Explaining Arrival’s Ending

In case you didn’t read my review of Arrival, I thought it was a fantastic, thought-provoking movie.  The best thing about it was its twist ending, which changed the audience’s entire perspective of the film.  I thought it would be nice to share my thoughts on what it all means.


Source: Paramount Pictures

Before I move any further, here’s a spoiler warning in case you haven’t seen it and don’t want to be told what happens.  If you have seen Arrival, I have no idea how you stumbled upon this article, but okay, stuff happens.  Anyways, this is your first and last spoiler warning.


Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the nitty gritty.

The first thing that I would like to talk about is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.  In the movie, the term is thrown around, and it really serves as the basis for Louise’s understanding of Heptopods.  According to dictionary.com, the theory, developed by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf, states that the structure of a language determines or greatly influences the modes of thought and behavior characteristic of the culture in which it is spoken.  Basically this means that since I speak English, I perceive the world in a unique way.  The reason this connects with the movie is that as Louise spends more time uncovering the Heptopod language, she starts to see as they see.  She begins to perceive time as they do.  Ultimately, it’s this connection of language that ends up piecing the film together.

Louise realizes that the Heptopods do not perceive time as a linear thing.  The past, present, and future all take place at the same time.  When I first watched the movie, I thought the beginning was to set up Louise’s tragic past.  I never thought that the film actually played it the other way around.  The movie chronologically starts out with the arrival of the Heptopods as Louise is a linguistics professor at a university.  She works on solving the language barrier while getting closer to Ian.  The heptopods reveal to Louise the future, and Louise remembers how to prevent China from using its military force on the alien ships.  China pulls back, and Louise sees how she will one day become a celebrated hero for creating the universal language, uniting all countries, and bringing about an era of peace.  Back in the “present,” she and Ian get close.  Eventually, they have a child named Hannah (who is introduced in the beginning of the film).  I thought it was cool how she was named Hannah since it’s a palindrome, and it symbolizes the movie.  The tragedy in this child is that Louise knows what will happen to her since she has seen the future through the Heptopod language.  Since she knows about Hannah’s heartbreaking death, she keeps this secret from Ian.  When she finally tells him, he leaves her and his daughter.  I might be missing a couple things, but this is how the movie is chronologically.

It’s not just the future that Louise sees.  In a single instant, her entire life from start to finish flashes by her.  She has access to every detail, and could probably change the future (or at least I think so – the film doesn’t talk about that).  This idea poses the existential question: is it even worth knowing everything?  I don’t know about you guys, but after watching Arrival, I found myself thinking a lot about what I would do if I knew about the future and all of my future tragedies.  Would I change the future or accept that those tragedies are just part of the journey of life?  Louise supposedly chooses to accept her future as we see with her daughter’s future death.  However, she understands more than everyone else that life is more than its individual aspects.  Tragedy is only a part in understanding life’s true meaning, which varies depending on the person.

While Arrival is a sci-fi film about aliens, it’s more an ode to humanity.  Director Denis Villeneuve explores the deeper questions about both individuals and their societies.  In asking the question “Why are they here,” the light shines on humanity.  Though different countries have differing opinions, a greater presence brings everyone together in the end, and humans finally realize that peace is the best option.

I know that this article is shorter than what I usually write, but I just thought I would get this off my head and onto the screen.  Now I ask you, what do you think about Arrival’s ending?  Feel free to let me know by leaving a comment down below!  Thanks 🙂

Twitter: @MohitPuvvala

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