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Romantic Moment of the Week: Arrival Is An Innovative Sci-Fi Film About Love

THE FILM: Arrival (2016)

THE PAIRING: Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner)

THE MOMENT: Flashbacks and flashforwards combine into one present-day loving embrace


Arrival is a recent sci-fi film focusing on the efforts of linguist Louise Banks to communicate with extraterrestrials, who have landed on Earth. Twelve spaceships – spread across the planet – hover above the ground, and countries are scrambling to figure out whether these aliens are friends or foes. Linguist Louise Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly are recruited by the American government to make contact with the beings in the ship hovering over a Montana field.

The stakes are dangerously high, as these two attempt to bridge a linguistical divide between two alien races. Miscommunication between humans and aliens and between humans and humans can potentially have disastrous consequences for the planet and the entire human race.

THE LEAD-IN – SPOILERS: When Flashbacks Become Flashforwards

So, yeah, this romantic moment is basically one big spoiler. So, don’t read any further, if you don’t want to know the ending of Arrival. Suffice it to say, this sci-fi serves up existential romance on a higher, philosophical plane and is well worth a watch.

For those who’ve seen it or enjoy knowing endings, read on.

In the film, Louise and Ian meet the aliens. Basically, giant squid or arachnid-like creatures with seven limbs, dubbed heptapods by the humans. And the painstaking journey of decoding, deciphering, and learning an alien language begins. Immersed in this linguistic puzzle, tired, overworked, under huge amounts of stress, Louise starts having intense, emotional flashbacks – memories of her daughter, now dead, of her husband, now ex.


But are they flashbacks? As the film Arrival progresses, it becomes increasingly apparent that Louise has no daughter, has no husband, has never had either one. In learning the cyclical language of the heptapods, whose conception of time is one never-ending loop, Louise’s own brain is beginning to be rewired. Louise is thinking like a heptapod. She is seeing time in cycles. She is seeing her future and her past and her present all at the same time.

Louise now knows her future, that she will fall in love, marry, and have a daughter. However, the marriage will disintegrate. Their daughter will die far too young of a wasting disease. There will be pain – so much pain and heartache. But also joy – so much love and joy.

Will Louise choose this future life, choose a love that will not last, that will end in recriminations? Will she choose a relationship that will produce a beautiful daughter, but one who will die, painfully, slowly, unfairly? What will Louise choose?


At the end of the film, Louise and Ian stand in a Montana field. The aliens have departed. Louise cracked the communicative code. And in cracking the code, she can see her whole life in the here and now. Soldiers are packing up. Military helicopters fly overhead. Memories of her future life – flashforwards – are coming fast and furious.

“Are you okay?” Ian gently touches her shoulder.

And the future memories come as a montage. The man she will love, the man she will marry, the man who will father her child, is none other than this man standing beside her in this field. It’s Ian.

“Yeah,” Louise responds, looking into the horizon, her hair blowing in the wind, adding: “If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?”

Ian too gazes into the distance, as he answers: “Maybe I’d say what I feel more often. I don’t know.”


He pauses and a flashforward of a smiling, dancing Louise fills the screen.

Ian continues, glancing ever so quickly towards Louise, before gazing again into the heavens: “You know, I’ve had my head tilted up to the stars for as long as I can remember. You know what surprised me the most? It wasn’t meeting them; it was meeting you.”

He looks at Louise. She continues to gaze away, not making eye contact.

We see a flashforward of them dancing and laughing.

Louise looks up and turns to Ian, faces him. They look at one another wordlessly. She caresses his face, before moving in to embrace him.

Eyes wistful and sad, Louise whispers, muffled into Ian’s shoulder, “I forgot how good it felt to be held by you.”

And the flashforwards come of the baby they will make, the girl who will delight them, the marriage that will fail. But still she holds onto that man here and now.

“Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it. And I welcome every moment of it,” Louise stated at the start of this ending. And so there she is, embracing the start of this journey, hugging Ian, knowing the pitfalls and choosing him and it anyhow.

Yeah, try to keep the tears at bay here. Overall, Arrival is such a thoughtful and thought-provoking film on love and life, on choosing love and life despite the inevitable sorrows and disappointments that will come.

Sniff and sigh.

Where to Watch: Currently, you can watch Arrival on DVD, rent on various streaming services, or watch on Hulu.

Photo Credits: Paramount.

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By on August 18th, 2018

About Jessica Jørgensen

A lover of words, stories and storytellers since her youth and just plain curious by nature, Jessica embarked on a very long academic journey that took her across a continent (from Canada's west coast to its east) and even to the other side of the globe, where she currently lives an expat existence in Denmark. She now trails many fancy initials behind her name, if she ever cares to use them, and continues to be ever so curious. She's a folklorist, a mother, a wife, a middle child, a small town girl, a beekeeper, an occasional quilter, a jam-maker. She curates museum exhibits, gets involved in many cultural projects for this and that, collects oral histories when she can find the time and continues to love stories in all their many and varied forms. The local librarians all know her by name.

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2 thoughts on “Romantic Moment of the Week: Arrival Is An Innovative Sci-Fi Film About Love”

  1. I didn’t love this movie like I thought I would, but after reading your romantic moment it gives me a better perspective on the film. And I’m so glad to see you are back on Silver Petticoat!

  2. Thanks, Brittaney. Glad to be back after my little hiatus. And yes, the movie has its faults, but I was tearing up by the end — not that it takes much to get my eyes watering…


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