Arrival – Analysis

The Following Contains Spoilers

The following is an analysis of the movie and contains major plot reveals please watch the movie first and then come back to this.

Linguistic Relativity

The principle of linguistic relativity hold that the structure of a language effects its speakers world view or cognition. Popularly known as Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or whorfianism is often defined to include two versions. The strong version says that language determines thought, and that linguistic categories limit and determine cognitive categories, whereas the weak version says that linguistic categories and usage only influence thought and decisions. So, whichever the case, Language does influence thought but might extend to cognition if we go with the strong version.

Whorf’s most elaborate argument for linguistic relativity regarded what he believed to be a fundamental difference in the understanding of time as a conceptual category among the Hopi. He argued that in contrast to English and other SAE languages, Hopi does not treat the flow of time as a sequence of distinct, countable instances, like “three days” or “five years,” but rather as a single process and that consequently it has no nouns referring to units of time as SAE speakers understand them. He proposed that this view of time was fundamental to Hopi culture and explained certain Hopi behavioral patterns.

whorf_shawnee_example
Whorf’s illustration of the difference between the English and Shawnee gestalt construction of cleaning a gun with a ramrod. From the article “Language and Science”, Originally published in the MIT Technology Review, 1940. Image copyright of MIT press.

“Arrival” assumes that the strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is true. It experiments with the idea that if we are indeed limited in our cognitive categories because of our limits in the linguistic categories learning a language that does not share the same linguistic limits might expand our cognitive capabilities.

So we are limited in our perception of time as a result of our linguistic limitation of considering time as a linear phenomenon. Where as, the “Heptapods” don’t share this limitation as evidenced by their circular non-linear language. Proficiency in this language enables Louise to perceive time as a non linear phenomenon as well and see all time at once. Perhaps by accessing a dormant part of her brain.

Hence, the visions of her future notably her daughter’s death and the phone call with the Chinese Military General Shang.

In particular ,the phone call with Shang perfectly demonstrates that Louise is not only able to see the future but seemingly alter it. But seeing as how she is just using information from her vision of the future to convince Shang leads us to believe that she isn’t really altering the future but just accessing time as whole and using the information from other parts of her life in her “present”.

This is possibly how the aliens know that they will need human’s help in a 1000 years and so they must give humans their language to prepare them for a shared future. An argument can be made here that perceiving time in a non linear fashion doesn’t necessarily enable you to alter it in every possible way as her daughters death isn’t prevented. The only way that would happen is if Louise decides not to give birth to Hannah at all. Perhaps this is why Louise names her daughter “Hannah” which is a palindrome meaning it reads the same backwards as forwards.

Perhaps time isn’t linear and neither is it non-linear but perhaps circular. Whatever is to come  will come regardless of our knowledge of it (Hannah) or perhaps our knowledge of it, is what enables it (Shang).

Kuleshov Effect

The Kuleshov effect is a film editing effect demonstrated by Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov in the 1910s and 1920s. It is a mental phenomenon by which viewers derive more meaning from the interaction of two sequential shots than from a single shot in isolation.

The Kuleshov Effect is nothing new to cinema. It is well known among modern film makers and studied by many psychologists. But Arrival’s use of the Kuleshov Effect is not only experimental and edgy but also serves an important part of the narrative . Part of the credit also goes to Amy Adam’s masterful performance.

The movie opens with a montage of Louise and Hannah at the end of which we see that Hannah dies of cancer. With this information we read the next scene Incorrectly. we misinterpret Louise’s disinterest as sadness.

kuleshov-1

And we constantly see Louise through this lens throughout the film until it is revealed that the events in the first scene have not occurred yet. Thus completely shattering our previous conception of Louise’s character and we suddenly see her in a whole different perspective.

Also, the movie ends with a vision in which Louise witnesses scenes similar to the montage we see at the beginning.

This solidifies the narrative’s theme of time and our perception of time even more. Masterfully achieved through clever editing and excellent acting.

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2 thoughts on “Arrival – Analysis

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  1. Arrival is so good but it’s something I find really hard to talk about because it’s ideas are so ‘big’. This is a really clear and intelligent analysis of it though, so very much good I say!

    Liked by 1 person

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