The meaning of the movie “Arrival”
It’s good to be an astrophysicist, ”we realized after watching Interstellar. It’s not a bad thing to be a botanist, – the creators of The Martian have proved to us . Perhaps it was difficult to imagine that the main character in the next film about space would be a woman linguist.
The division into the humanities and the exact sciences is firmly entrenched in our heads. Humanitarian means human-related. And in the minds of most techies, they are also “useless.” But in “Arrival” the scientist-humanist uses his knowledge to find a common language with another form of life, and the scientist-physicist is “on the sidelines.” It turns out that useless linguistics turned out to be more useful than such accurate and reliable physics. How so?..
In the film “Arrival” there is a lot that is new and mysterious for both the humanities and the techie. I guess most viewers are primarily concerned with the ending of the film, but first I have to dive into linguistics a little.
Circles, loops and palindromes
Circles and closed loops are everywhere in Arrival. The very structure of the film is cyclical: it seems to us that the film begins with the past of Louise Banks, and the heroine herself tells about these events using the past tense. But in the finale, it becomes clear that the opening footage depicted Louise’s future. For her, time closed in a circle after she began to understand the language of the Heptapods.
The time of the heptapods is cyclical. They talk about the future as a fait accompli. They know that in three thousand years they will need the help of earthlings – by this they motivate their arrival on Earth. When one of the heptapods dies, his partner says about him that he is “in the stage of death” (in the original – death process ). For us, death is a point, a final, beyond which there is nothing. Heptapods have a different concept of death: it is not a point on a segment, but a process, a stage in a time cycle.
The writing of the Heptapods resembles circles. Louise Banks notes that aliens use non-linear spelling , that is, their writing does not imply a sequential composition of a sentence from words, but words from sounds and letters. The logogram – the basic unit of their language – expresses a complete thought. Therefore, it is so difficult to understand their language for people who are used to collecting their thoughts from separate words.
The key to understanding the role of circles and loops in the film is a conversation between Louise and her daughter Anna (original Hannah ). Mom explains that the girl’s name is a palindrome. Whichever side you read it, it will always be the same. Like her daughter’s name, time for Louise takes on two directions – back and forth.
The hypothesis of linguistic relativity
In a conversation with Ian, Louise mentions the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity. Philology students study this hypothesis in their first year, but for the rest these words mean little. And the hypothesis is actually very simple. It is clear that our consciousness generates language. But Edward Sapir and Benjamin Wharf have suggested that the opposite is also true: the language we speak has a certain effect on our consciousness. Speakers of different languages perceive reality in different ways and even divide it into objects and phenomena in different ways. From this point of view, each new language that we learn is able to slightly expand our picture of the world.
In the film “Arrival”, the hypothesis of linguistic relativity appears due to the fact that not all scientists manage to integrate the language of heptapods into their picture of the world. Their perception is limited by their own linguistic picture. Therefore, the Chinese take the phrase “offer weapons” too literally and begin to prepare for decisive action. And Louise Banks surmises that “weapon” can also mean “weapon”. She is in no hurry to draw conclusions until she fully understands the logic of the Heptapod language.
Louise has an advantage over scientists from other countries – she puts the scientific approach above everyday logic. Therefore, she manages to step further than everyone else and go beyond the earthly picture of the world. Other scientists approach the problem of extraterrestrial language with their usual terrestrial standards. But this is not true. They cannot drop their human ideas about the world, and this hinders them. For the same reason, Ian Donnelly’s research turns out to be less important than Louise’s discovery. A funny paradox: we are used to thinking that the language of mathematics is universal and can be applied to any phenomena in the Universe. But scientists state that the aliens do not know terrestrial algebra – Louise’s knowledge turns out to be more valuable than Ian’s mathematical approach.
Louise’s strong point is analytical thinking. She is faced with an incredibly difficult, unconventional task. It can be solved only by completely rejecting any comparison with earthly languages. In the course of the plot, Louise penetrates deeper and deeper into the essence of the Heptapod language, even begins to dream in it. Only this deep immersion allows her to understand time as heptapods understand it.
