Arrival Ending Explained – What’s the truth about Louise’s daughter?

Arrival Plot Summary

Arrival is a 2016 sci-fi movie, directed by Denis Villeneuve, and based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.

The plot follows Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist and language expert who is called upon by the U.S. military to help decipher the language of extraterrestrial beings after they arrive on Earth in twelve massive, shell-shaped spacecrafts. Teaming up with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly, the pair are sent to one of the landing sites in Montana to make contact with the aliens.

Louise though is still rattled by the death of her daughter, Hannah, who died at the age of 12 from an incurable illness and whose significance becomes much more prevalent as the movie progresses. As always, do be wary of spoilers ahead!

What happens during first contact?

With military and scientific experts sent to monitor and study these alien beings, there’s a growing sense of hostility and angst from many who believe they’re here to cause harm and destruction. In order to figure out the truth of the matter, Colonel Weber recruits Louise and Ian to head onboard the craft above Montana and figure out their language and, ultimately, what they want.

Louise and Ian do make contact with two cephalopod-like, seven-limbed aliens, whom they call “heptapods”; Ian nicknames them Abbott and Costello. When the two heptapods begin crafting strange symbols, Louise and Ian set to work trying to decipher their complicated written language. With plenty of circular symbols, the pair share their results with other nations and they all work tirelessly to try and communicate effectively with the beings.

What do the aliens want?

Louise manages to interpret one of the statements from the aliens, when asking why they’re here, to be translated loosely to “offer weapon”. China interprets this as “use weapon”, and as such, things grow hostile as they believe the aliens are preparing to strike. However, Louise argues that “weapon” could be more abstractly related to a tool but unfortunately, it falls on deaf ears.

When the rogue soldiers plant a bomb on the Montana craft, Louise and Ian re-enter, completely oblivious to the bomb, and receive a much more complex message, which needs to be deciphered using all 12 craft spread across the world, encouraging teamwork. The aliens want humanity to share what they’re learned and work together. Unfortunately, humanity has always been consumed and obsessed with violence and war, and there’s absolutely no reasoning with any of the nations. An ultimatum is given to the aliens should they decide not to leave, while the worldwide research effort is terminated as panic sets in.

As the bomb is ready to detonate, Abbott drops Louise and Ian from the vessel as it explodes. Neither are seriously injured but unfortunately the same can’t be said for Abbott. Costello emits more black symbol smoke, causing Louise to remember Hannah again.

When Louise heads back to the alien craft, Costello explains that Abbott is dying from the explosion. However, Costello remains on-course with his mission, and he reveals that aliens have been sent not to harm but to help humanity.

In 3000 years, these aliens are going to need humanity’s help so this “weapon” is the colloquial term for their language. Learning the alien language alters humanity’s perception of time, allowing them to experience future events as if they’re memories.

What’s the truth about Louise’s daughter?

Remember Louise Bank’s visions of her daughter? Well, it turns out these are actually premonitions of events to come, not memories. Louise’s daughter hasn’t been born yet but she now knows that when she does, she’s going to pass away. It’s a clever way of reframing the idea of time in a manner that both the audience and Louise perceive it; and it’s a great twist in the movie.

Having learned all this, Louise rushes back to camp, which is being evacuated, and tells Ian that the aliens’ language is infact the “tool” meant by the word “weapon”. She has a premonition of the United Nations celebrating newfound unity, where Shang thanks her for persuading him to stop the attack when she called his private number and recited his wife’s dying words.

In the present, Louise takes CIA agent Halpern’s satellite phone from a table and calls Shang’s private number to recite the words. In doing so, she’s relieved to find out that China is standing down and releasing their twelfth message. The other countries follow suit, and the spacecraft eventually depart.

During the evacuation, Ian expresses his love for Louise. They talk about life choices and whether he would change them if he could see the future. Louise knows that she will have his child despite knowing their fate and the cruel irony of being “gifted” these premonitions, means Hannah will die from an incurable disease and Ian will leave them both after she reveals that she knew this.

What does Louise’s choice say about humanity?

It’s a sad, tragic and melancholic ending, but also one tinged with complicated emotions of joy and jubilation in knowing that these aliens are peaceful beings after all and not the maniacal, Earth-conquering beings we’ve become so used to seeing in Hollywood flicks.

As for Hannah, she’s prepared to embrace her sad future, rather than shying away from it, speaking volumes about what sort of person she is. There is an underlying motif here around choice, and whether any of this could be changed. Free will is something all humans have and Louise could very easily decide to change the future. However, it shows her selflessness given the aliens told her that in exchange for helping humanity right now, they will need humanity’s help further on down the line. Any deviation to the timeline could drastically alter this.

This selfless ending shows that Louise represents the absolute best in humanity and that (to quote Samwise Gamgee here) “There’s some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”  To what purpose the aliens need our help is still left up for debate, but it would appear that whatever this is, all of humanity will need to work together as a team to conquer it, exhibiting Louise’s traits in order to do so. Will humanity be able to do that though?


Read More: Arrival Movie Review

What did you think of the ending for Arrival? Did you enjoy this film? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

4 thoughts on “Arrival Ending Explained – What’s the truth about Louise’s daughter?”

  1. I’m pretty sure the issue with Hannah is two fold. First issue .. Hannah is a tool used to devise a way to communicate with Louise. Secondly Hannah’s disease I is the driving force to cure an illness that not only cures Hannah, but the technology used to do so will ultimately be used to save the heptapods in the future from their issue.
    Swish .. score .. game over

  2. Teresa B: If her cancer is prevented, that would change the way things are supposed to play out to lead to the aliens needing humanity’s help. Louise doesn’t want that.

  3. No, the sequence is immutable…embrace the individual pain in order to transcend the human collective suffering.

  4. I want to think that Hannah’s health is monitored by this foreknowledge and her cancer is prevented. Showing we can alter our Destiny.

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