Today will explain to you a sci-fi drama film from 2016, Arrival.Spoilers ahead! This article contains spoilers, Take Care!
As a beautiful view from a lake house is seen, a woman’s voice narrates, lamenting about memory and time. The same woman, called Louise, is cuddling with her newborn baby. Then she plays cowboys with the child, now some years older. She’s tucking her daughter in bed as she says she loves her and in the next moment, she’s a teenager saying she hates her.
The two of them are at the doctor and Louise gets terrible news about her child. The daughter dies from cancer. Louise is walking into a building, still narrating about the simplicity of linear time, noting how some days define the bigger story, like the day the aliens arrived. Everyone in the building is grouping around a screen, but she passes by them.
She walks into her almost empty classroom and starts the lecture. Immediately, phones start buzzing and ringing, until one of her students asks her to put on the news. They are reporting a mysterious object touching down in Montana, as well as in at least 8 other countries around the world. Alarms start blaring in the classroom and Louise dismisses the lecture.
Louise continues listening to the news in her car, the speculation is that the, now, 12 objects are of extraterrestrial origin. She arrives in her home by the lakeside, talking to her mother on the phone about the news. Her mother is worried about her. Louise keeps watching the news.
The objects are seen on the TV, spread across the world with no obvious link between the locations they’ve landed on. Governmental agencies report that they have protocols for such scenarios, but Louise looks unfazed by the situation and falls asleep in front of the TV. Two days later, Louise comes back to an empty University, so she continues watching the news from her office. As she listens to the reports about the worlds reaction to the alien crafts, a man walks into her office, introducing himself as an army Colonel.
Considering her previous experience with the army intelligence in translating certain things and her ongoing security clearance, he asks her to translate something for them again and puts a recorder on the desk. The recording is of a human team trying to communicate with the aliens. She’s shocked and confused, but the Colonel persists with questions she can’t answer for him from an audio file. He gets angry and tells her that he can’t take her to Montana.
It’s either translating from the file or nothing. When she says nothing, he leaves her office. But, that night Louise is woken up by the sound of helicopters coming to her house. The Colonel is at her door telling her to pack her bags.
They leave in a helicopter in the middle of the night. Inside, she meets the person she will be working with, Ian, a theoretical physicist. He quotes some of her writing on linguistics and comments that the cornerstone of civilization isn’t language, but science. As day breaks, the helicopter is getting closer to Montana.
Louise looks out of the windows and sees the giant UFO in the distance. Once they arrive at the army camp, her and Ian have to go through certain protocols. On the way to medical, their phones are taken away and are given special IDs. The doctor performs a few tests and gives them an immunization booster.
After that, they’re taken into the main part of the camp, where links with the other 12 countries have been established. The representative of Australia explains some kind of situation with the gravity and air circulation in the vessel, explaining that they only have 2 hours of air once inside. The Colonel comes in and takes the two of them to their stations, introducing them to their teams and explaining the priorities of the mission. Immediately after, they are getting into hazmat suits and preparing to go inside the ship.
As they approach it, Louise looks as if she’s nauseous and Ian is excited. The army vehicles approach the ship that looks huge from bellow. Ian, Louise, the Colonel and a few others are taken into the ship with an elevator. They go in through an opening at the base, as they slowly lose radio signal.
The gravity is completely different inside of the ship and as they start walking up, Louise starts feeling sick so the Colonel pushes her in. Ian takes a moment to get accustomed to the gravity too. The team moves toward the window opening to start the communication. Suddenly, the aliens arrive at the window in a gust of what looks like smoke.
Strange sounds can be heard from the other side as they appear. Louise is afraid when she sees the giant heptapod creatures, but the Colonel expects her to start translating what seems like noise coming from the other side. The team gets back at the base and Louise is asking if she’s fired, as Ian is vomiting on the other side. The Colonel informs her that she has just a few hours to figure something out, until they go back in again.
A few soldiers watch the news, reporting that the panic around the world has reached another level. Meanwhile agent Halpern is talking to Australia’s team again, telling him that they still have nothing. Louise and her team get back inside and this time she has taken a whiteboard with her. She writes down the word human and approaches the creatures, hoping that communication would be easier in written form.
Suddenly, the creatures disappear and when they reappear they start writing back in their own language. They show her one symbol and then a few more as well. Back at the camp, the Colonel wonders if her new approach is going to be fast enough and she convinces him by making up a story about the Aborigines. To that, he reminds her what happened to them when the Europeans colonized the continent.
He also tells her to have a vocabulary list before the next mission. Louise goes to the main communications part of the base, where Ian is talking to a colleague. Agent Halpern, tells her that China has taken a completely different approach toward the aliens than theirs. The Colonel meets up with her and she gives him her list.
