Why does Dr. Banks in the future seem surprised on hearing that she had called the Chinese General in Arrival (2016)?

There are two ways she can perceive the future:

  1. As an active observer: Her present consciousness is transported to her future body. This doesn't make sense because if this were the case, every time she experiences a vision about her daughter, she would act confused about where she was and maybe even ask the girl who she was. Instead, she acts as if she's known the girl all her life and converses easily with her.

  2. A passive observer: This would make perfect sense in the movie if not for the General scene. She has no control over what her future self says or does. She simply experiences what her future self is. If this is the correct theory, she would act confidently, maybe even smile and ask the Chinese General for his phone number and wife's death words so her past self can dial him. Not be surprised and shocked.

So what is the correct theory? The final result seems like a mash of the two theories.

  • Dr Banks' perception of time is no longer linear. In a linearly-based time flow, future Banks (at the gala) would have known she called the General. Present Banks would not have until she did so. As soon as she received the precognizant flash-forward to the General at the Gala, and was told she called him, near-future Banks would call him, and future Banks would know it. This would be paradoxical. (un) Fortunately the aliens do not perceive time linearly, and once Louise learns to think in heptapodian she gains that ability as well. The call happens when the call happens and ...
    – CGCampbell
    Feb 14, 2020 at 14:15
  • 1
    Dr. Banks, all Dr Banks through her life, learn of the event at the same time. Her near-future self makes the call, her future self 'all of a sudden' knows she made the call, and her present and past selves all learn that she makes/made/will make the call, all at the same time. To the heptapods, with their looping language, time does not flow one event into another, but rather when an event happens, it happens to all time-points of that being. The true sadness, to me, is Costello (I think) didn't know it would be killed, until it was killed, then all instances of it knew it would die ...
    – CGCampbell
    Feb 14, 2020 at 14:20
  • including the ones that arrived on Earth.
    – CGCampbell
    Feb 14, 2020 at 14:21
  • @CGCampbell that looks like an answer to me
    – HorusKol
    Feb 14, 2020 at 20:34
  • 1
    @HorusKol It would be an answer, except that this question is closed as duplicate.
    – CGCampbell
    Feb 18, 2020 at 16:46


Browse other questions tagged .