Lost in translation
Why does Arrival seem so hot? It seems that alien ships have not yet landed on Earth, and there is no need to save the world yet … However, the main problem that Louise Banks and other scientists face is not communication with heptapods. This is communication between different states. At first, scientists establish close contact and do their best to solve a common problem. But then the misinterpretation of the Heptapod words forces China and Russia to withdraw from the union.
Why do Heptapods need this global team building? It is difficult for me to answer this question. They could go straight to Louise Banks and pass on their knowledge to her. Instead, each country in which a capsule of heptapods landed was given 1/12 of the text – the task of humanity was to put this text together in pieces. But people did not cope with their task. Although, it would seem, it is much easier to understand each other for creatures of the same biological species, speaking not so different languages (when compared with Heptapods). However, people could not agree among themselves, and Louise Banks and the Heptapods did.
The plot and meaning of the ending of the film “Arrival”
In the first five minutes of the film, we learn the whole story of the life and death of Louise Banks’ daughter, Anna. The shots are rapidly changing, and Louise’s voice accompanies us through the memories of the dead girl. More precisely, according to what seems to us to be memories. This is the main trick of the director – to make us believe that the events of the film unfold after Anna’s death. But in the finale, we learn that this is not so.
The first point on the timeline of the film is the arrival of the Heptapods on Earth. This is where the story begins. Louise, Ian, their team and scientists from other countries are researching the language of the aliens, trying to establish the purpose of their arrival. At first, representatives of all states actively share their successes with each other. But then the connection is cut off, and Louise makes a significant breakthrough, leaving her colleagues far behind.
Louise Banks is the first earth scientist to fully understand the logic and structure of the Heptapod language. And one of the main features of the Heptapod language is nonlinearity. In particular, heptapods perceive time not as a sequence, but as a vicious circle. This is reflected in their language as well. Therefore, speaking the language of Heptapods, Louise also understands that time is not linear. I want you to feel this moment as much as possible: Louise does not acquire the super ability to travel in time, like some superhero. Louise simply begins to see time differently.
In human consciousness, time begins at a certain point A and follows to point B. Therefore, in human languages, the concept of time is linear. Our present is located at a certain point on the interval between A (past) and B (future). For a heptapod, the past, present and future are points on a circle between which one can freely move in different directions, not only from A to B. Therefore, heptapods know what will happen in three thousand years. Realizing how heptapods perceive time, Louise also begins to see her future.
With the help of a new understanding of time, Louise manages to talk to General Chan, who poses the greatest danger to the Heptapod mission on Earth. In the film, this is shown as a vision, a flashback (not to the past, but to the future). Future General Chan tells Louise the details of their conversation, which is due in a few minutes. In particular, he gives his phone number and gives Louise the last words of his late wife. Louise is currently using this information from the future to make a call and convince the general not to open fire.
In the film, Louise’s Chinese line remains untranslated. The last words of General Chan’s wife are translated as follows: “War does not bring winners, but widows.”
Returning from the Heptapod ship, Louise says another important thing. “I understood why my husband left me,” Louise says to Ien, and he wonders: “Have you been married?” Not was, but will be – on the ship Louise opened her own future. She will marry Ian, they will have a daughter, Anna. Anna is destined to die of cancer, and Louise knows about it now, before her birth. Louise knows she won’t tell Ian about her vision when he offers to have a baby. Louise knows that later she will still have the courage to say about it, but for Ian this discovery will be too difficult. Louise knows that Ian will leave them with her daughter, and she alone will accompany Anna on her last journey.
Louise Banks’s choice may seem odd. Marry a man knowing that he will leave you? Give birth to a child, knowing that you will outlive him? Perhaps this is really strange and resembles rather blind humility before fate than the conscious choice of an adult. Nevertheless, this is Louise Banks’ free choice. Knowing how many sad events she has to go through, knowing that her choice will bring pain to her and Ian, knowing that their daughter will die, she still chooses to live this life and spend happy minutes and hours with Ian and Anna.