He’s not impressed with the simplistic list, so she explains it to him by writing the most important question, he needs answered, on the board. Louise breaks down the question and what she needs to know about it, so they could understand their answer. The alarm goes off and he tells her to stick to her list and not add anything. Once inside, she writes down her name and the aliens respond with the first symbol, just slightly altered.
Louise takes of her suit, saying they need to see her. The soldiers panic, but let her do it. As she approaches the window, so do the aliens. She touches the window and the alien does he same, so she shows them her name again and one of them gives her a new symbol.
Louise thinks she’s making progress, so Ian takes his suit off too and introduces himself. In return, the aliens give them two more symbols, which Louise thinks are their names. The team comes back to the base camp and she starts feeling sick, suddenly, remembering something about the child. Back at medical, the doctor is upset that she’s putting herself in risk by taking off her suit.
The Colonel and Agent Halpern are prepared to take that risk considering her progress. Meanwhile, Captain Marks talks to his wife, afraid that something might happen to him. Louise is working on her translation, when she starts remembering the child again, but she seems confused. Some months into the start of the communication with the aliens, this is what Louise, Ian and the other experts have learned.
The alien ships emit no waste, gas, radiation, sound or light. If the ships communicate with each other, it’s undetectable to humans. The experts still don’t know why the heptopods landed where they did. Louise is the only one making some headway.
She learns that there is no correlation between what the aliens say and write. That makes their writing free of time, with no forward or backward direction. It takes Louise a month to form a reply to a simple sentence the aliens write, so getting to the complex question about the purpose of them being on Earth would take more time. Meanwhile, the world is going insane.
The news are reporting violent riots and massive protests, as a leaked picture of the aliens goes viral. Captain Marks and another soldier start listening to conspiracy theorists online and seem to have started believing in it. Louise is working on the translation of the symbols, when she starts remembering the child again. The girl is showing her some drawings she’s made and they’re talking about Louise’s divorce.
Ian asks her if she’s ok, but she can’t explain what’s wrong. The Colonel walks in and asks when she last checked in with the doctor. Louise walks outside and remembers tangled up moments in time with the child, from the time when she was little up to the point when she became sick. Back at the base, she’s talking to Ian again.
He’s read about a theory which states that learning another language changes the way you think. He’s curious if she dreams in their language. She’s scared that Ian thinks she’s unfit to do the job, as she hallucinates a heptopod standing next to her in the room. She wakes up the next day and the Colonel is at the door.
He asks her to translate a live feed of General Shang speaking on the phone. Shang is saying that each of the 12 is offering advanced technology and that his science team is decoding the “sets”. The Colonel tells Louise that both China and Russia are mobilizing their forces, about to start something. So he tells her that it’s time to ask the aliens the big question.
Louise, Ian and the team are back in the ship. She tries to pose the question and formulate a symbol. The alien answers. Everyone is waiting for her translation, which turns out to be “offer weapon”.
Louise and Ian defend the aliens back at the camp, saying that they don’t fully understand the difference between a weapon and a tool yet. The Colonel wants to know how he can understand their intentions and she says she needs to talk to them again. Agent Halpern joins Ian and Louise after the army leaves, saying that he thinks the aliens are pitting the humans against each other and says history is littered with such examples. Louise and Ian are left alone in the room, when an alarm suddenly blares.
They go to the main communications room, where agent Halpern is saying that China and Russia have gone dark and that he has orders to do the same. Louise doesn’t want the communication to stop, so he tells her to find out what the latest symbol means. All of the other countries break communication as well. Meanwhile, the news are reporting that General Shang has asked for immediate talks in the UN, thinking that the aliens are trying to divide humanity and that something should be done about that.
Captain Marks and another soldier are getting ready to go inside the ship, taking a package with them. They’re not responding to the radio, as they are being ordered to stop. Once inside, the package is revealed to be a ticking bomb. The heptopods notice something is happening.
As Marks and his team are leaving, Louise and Ian get on the elevator to go inside the ship. He tries to stop them, but can’t. Both of them walk inside and immediately start the communication. The Colonel is being informed that Marks isn’t responding and orders security to be sent at the ship.
Louise and Ian try to ask the aliens what “offer weapon” means, and they get a symbol back, but as it dissipates, one of the aliens starts tapping on the window. Meanwhile, security is approaching the ship and Marks and the others prepare their weapons to hold them off. The alien puts his tentacle on the barrier and Louise thinks it wants her to write on it. The moment she touches the barrier, visions of the child start flooding her mind again.
