In the film Arrival, there is a scene where

a bomb goes off inside the heptapods' ship, eventually killing one of them.

However, since we find out later that

heptapods can see the future (and on Earth to prevent a catastrophe that's 3000 years away)

couldn't this event have been avoided? As far as I can tell, no one other than Louise ever learned the extent of the damage, so even if the event was part of the aliens' plan I don't understand why they didn't do a better job keeping everyone safe.

Relevant scene from the screenplay (though I'm not sure if it's the exact same as what appeared in the film):


Where is Abbott?

Costello moves the ink around with one appendage and a new logogram forms.

SUBTITLES: "Abbott is dead."

Louise holds her stomach, she's hit so hard by this.


I'm sorry. We are sorry.

The logogram ink shifts again. Louise looks down to read it.

SUBTITLES: "Abbott chooses to save Louise and Ian."

  • 2
    The future isn't fixed - it's changing all the time. Maybe they foresaw the bomb, but thought the chances of it occurring in the current timeline was too low to worry about.
    – Tim
    Feb 9 '17 at 21:06
  • 2
    Maybe, like Louise, they knew it was going to happen, and chose to accept what would happen anyway. Because it was in some way required for the success of the mission. If you knew that your death would certainly save your entire species from being wiped out, would you permit yourself to die? Of course I think you may be treading into timey-wimey stuff that is complicated.
    – Zoredache
    Feb 9 '17 at 21:21
  • 2
    @Zoredache - Call me selfish, but what's the point in humanity surviving if I'm not around?
    – Valorum
    Feb 9 '17 at 21:25
  • @DaaaahWhoosh, if I haven't satisfied your question, would you like to add a comment below my answer?
    – Edlothiad
    Feb 12 '17 at 19:35
  • @Edlothiad No, it was good, I just like to let questions sit for... oh, I guess it has been a while. Feb 12 '17 at 21:24

I've added the snippet from the screenplay of when Abbott saves Louise and Ian. The reason the heptapods did nothing was because they couldn't do anything. In the source novel, Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Louise states that the heptapods can't alter the future but also aren't controlled by it (Emphasis mine):

The heptapods are neither free nor bound as we understand those concepts; they don’t act according to their will, nor are they helpless automatons.


What distinguishes the heptapods’ mode of awareness is not just that their actions coincide with history’s events; it is also that their motives coincide with history’s purposes. They act to create the future, to enact chronology.
Story of Your Life - Ted Chiang

We see from the original screenplay that Abbott was likely aware of the C4, as it was stuck on the glass screen, however because his actions coincide with history's purposes, he is only meant to save Louise and Ian (to make sure they solve the gift and can help them in the future) and cannot save himself.

Abbott begins miming the "walk" action they taught earlier.
Simultaneously, a new set of logograms form from ink
splattered harshly against the glass --


What is he saying?

Louise approaches the barrier, frowning.

Meanwhile, a faint beeping begins quickening somewhere in the
interview chamber.

Those are our names...
Must leave?
(To Abbott)
You're asking us to go?

She gets close now --

Ian approaches a DUFFEL BAG toppled by the glass barrier on the floor, getting closer to the sound --

Pulling it away to reveal: A set of wired C4 CHARGES stuck against the glass --


Ian runs to grab Louise --

Louise looks back at Abbott -- he's warning them--

Suddenly the gravity shifts in the chamber-- Louise and Ian find themselves sliding AWAY from the barrier, right back into the tunnel--

  • 2
    This is an amazing answer, thank you for providing it. I had always taken the position that time was immutable based on the movie (in large part because of this scene,) but I haven't read the story its based on, so I really appreciated the insight.
    – Steve-O
    Feb 10 '17 at 0:10
  • 1
    Sorry, where is the second quote from? Because that's not what happened in the movie.
    – Broklynite
    Nov 20 '17 at 1:08
  • @Broklynite - Screenplay; cinefile.biz/script/arrival.pdf
    – Valorum
    Dec 24 '18 at 22:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.