Near the end of Arrival, the main character Louise is shown in a flash-forward

talking to the Chinese general Chang, who credits her phone call with averting the brewing confrontation.

But she seems surprised, and doesn't appear to remember doing it at first. Why not? Surely at that point she would have the memories of what she did in the movie's present; she doesn't otherwise seem surprised to be there.

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    Related: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/147744/…
    – Celebrian
    Jan 4, 2017 at 11:03
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    The information received from the future to save or alter the events of the present would effectively make it a paradox. As Louise can now experience time in a non linear fashion she was shocked by the mere idea of the event. Jan 19, 2017 at 23:40

4 Answers 4


Personally, I interpreted her surprised expression in this scene to be a form of "soliloquy" for the audience's benefit. ie: Something the audience sees, but other characters in the movie don't.

The real surprise was Lousie-in-present experiencing her first clear, lucid "memory" of the future, and they showed this by having Louse-in-the-memory act shocked at what she was "remembering" even as she spoke to the ambassador on the phone. In truth, Lousie-in-the-future would not have been surprised, because she would have had all the time between "present" and "future" to prepare for that event. The facial acting (or "mugging") by Mrs Adams was for the audience's benefit alone.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I would be surprised if the screenplay or any other official source explicitly addressed this point, although if such an official source can be found, I'd be interested to see it, too.

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    Interesting interpretation. I wish there was some evidence in the film to back this up though. Jan 9, 2017 at 8:43

My personal opinion is that the Louise in the future was caught by surprise. Perhaps the future Louise goes to lots of formal dinners and didn't recognize the Chinese General at the time. I'm sure you've had the experience of meeting someone and struggling to remember their name or where you've met them.

Another possibility is that the movie never showed what happened immediately after the guards caught Louise making the phone call. Maybe she didn't tell them what she said or maybe she gave them an untrue story. She might have then been trying to maintain her false or incomplete story later on.


She experiences some events out of time order, and therefore does not recognize or "remember" an event until she has experienced it. Ironically, given the sign she holds up, this would (does) not make sense to normal humans (us).

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    Your last sentence reads really strangely.
    – Möoz
    Feb 28, 2018 at 4:10
  • Let me expand what I was saying in the last sentence... Ironically, given the sign she holds up which reads "HUMAN", the fact that she experiences events out of the normal order in time would not make sense to normal humans in the story, nor does it make sense to us as normal humans attempting to understand the movie.
    – EJP
    Feb 28, 2018 at 5:38
  • I can't see how any of this can be true. We know that she knew what would happen to her daughter before she was even born - Ian left her when she told him what she knew. Why would this conversation be different? Feb 28, 2018 at 7:16

I urge anyone who has not seen the movie yet to first see it without any prior knowledge of the plot, as the payoff from the climax/twist is what turns a great movie into an excellent one.

Since it's pretty hard to answer this without going heavily into spoiler land, I've tagged my entire answer as a spoiler.

It's not exactly clear whether Louise sees The future or possible futures. She is aware of her daughter's death prior to it happening, yet she still lives that life and deals with the grief and the divorce.

It seems to me that there is still an element of free will to her visions however. She chooses to get married and have a daughter knowing what the outcome will be because she wants to, not because she has to.

I'm basing this off the fact that her husband Ian was specifically at her for the choices she made. Considering he was apparently an extremely talented physicist, I assume he would know if Louise had to make the decisions she did in order to prevent a paradox or something along those lines.

Consider that there would have to be at least several years between when the main events of the movie and whenever Louise revealed what she knew to him. I assume that in the interim considerable research would have been done in order to better understand non-linear time.

I would argue that if she is seeing possible futures, she can't remember the conversation with General Shang because she never had it in that future yet. As she receives the information she needs though, and feeds it back to General Shang in the "present" (relative to most of the movie) she is creating the path to that future in some sort of weird semi-paradoxical sense.

Consider that what convinced General Shang she was telling the truth was that she told him his wife's last words. That's something she couldn't have possibly known without being told by Shang himself. There's no way for her even to know that would convince him anyway.

Essentially the non-linear possible future see saw is just one of many possible futures in which somehow everything else necessary for the good outcome to take place happened without her having the conversation.

  • Can someone help with the paragraph breaks in the spoiler tag? The mobile app isn't rendering correctly for me.
    – Rob Rose
    Feb 28, 2018 at 11:31

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