The alien teaches her how to write in their language. The bomb is ticking down fast and one of the aliens escapes, while the other keeps on writing. They hear gunshots outside of the ship. As the bomb goes under 10 seconds, the alien hits the barrier, pushing Louise and Ian back.
The bomb explodes, but the alien had saved them by pushing them in another part of the ship and closing a hatch between them and the bomb. Louise wakes up in the camp with a concussion. Ian is alright as well. The doctor tells her about what happened.
She hears alarms outside and he tells her that they’re preparing to evacuate. Ian and the Colonel are looking through the footage of the last session in the ship, as she walks in and says that they shouldn’t leave. She thinks they should explain to the aliens what happened and that as long as the aliens stay, so should they. Suddenly strange noise is heard from the outside.
Everyone walks out and see the ship moving into a different position, but not leaving yet. Agent Halpern is seen talking to his boss, who tells him that China is ready to destroy their UFO and that they should be ready for retaliation from the aliens. The same can be seen on the news, with the report that Shang has given the aliens 24 hours to leave the country or face destruction. Other countries are thought to be following China’s lead.
Louise and Ian are going through the footage from the last session. She has another vision about her daughter who asks about a technical term which she can’t recall, but then wakes up in the base again. Ian has had a breakthrough with the data. His interpretation is that the data shows only one of twelve pieces.
Both of them present the information on a meeting with the Colonel and the FBI agent, saying that the 12 countries need to work together to get the full picture. Halpern disagrees, saying that the Russians have killed their top scientist, whose last words have included the phrase “many become one”. Louise thinks that means the same as what they’ve learned as well. And Ian says that they should offer their data first, so the others will follow, in a non-zero-sum game.
In another vision, Louise recalls that the term her daughter asked for was the same one. She suddenly has some kind of revelation about the aliens and abruptly leaves the room. Ian follows her and sees that the ship has sent out a shuttle to pick her up from the ground. Louise walks inside and as it starts taking her back to the ship it fills up with some kind of gas.
Suddenly, she’s inside the ship, on the other side of the window. One of the aliens approaches her and they start communicating easily, when she asks about the other one. It tells her that the other one is dying. She says she’s sorry and that she needs it to send a message to the other 12 sites.
It only replies with “use weapon”, but she doesn’t understand what that means and asks what their purpose here is again. The alien tells her that in 3000 years they will need humanity’s help, so they are here to help us now. To her question about how they know the future, images of her daughter appear in her mind once again. She still doesn’t understand and the alien shows her more of the vision, which is actually her future.
Before it leaves, the alien says “weapon opens time”. The ship leaves Louise back on the ground and it moves position again. She’s met by Ian and the Colonel who tell her that other countries are doing the same as China and that they are evacuating the camp. She continues having visions of her daughter in the future, who asks about her father again.
Louise tells her that she told him something that he wasn’t ready to hear, about something that will happen related to an untreatable disease. Her father thought Louise made the wrong choice. All of the ships around the world start moving, as the armies from the different countries are preparing to engage them. Louise keeps going back and forth between the present in the camp and the future with her daughter.
In the future she opens the book she had written and in the present she’s looking at the data from the aliens. The book is about the alien language. She has visions of herself teaching it in the future and recalls it in the present. Suddenly, she realizes she can read the data.
She knows what the weapon is. And she tells the Colonel that it’s actually a gift. The alien language is a gift. She explains that when you really learn the language, you start to think like them, in non-linear time.
The Colonel doesn’t want to listen to her. She has another vision about what will happen 18 months in the future. Louise is at an international celebration and is approached by General Shang. The only reason he’s there is to meet her in person.
She has done something incredible, by reaching him on his private number and changing his mind about something. Louise says she doesn’t know his private number, so he shows it to her and says now you know. She recalls it in the present and runs off to call the General. Meanwhile, agent Halpern is being told that someone is calling China from the camp from his own phone.
He sends his men to find the person using it. Louise is waiting for the call to be established and wonders what to say. In the future Shang tells her what she said to him and she repeats it to him over the phone in the present, running away from Halpern’s men. They all surround her, as she tries to reason with the General.
Ian shields her as she finishes her conversation, saying she’s got it. Later in the present, the news are reporting on an emergency press conference held by General Shang, stating that China is standing down and will start sharing all of their information with the other 12. The alien ships from around the world begin leaving the atmosphere. After the aliens leave Earth, her daughter’s story truly begins.
Ian and Louise become a couple and they have Hannah together. Louise is left with the notion about Hannah’s life and early death. All of the pieces she had been seeing about the future come together. She decides to have the baby nevertheless.