Behind the difficult topics, linguistic theories and rich narrative elements hides a hopeful and timeless ending.
At the end of Denis Villeneuves Arrivals, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) stand in awe as they see the alien creatures vanish into space, leaving behind their “weapon” for Earth to save the aliens when they need help 3,000 years from now .
As they stare at the sky, Louise shares a quiet moment with Ian and asks if he would change anything in his life if he could see his whole life from start to finish. He responds by saying that he would say more times how he was feeling before telling Louise that he was more in awe of her than he was of the aliens. The moment is tender as more glimpses of a distant future play out between their conversations.
This is usually the case when the viewer realizes that we’ve already seen their story. In fact, we saw their marriage, the birth of their daughter, and the end of death before Ian even knew he was in love with Louise.
The ending isn’t really a true ending, more like a different moment or Louise’s life connected to other moments in the past and future. When we get to the end, we look at both the end and the beginning of two stories that happen at the same time. The side story, which runs alongside the main plot, focuses on the life of Louise’s daughter Hannah. It takes the viewer most of the movie to find out that these two storylines exist at the same time, but Louise understands this because of her ability to embrace the alien language and the practices that are created around that language. Louise can see and exist past, present and past at the same time.
It’s a bit confusing so let me explain how we got to the amazing ending of. arrived Arrivals.
About linguistic relativity
Arrivals is a complex science fiction drama based on the 1998 novella, Story of your life by Ted Chian. The film is clever in that it cuts moments of the present and future into a single timeline by connecting small and seemingly insignificant moments together. Many science fiction films try to play with the idea of time and its perception – I’m looking at you Interstellar-but no one comes to the success of how. approach Arrivals plays with the idea of time by using the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity.
To fully understand the Sapri-Whoft hypothesis, we need to break down linguistic relativity.
Put simply, linguistic relativity is the idea that our experiences are shaped by cultural practices, such as language, and how they play a crucial role in the way people think about the world and what they do. Our understanding of words and how we use them in our everyday lives shapes the world around us. Debates about the effects of language have existed since the beginning of philosophy. Many proponents of the hypothesis that language can determine the way you understand the world also argue that language simply affects your perception of the physical world around you.
In the 20th century, Edward Sapir developed a theory around the idea of linguistic determinism, the way in which one’s own language determines a person’s understanding of the world around them.
Benjamin Whorf, a student of Sapir, built on Sapir’s theory to suggest that language shapes the perception of the speaker’s world. To clarify his point of view, Whort compared the language of the indigenous peoples of the Inuit and Hopi in North America with the common language of European countries. Whorf found that the Uto-Aztec language of Hopi uses ordinal numbers (first, second, third), while English speakers use cardinal numbers (one, two, three) to distinguish time. One language does not objectify time, while the other claims some kind of dominance or control over it.
The Hopi speaker’s understanding of life is very different from that of the English speaker; Hence, those who speak Uto-Aztec have a different perception of reality than those who speak English. Linguistic relativism arises because language forces us to think about the world around us.
Arrivals only uses parts of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. To be honest, the hypothesis itself is challenging to test because of the numerous problems involved. Language changes when translating, many speakers are bilingual and cannot fully grasp the effects of language, if any, and language is constantly adapting and changing with their society. Arrivals concentrates on the overarching idea of the hypothesis, but only connects the language through the written form.
Even if it’s a bit of a mess, we can still break the ending down.
The end of Arrivals
A lot of Arrivals‘s action focuses on finding a way to communicate the idea of language and how language shapes our reality. The “Heptapods” (the name Ian and the military used to refer to the aliens) use a written language that is drastically different from any shape on Earth, with each symbol being a complex thought within a second. and sentence structure generated. The symbol is written in the form of a circle, writing the beginning and the end of the sentence at the same time.
As Louise found out in a conversation with Ian, the written language of the heptipods is based on the Fermat principle (the mathematical law that says that light takes the path that takes the least time). The written communication of the heptapods reflects their perception of time very differently than we do: more circular than linear. It is never made clear in the film how her perception of time works, but we can see how it works through Louise’s interaction and acceptance of language.
Since the linguistic relativity of the heptapods enables them to exist in all moments of their lives, Louise gains this ability once she has mastered her language. The film hints at this idea during its running time and shows us right from the start that we are seeing the film in a non-linear format. We are shown moments of Louise with her family and her daughter’s future death before she is unwittingly transported to a later time when Louise enters a classroom.
The film is sneaky at first to hide little moments like this by weaving moments from the side story with the main story. The viewer dawns on the realization that the beginning of the film is the end of Hannah’s story and everything between the beginning and the end are moments that both tell stories, which makes it difficult to tell where one plot ends and another begins.
But that’s not a fair way of looking at Louise’s experience. The story of Hannah’s life, the story Louise wants to tell at the end of the film, is the story we saw. It’s both the main story and the side story.
Because the act of Arrivals is told in non-sequential order, Louise’s mind is free to wander from moment to moment. Think of it as a daydream. One thought freely falls into another without your even trying. This is how Louise’s sense of time works in the film.
By talking to Ian about zero-sum games in 2016 Montana, Louise can help her daughter Hannah with her homework in our future, her present. Although it looks like she’s flashing back into a memory, she’s actually experiencing both moments at the same time. This idea is cemented when she can recite the words of General Shanghai’s dying wife (Tzi Ma) over the phone while he tells her his wife’s dying words at a gala event.
Louise experiences her life just like the heptipedes. The heptipedes see life all at once, moments that flow into one another without a filter. While it may seem overwhelming, the use of written language guides the user through the timeless perception of the world. Arrivals does an excellent job of bringing a visual element to the screen to explain how Louise and the Heptapods see time through the circular icons. There is neither a clear starting point nor a definitive end.
There is likely some theory to suggest that when time is viewed in a circular manner, free will cannot exist. That’s true if everything has to happen before it happens, but Arrivals does not suggest this with his idea of time as a circle.
If time is a circle, then who says the circle cannot be changed? There is no reason to believe that we cannot deviate from the path we are taking to explore an unknown path. Therefore, at the end of the film, Louise asks Ian if he could change anything in his life if he saw his whole life from start to finish. While his answer is not a groundbreaking revelation, it is enough for Louise to know that she is choosing to follow the life she is currently seeing.
In the end, Louise decides to move on with the choices that will bring her a family she loves dearly and help the heptipedes by writing her book. The universal language. Although she is aware of the pain and sorrow to come, there is beauty and limitless love that she would rather experience than miss out entirely. Every moment in her life will happen at once – joy and sorrow will live hand in hand with her – but her potential to be the “weapon” that will save an entire alien race is outweighed by her own emotions.
The end of Arrivals is a complicated one. As humans, our emotions have a powerful influence on our decisions, and knowing that the pain comes with a choice is a difficult idea to grapple with. Could we sacrifice our happiness because of the unimaginable and inevitable pain that comes with choosing? The film plays with the idea, but the conclusion ultimately offers a big hug and tells you that whatever you do is do for the life you want to live.
What do you think about the end of Arrivals? Let us know in the comments below!