow.
Dodging off War | Arrival Ending Explained
- When Louise returns with this epiphany, she envisions her distant future where she has managed to unite everybody, and written books on Heptapods and stuff. She is felicitated by General Shang in a United Nations meet saying that it was Louise who had changed Shang’s decision to suspend Chinese attack. To her surprise he even goes as far as to show her his personal no. that she had dialed in order to waive off the Chinese attack.
- In the real world, China was about to attack the pods. This gives her the inkling to act quickly and so she runs for a SAT phone and calls the General on the no. from the vision. Now she doesn’t know what to say, so she scours for it in the future vision yet again, only to realize Shang telling her the exact words she said on the phone that did the trick. It was Shang’s dying wife’s last words,
“In war, there are no winners, only widows.”
- It was the only thing that could have possibly changed Shang’s mind. With that intimate knowledge Shang calls of the strike, and the other nation’s follow suit, eventually cooperating to understand their language, the cardinal gift.
- When the heptapods realize their job was done, they disappear.
We realize through plethora of allusions that the physicist she used to talk with her daughter about was none other than Ian. The following line then eventually gets delivered:
“If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?”
It gets responded immediately by Ian:
“Maybe I would say what I felt more often. I don’t know.”
Soon he adds,
“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.”
This confirms that it is Ian that she ends up marrying. That she conceives Hannah with Ian in the near future, and that her knowledge of Hannah dying, forces Ian to leave her. That’s why we see Louise alone raising her.
But the line about the future leaves it to viewer’s imagination as to whether or not Louise would do something different to change her doomed future. Because it is after all, what she gives the aliens to learn from.
Bottomline of Arrival Movie
The bottomline in Arrival is that aliens don’t know how to save themselves from their looming downfall, their imminent death in the future. So, they have come to learn to handle this from us. So when they tap in our understanding of freewill, they have a shot at it. That they are to benefit only when we unite to understand their language. As to what is that imminent threat, we don’t know. And I think it is not important either.
The moment we work on World Peace, they leave us, because time being non-linear their impending doom gets called off, by something some human did in the non-linear version of time.
Well, to put it bluntly as I have put it, might sound stupid to some, but the thing is the movie’s true strength lies in its concealed timeline. It tries to cloud your judgment by showing glimpses from a different juncture in time. But it also patiently waits with its titanic climax to reveal everything in the end. It leaves you intensely satisfied, and that’s what a good movie should do.
Arrival is simply a work of genius. The more you think about it, the more awesome it becomes. Let your thoughts shower in.