How Arrival treats time (& travel) as a part of the fluidity of existence

15 September 2023
In Denis Villeneuve's "Arrival," starring the ever-compelling Amy Adams, audiences are treated to a narrative that transcends the typical alien invasion trope. Instead of focusing on interstellar conflict or the potential annihilation of the human race, "Arrival" delves into the intricate relationship between language, memory, and time, offering viewers a unique perspective on the fluidity of existence.

The Heptapods, the film's alien visitors, communicate through a series of intricate, circular symbols. This language, as the protagonist Louise discovers, is more than just a means of communication; it's a reflection of the Heptapods' perception of time. Unlike humans, who view time linearly, the Heptapods experience all moments simultaneously. As Louise immerses herself in their language, she begins to experience time in a similar non-linear fashion. One particularly poignant scene showcases this shift: Louise, while still in the process of deciphering the Heptapod language, starts to have vivid visions of future events. This suggests that as her understanding deepens, her very perception of time begins to evolve.

This non-linear perception of time brings forth a profound exploration of free will versus determinism. Louise's newfound ability allows her foresight into her personal future, including the birth and eventual loss of her daughter. Yet, even with this knowledge, she chooses to embrace the joys and pains that come with it. This narrative choice prompts viewers to reflect: If we had a window into our future, how would it influence our present decisions? Would we attempt to alter our path, or would we accept our fate, finding solace in the journey itself?

The film's structure further emphasizes the cyclical nature of time. As Louise's proficiency in the Heptapod language grows, her memories seamlessly intertwine with visions of the future. This narrative choice blurs the lines between past, present, and future, challenging the audience's own perceptions of time. It's a testament to the film's depth that it doesn't just present these ideas but embeds them into its very storytelling fabric.

On a philosophical level, "Arrival" resonates with theories that challenge our conventional understanding of time. It aligns with the idea of eternalism, a philosophical concept suggesting that all points in time—past, present, and future—are equally real. This perspective contrasts with the presentist view, which holds that only the present moment is real. Through its narrative and themes, the film invites viewers to grapple with these philosophical quandaries, encouraging introspection and debate.

fluidity of time in arrival explained

While many science fiction films have touched on the concept of time, "Arrival" distinguishes itself through its depth and nuance. Films like Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar" delve into the relativity of time, especially when influenced by gravitational forces, and "Primer" offers a complex narrative centered around the intricacies of time travel. Yet, "Arrival" stands apart in its exploration of how language and memory can influence one's perception of time.

Beyond its intellectual depth, "Arrival" is a profoundly emotional journey. The film masterfully uses its central theme to evoke deep emotional responses from its audience. The revelation about the true nature of Louise's visions, which initially appear to be flashbacks but are later revealed as glimpses of the future, underscores the film's exploration of the joys and sorrows brought about by the passage of time.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
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