In a "flashback" that Louise has, we learn that

Louise told Ian that she knows their daughter will die young.

Why would she tell him that, given that

she has already had this "flashback", so she should know that telling him this information will lead to his disillusionment and their divorce?

  • Likely all answers will be opinion based. Without insight from the writer(s) we can only make assumptions. And assuming she did not tell him "the first time it happened" it happened regardless. Telling him "the second time through" couldn't have any worse outcome...
    – Odin1806
    Feb 26, 2017 at 1:21
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    @Odin1806 there really isn't a second time through.
    – TGnat
    Feb 26, 2017 at 1:33
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    She remembers future - future is no different for her then past and there's no way to change it.
    – Mithoron
    Feb 26, 2017 at 1:48
  • @TGnat I tried to explain it as I believed the OP would understand it best. I meant the same as above with my quotations. If you subscribe to the idea that the future is set and you can not change it, even with knowledge of its existence, it will happen "every time" regardless of your actions.
    – Odin1806
    Feb 26, 2017 at 14:35
  • @Odin1806 It's not really opinion based in this case, and it's actually answered, though in the short story instead of the movie.
    – Andres F.
    Feb 26, 2017 at 21:27

2 Answers 2


This quote from the novella the movie is based on ("Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang) explains the nature of the heptapod's language and determinism:

For the heptapods, all language was performative. Instead of using language to inform, they used language to actualize. Sure, heptapods already knew what would be said in any conversation; but in order for their knowledge to be true, the conversation would have to take place.

  • 2
    +1 To elaborate on this, the short story speculates that when you perceive time all at once, instead of sequentially, there cannot be free will. So Louise doesn't really have a choice of telling or not telling -- she likely doesn't have or even perceive "choices" about anything anymore. The movie is way less clear about this, unfortunately.
    – Andres F.
    Feb 26, 2017 at 21:23
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    @Andres, not necessarily true, but they don't possess the same form of free will
    – Edlothiad
    Feb 27, 2017 at 0:28
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    @Edlothiad Yes; but what "free will" they have is explained in the answers so far, and cannot be understood as free will by us humans. As Louise puts it: Freedom isn't an illusion; it's perfectly real in the context of sequential consciousness. Within the context of simultaneous consciousness, freedom is not meaningful, but neither is coercion [...] Similarly, knowledge of the future was incompatible with free will. What made it possible for me to exercise freedom of choice also made it impossible for me to know the future.
    – Andres F.
    Feb 27, 2017 at 2:13
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    @Edlothiad (cont'd) Conversely, now that I know the future, I would never act contrary to that future, including telling others what I know: those who know the future don't talk about it. Those who see the future don't make choices, but "play" their part in enacting said future, always.
    – Andres F.
    Feb 27, 2017 at 2:15
  • In the movie, in the scene where Louise explains to Hannah why her father left, she refers to a disease she describes as 'unstoppable' and tells Hannah she is also 'unstoppable'. One could interpret this as Louise adopting a deterministic outlook on events.
    – Neil W
    Feb 27, 2017 at 13:04

Ian knows that Louise can see the future due to having learned the Heptapod language. (If not at first then surely by the time she publishes her book on the subject.) Therefore:

When Hannah is eventually diagnosed and then dies as a result of this rare disease, Ian would be able to deduce that Louise knew it would happen and didn't tell him. He most likely would have divorced her at this point anyway.

Knowing that he could figure this out by himself, she decided to tell him beforehand. One way or another, the result would have been the same.

Also, learning the Heptapod language and gaining the ability to perceive time in this way apparently brings with it a compulsion to steward in the future rather than trying to change it. Perhaps a better understanding of Time changes your opinion of the idea of changing it. The Heptapods surely could avoid their crisis by themselves with a 3000 year head start - if nothing else they could simply evacuate the affected planet(s) long before disaster strikes. Instead, they contact humanity to ask for our help. Likewise:

Louise could simply not have a child with Ian. Or she could make a point of being abstinent for a few months around Hannah's conception date in order to ensure a different ovum - and therefore a different child - who would (hopefully) not have the same rare disease. (If she knows Hannah's birth date via "future memory" she can calculate the approximate time of conception.) But instead, Louise decides to go ahead and have the child she foresaw having, despite the tragic circumstances that go with it, and the inevitable divorce with Ian.

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