Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Arrival (2016)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Arrival (2016)

In director Denis Villeneueve's thoughtful, intelligent alien invasion and dramatic, suspenseful mystery-thriller - the transcendent film was based on co-scripter Ted Chiang's 1998 short story "Story of Your Life." The tagline was composed of a simple question that needed answers - what was the purpose of the aliens' visit in the film?: "Why Are They Here?"

The film's complex themes include linguistics, space-time theory, communication with an alien species, the Saphir-Whorf Hypothesis (that the perception of reality is either altered or determined by the language spoken), and the revelation that although humans think and/or act linearly, there can also be non-linear timelines. In the latter instance, all events are predetermined (knowledge of the future is incompatible with free will - and the universe is deterministic). Questions were raised, such as: "Do humans really have free will or are their destinies pre-determined?" and "Would you proceed with your life if you knew how it was all going to end?"

  • in the prologue, linguistics (language) professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) narrated a foreshadowing statement that provided a substantial clue about the film: "I used to think this was the beginning of your story. Memory is a strange thing. It doesn't work like I thought it did. We are so bound by time, by its order...I remember moments in the middle...And this was the end... 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"
  • in a montage, Louise interacted and played with her young 6 year-old daughter Hannah, who then died in adolescence at 12 years of age from a fatal disease (presumably cancer). (As the film progressed, Louise had an intensifying number of 'flashbacks' or 'memories' of her daughter)
  • while she was in the midst of teaching a class of students, Louise was interrupted by news of extra-terrestrial aliens who had arrived in gigantic spaceships (at least 1,500 feet tall) in twelve locations around the world; she was contacted in her office by US Army Colonel G.T. Weber (Forest Whitaker), to use her language skills to understand and communicate with the alien visitors at the only US UFO invasion site - in Montana
  • on their way to the site, she was introduced to theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), whose first words to her were: "Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict"
  • she had her first encounter at the giant spaceship egg with the aliens emerging in a mist, portrayed as large tentacled creatures (dubbed "heptapods") with seven octopus-like legs; the two main aliens were nicknamed Abbott and Costello; to communicate with the humans, the aliens emitted circular 'word' symbols of misty, inky black smoke, that Louise began to interpret and understand: (narrated) "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?'"

Alien 'Arrival' - 12 Oval, Egg Shell-Like Spaceships

12 Landing Sites of the Aliens

Communicating with Aliens (Circular Mist Symbols)
  • during her interactions and as she learned more of the aliens' language, Louise began to have more and more haunting visions and 'memories' of Hannah as a child. [Note: Hannah's name was deliberately chosen as a palindrome - there was no beginning or end to her name. It could be read the same, forwards or backwards.] The film was misleading, tricking viewers into believing that Louise's grieving pain was due to her daughter's past death
  • there were threats of military action against the aliens when there were misinterpretations of the alien's word for "weapon" (that could have also been translated as "tool"); fear of the aliens led to rogue soldiers planting a bomb inside the spaceship that only drastically damaged the relationship that Louise had established with the aliens, and mortally wounded Abbott, one of the heptapods
  • a global international crisis was threatened when China delivered an ultimatum to the aliens - that they leave Earth within 24 hours or else they would be attacked. Forces seeking war with the aliens (considering them a threat) were in competition with Louise and Donnelly who discovered that each of the 12 spacecraft had part of a message-puzzle. (In the film's conclusion, Louise 'time-traveled' to the future, conversed with General Shang (Tzi Ma), and was able to have China and other countries agree to disarm and work together.)

Alien's Mission: "We help humanity..."

The Aliens' Gift of Language
  • the film's plot twist was revealed when Louise intervened by entering the ship alone and spoke to the surviving alien, Costello; the alien explained their true intentions - the aliens were sent to give humans the gift of their language (their "weapon" or "tool"), so that in exchange, they could understand the aliens and help them in 3,000 years time ("In three thousand years, we need humanity help") when the heptapods faced extinction; their offer of a "weapon" was their language - a language that opened time ("Weapon opens time"), changed humans' linear perception of time and allowed them to experience 'memories' of future events: "The weapon is their language. They gave it all to us...If you learn it, when you really learn it, you begin to perceive time the way that they do. So you can see what's to come. But time, it isn't the same for them. It's non-linear"
  • through Louise's understanding of the alien language, she was actually able to see into the future; the 'memories' that Louise was having of Hannah were NOT flashbacks, but premonitions or flash-forwards; for Louise, that meant that her visions of Hannah were premonitions of her future birth
  • the new perception and ability of Louise, with a rewiring of her brain and its perceptions, included the ability to travel through non-linear time - in other words, mental time-travel, with access to future times. A conversation between Ian and Louise confirmed this:

    Ian: "I was doing some reading, uhm, about this idea that if you immerse yourself into a foreign language, then you can actually rewire your brain."
    Louise: "Yeah, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis....the theory that, uh, it-it's the theory that, uh, the language you speak determines how you think and.."
    Ian: "Yeah, it affects how you see everything"

  • one of Louise's shocking 'memories' was of Hannah showing her a school drawing she had made of an imagined TV show involving two people; Hannah explained: "That's you and dad. The show is called 'Mommy and Daddy talk to animals'" - it was a premonition of Louise speaking to the heptapods in the future! This was conclusive evidence that Hannah was born after the arrival of the heptapods - including the fact that Hannah's death, due to illness, was going to be fateful and inevitable
  • in the film's final lines (spoken without seeing their lips move), Louise and Ian realized that they had purposely been brought together; Ian would become her husband, and they would become the parents of Hannah; and even though Louise knew what would happen to Hannah (terminal illness), she still chose to bring forth a new life:

    Louise: If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?
    Ian: Maybe I'd say what I feel more often. But I-I don't know. 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. (They hugged)
    Louise: I forgot how good it felt to be held by you.
    Ian: You wanna make a baby?
    Louise: Yes. Yeah.

[Note: After Hannah's birth, Ian left Louise because she didn't initially tell him about her knowledge of their daughter's fate.]

Prologue: Louise's Daughter Hannah - Diagnosed with Terminal Illness

US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker)

Linguistics Professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) Communicating with Aliens

"China Delivers Ultimatum" - General Shang of the People's Liberation Army Threatening Aliens

One 'Flashback' of Louise's Daughter Hannah

Revelation: Hannah's 'Flashbacks' Were Images of Louise's Future

Hannah's School Drawing of Her Mommy and Daddy Talking to Animals

Louise's Future Book: "The Universal Language - Translating Heptapod"

Ian's and Louise's Final Conversation (with their backs turned to each other)


Greatest Scenes: Intro | What Makes a Great Scene? | Scenes: Quiz
Scenes: Film Titles A - H | Scenes: Film Titles I - R | Scenes: Film Titles S - Z