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Arrival's Ending Explained

What Is The Alien Gift?

Given the impending doom of which Costello warns (with non-linear time, 3,000 years is just seconds away), he and the other 11 Heptapod hosts intend to impart their nonlinear perception of time to all of mankind. It’s implied that the universal “invasion” was intended to serve as a twelve-point dissemination for the Heptapod language. Despite their best efforts at executing this global diaspora, only Louise proved accessible and humble enough to actually listen and learn it.

Along with the American soldiers planting explosives in Abbott and Costellos' ship, the rest of the world congress elected to take a more bellicose approach to the Heptapods, completely missing the truth of the aliens' benevolent mission. While the rest of the world sees them as a clear and present danger, Louise has effectively had her mind rewired to speak the limitless language of the aliens and break the human boundaries of time. She's the Heptapods' only hope.

How Does it Work?

Louise Approaches the Heptapods

Arrival treads lightly with explaining the machinery of the Heptapods’ nonlinear language and perception of time. While the details of the mechanics are largely left to our imagination (after all, it is Louise the linguist's story, and not Ian the scientist's), Villeneuve and Chiang do allude to several key components:

  • Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis: Much is made about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in both Arrival and modern academia. The well-worn hypothesis suggests that the language we speak is inimitably tied to the reality we experience. Midway through the film, Ian asks Louise if she dreams in foreign languages, and indeed, the more she understands the Heptapods’ communication, the more she experiences waking visions of her future. The dream world merges with a flat chronology that irrevocably changes her perception of time and memory.

  • Nonlinear Orthography: Arrival screenwriter, Erik Heisserer, admitted he never expected the phrase, “nonlinear orthography,” would make it off the film’s cutting room floor. Instead, this linguistic expression is essential to understanding the nature of the Heptapods’ language and the symbols they use to communicate.

Part of Louise and Ian’s initial difficulty in translating Abbott and Costello stemmed from their own well-entrenched mode of language. We write and speak sentences in a literal line (usually from left to right), where the images we depict are dependent on the way we order our words. The Heptapods, however, rely on a form of semiotic communication that tells a full story unbound by time in one fell swoop. Indeed, the ends of their circular symbols never fully touch, perhaps implying the infinite possibilities inherent in their mode of communication. It’s no wonder, then, that the Russians were sorely confused by their local Heptapods who said, “There is no time.” Unfortunately, their linguists ignored the simplest explanation of all: that the Heptapods meant the phrase literally, and that their form of communication is utterly independent from the human construct of time. They communicate across the temporal sphere, and their language is unbound by the past, present or future.

By this point, it’s abundantly clear that the only person better suited to the job than Louise is Mr. Rust Cohle himself.

Page 3: Arrival's Twist and Time Travel

Key Release Dates
  • Arrival (2016) release date: Nov 11, 2016
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