I'm intrigued with the following sentence Louise says in Arrival:

If you could see your whole life start to finish, would you change things?

To me (with a limited English language knowledge), what she said above, suggests to me that in the mind of Louise, she has a choice ... so the clearer sentence of her would be something like this:

If you could see your whole life start to finish, and you could change it, would you change things?

One article I've found says something like this:

As the ending clarifies, Louise has a choice to allow events to occur as she currently perceives them… or to not let them happen in this way

Another article:

But Louise made the choice, even knowing the eventual outcome

So my question is:

Why did Louise say like that as if she thinks she has a choice which one to decide so she has the ability to change it, while actually she knows that she has not?


Did Louise not know that she doesn't have a choice and that's why she say like that?

  • 4
    Does this answer your question? Why didn't they change the future in Arrival?. It's obviously not a direct duplicate, but this aspect of the film is so evident - as the plot hinges on this very fact - that I feel they are too closely related not to be considered duplicates.
    – Joachim
    Commented May 20, 2022 at 9:11
  • @Joachim, thank you for your link (which actually I've read it before posting my question). In the link you gave, the explanation which get 6 points as "useful answer" say that She has no ability to change the future. So that's why I confuse why she said : "If you could see your whole life start to finish, would you change things?". It will be different if she said "could you change things?". or if she say : "if you have the ability to change the future, would you change things ?", then I can understand it.
    – karma
    Commented May 20, 2022 at 9:54
  • Her words : "If you could see your whole life start to finish", to me it's already mean "if you don't have the ability to change things". That's why I'm confused as the whole sentence becomes something like this : "if you don't have the ability to change things, would you change things?"
    – karma
    Commented May 20, 2022 at 9:58
  • I don't quite get your last comment and it suggests that there might be an entirely different English language comprehesnion problem (or an unusual assumption) going on that is somewhat independent from the actual time travelling problem asked about. Why would you think the former sentence means the latter? That doesn't seem to make sense and in fact if anything, her words would suggest that she does think she can change the future, as your question also supposes. But this might also explain why your question reads somewhat confusing, too.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented May 20, 2022 at 10:06
  • 1
    @karma Well, that would depend on if she actually can or cannot change the future. The existing answers would suggest she actually can. This would make both your provided options invalid, since they are based on the assumtpion that she can't change the future. But it's unclear, where your question derives that assumption from. Why do you think she can't change the future?
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Commented May 20, 2022 at 10:50

2 Answers 2


As explained here:

Arrival depicts a virtual universe like a DVD that all exists and can be accessed at random. For example, Banks accesses future events to learn the key phrase needed to avert the military showdown. This universe is also mutable or changeable, as the key phrase from the future is able to change the previous now and the future general also understands the need to provide the secret phrase.

However, some events are not mutable, because even though the characters know negative future events, the characters know they cannot change without consequences to what they value. The alien that dies due to the bomb blast cannot not die, without changing the future in which Banks lives. Banks cannot change her future without eliminating the daughter she loves. Those of us who recognize we cannot change the past without undoing what we love are blessedly free of the human pestilence of regret.

See also this article:

There is probably a theory out there that suggests that free will cannot exist on a circular viewing of time. That is true if everything is bound to happen before it’s happened, but Arrival does not suggest that with its idea of time being a circle.

If time is a circle, then who is to say that the circle cannot be altered? There is no reason to believe that we cannot diverge from the path we are taking to explore an unknown one. It is why Louise asks Ian at the end of the film if he could change anything in his life if he saw his entire life from start to finish. Although his answer is not a ground-breaking revelation, it is enough for Louise to know that she is choosing to follow the life that she currently sees.

In the end, Louise chooses to continue with the choices that will grant her a family that she deeply loves as well as helping the heptapods by writing her book, The Universal Language. Although she is aware of the pain and heartache to come, there is beauty and boundless amounts of love that she would rather experience than miss out on completely. Every moment in her life will happen at once — joy and sorrow will live hand and hand with her — but her potential to be the “weapon” that saves an entire alien race is outweighed by her own emotions.

As well as this article:

Villeneuve’s film (and the Chiang story it is based on) suggests free will and choice exists if one chooses to do nothing. Time is not immutable, hence why the aliens’ presence on Earth is still high stakes for them. Presumably heptapods have long lifespans if they can perceive events 3,000 years from now, but humanity will only save them if we as a species work together right now to learn what Louise’s future book coins as “The Universal Language.”

As the ending clarifies, Louise has a choice to allow events to occur as she currently perceives them… or to not let them happen in this way, sparing her the pain of losing a daughter she already deeply loves by denying that kid a chance to even exist. As fittingly revealed out of sequence, Louise asks Ian at the end of the film that if he could see the whole story of his life, would he allow events to transpire exactly as they do? He responds with a wishy-washy answer about how he isn’t sure right now. But we already know from a previous memory of the future that Louise and Ian’s marriage ends because she tells him too early about what she knows. As Louise vaguely explains with paternal love to Hannah, she told Ian about the choice she made, and he thought she chose wrong.

  • 1
    Thank you for the answer, BCdotWEB. One of your link said : "That is true if everything is bound to happen before it’s happened, but Arrival does not suggest that with its idea of time being a circle". So, it's just from the perspective of Arrival audience which conclude "everything is already set in stone" (as some articles I read in the internet). In other words, the glimpse Louise see about Ian and her daughter, it seems something like : "this what will happen IF you marry Ian". I accept your answer. Thank you once again.
    – karma
    Commented May 20, 2022 at 11:21

In the short story form, Louise has full understanding. Also it doesn't read strictly in chronological order, so the cinematic adaptation may be filmed that way to increase the dramatic effect of a reveal.

Louise explains various experiences to introduce the Heptapod B "mode of consciousness"

  • Fermat's principle of least time, and variational principle (min or max)
  • causal and teleological interpretations (chain reaction vs events-over-time/integral)
  • Borgesian fabulation (Book of Ages vs free will)
  • semasiographic writing
  • p.137 summary (freedom is real in sequential consciousness, in "simultaneous consciousness freedom is not meaningful")
  • performance (weddings, bedtime stories, becoming your parents)

In fact, when Louise disguises her knowledge, it is purposeful (p.137):

those who know the future don't talk about it.

and (p.142)

Burghart had gained proficiency in Heptapod B similar to mine.

It can help to listen to Chiang's thoughts from the Manifold One podcast. In compatibilism, free will and determinism are ok. Most of us are scared that we lose free will (see the PBS Spacetime episode about super determinism). We're afraid it's zero-sum.

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