Arrival – a film where a linguist saves planet from destruction by aliens

If you think this sounds even slightly possible, you may be able to swallow the other improbabilities in Arrival.

There is a bit of homaging going on in the film and it draws inevitable conclusions.


Davis Bowman and Lousie Banks

 I first saw 2001: A Space Odyssey  in the late 60s so my recollection is not perfect. But I do remember Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece being rather more logically consistent and believable.

Twelve alien spaceships arrive at various sites around the world.


The military decides that the best approach is to open up communication with them using a linguist.

Linguists around the world will be enjoying their 15 minutes of fame. Never in their wildest dreams would they have imagined saving the planet.

The linguist who has been chosen is Dr Lousie Banks played by Amy Adams.


The central hypothesis of the film is that humans must learn to communicate with the alien life forms and that is what Louise Banks sets out to do.

The spaceships are inhabited by heptapod aliens.

Here is a description of the heptapod alien from the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.

“It looked like a barrel suspended at the intersection of seven limbs. It was radially symmetric, and any of its limbs could serve as an arm or a leg. The one in front of me was walking around on four legs, three non-adjacent arms curled up at its sides. Gary called them “heptapods.”


The aliens communicate in a form of hieroglyphic.


Louise Banks begins communicating with the heptapods

The speed and ease with which extremely talented Dr Banks begins communicating with the aliens is one of the many points in the film where a willing suspension of disbelief was required.

 The deep and fundamental flaw in this film is a quite complex idea. The aliens do not have a linear sense of time, rather it is circular. The reason that Amy is able to communicate with them in their language is that she has this sense of time as well as a result of learning language.

 Throughout the film, this idea is played out in what is, to begin with, a quite comprehensible set of flashbacks involving the death of Amy’s daughter through some rare and incurable disease.

 But everything becomes much more confusing when we realise that, at the end of the film,  the theoretical physicist that Amy has been working with is to become her  daughter’s father. All the flashbacks we’ve been seeing are Amy’s visions of the future.

 Unfortunately, there is a problem with this. In the flashbacks/vision of the future, Amy is some 20 years younger than she is in the film. They really do look like flashbacks.

 Even more confusing is the ending.

 Everyone around the world has decided to try to blow the aliens up.

In a last-ditch effort to save the situation, Amy steals a cell phone and rings General Shang of China (played by Tzi Ma) and persuades him not to precipitate Armageddon. She is successful and everybody else follows China’s lead and stands their military forces down.

Apparently, Amy  has the phone number of the most senior general in China as result of a flash forward to when she has a meeting with him at a ceremony in the future where she is being celebrated for saving the planet. There is also an added complication of Amy knowing what the general’s dying wife had said to him on his deathbed.

 Confused? So was I.

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