In Arrival, Louise (Amy Adams) appears to have vivid memories throughout the movie. Partway through the movie, we find that at least some of them involve events from the future. One in particular enables her to prevent humans from attacking the septapod ships.

My question is, are all of these "memories" actually in her future? Or did her interactions with the heptapods, and their non-linear sense of time, allow some elements of her past to be changed?

Two confusing aspects were Louise's marriage(s) and Louise's book(s). At first I thought her memories were showing a single book, and a single marriage. When she meets Ian (Jeremy Renner), he is reading the book she published. Later we see that a book she published includes images from the language of the heptapods. Louise also tells Ian that she has been married before, though later on she has a memory of Ian being her husband and them having a baby together. So did she publish one book or two, and was she married just once or twice? I do understand that it's extremely likely she would publish a book as a professor and another as an alien linguist, and it's also possible she had a failed marriage as an academic and another after meeting Ian. Those storylines were just (intentionally) confusing in the movie.

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    The book Ian reads is not actually the book she published (or will publish) on the alien language, rather than just some random normal linguistics book of her. That might clear quite a bit of your confusion. Neither do I remember her to have said that she actually was married before.
    – Napoleon Wilson
    Jan 13, 2017 at 16:58
  • By profile she likely published several books before and several books after the main events.
    – nilon
    Jul 14, 2017 at 19:10
  • Today I've just seen the movie. IMHO, The movie is in a flashback. The first scene Louise with her daughter, is in the timeline after everything has happened : the meeting with the Chinese Shang on a party (18 months after the arrival), Ian has left her and the daughter has died. After the movie has past 4 minutes, now it starts when "the arrival" take place, introducing Louis teaching in a College. It is only after Louise touch the glass and the tentacles on the other side touch the glass, Louise starts to experience a vision (@minutes 50), a girl she doesn't recognize at all. (continue)
    – karma
    Sep 4, 2018 at 17:30
  • Since that, a few times Louis is experiencing that future glimps with the girl where little by little in Louise "see" the girl call her mom and it seems the she is the girl's mom. So the scene of a stressful Louise during in the basecamp is because of the glimps which she still don't understand. In this timeline, Louise also "see" the girl died while she is beside her. @minute 74, again Louise hand touch the tentacle with the glass in the middle - and directly the scene show that Louise experiencing the future glimps again about the girl. (continue)
    – karma
    Sep 4, 2018 at 17:30
  • Louise is starting to be obsessed with the glimps. Her mind confuse whether the glimps are the past or the future. When finally Louise alone in the ship facing "face to face" with the alien, the alien said that "Louise has the weapon" ---> what alien means that "Louise can see the future". "The weapon" here means that Louise can save the war by her ability (I think she get it from the alien) to know the future. But Louise still don't understand it yet.When Louise ask how the alien know that they need humanity help in the next 3k years, the glimp of the little girl starts again. (continue)
    – karma
    Sep 4, 2018 at 17:31

5 Answers 5


Let me have a go at the two things you need to know.

Ref - Arrival Explained

Louise's Marriage:

The punchline in the movie or the revelation in the climax is that the scenes where Louise Banks (Amy) is shown with her daughter, is not the past. Those are her visions of her own future. Yes, they are. You can hear Louise narrating this as a recollection. She is recollecting the events of the “arrival”. I’ll get to how she has these visions later on. Let’s cut to where she’s a teacher in the university.

The opening scenes of the movie with her daughter are over a future narration. These are events from Louise's future. When the aliens arrive she is not yet married and has not had a child. She meets Ian for the first time in the helicopter.

Louise is a linguist expert and as a result she publishes books. Once such book she has published is what Ian is reading on the chopper. This is a different book from the one that is prefaced with "for Hannah". That is a different book.

They also disclose that Ian is Hannah’s father in the future. This simply means that Louise has seen a future where Ian and her fall in love and have a baby.

Somewhere in the future after Hannah has contracted cancer, Louise writes another book. In that book she prefaces it with "for Hannah".

There are two different books. But only one marriage.

  • Louise also tells Ian that she has been married before.... Jun 26, 2017 at 21:04
  • @BrettFromLA I'm not quite sure of that. If so maybe she is confusing timelines (since she may well be still a beginner in this new time language)?...
    – nilon
    Jul 14, 2017 at 19:13
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    This might be the most Explain Like I'm Five Answer you can find. Not a bad thing at all. Excellent.
    – nilon
    Jul 14, 2017 at 19:14
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    @BrettFromLA She doesn't, she says "I know why my husband left me" and then Ian asks "You were married before?". Oct 7, 2018 at 18:24
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    @BrettFromLA The understanding why her husband left her is from a future memory. She’s already seeing time the way heptapods do. The ending of her married in the future (human perspective) is something she can continue to understand better even though it hasn’t happened yet. The marriage she is talking about is her marriage to Ian. She realizes her marriage ended because Ian believe(s/ed) that she should have chosen not to have Hannah at all, knowing that Hannah would die young. Ian also might be angry (in the future) that he didn’t get to participate in that choice. Apr 23, 2023 at 20:02

To my understanding

  1. The memories which appear at beginning of the movie, are actually made for the viewers -- at this point, Louise doesn't "have" those memories/visions still.
  2. The memories actually start to appear to her in her dreams, only after she started exploring the alien language. Those were not actually memories, but "visions" of the future. The "scientist" dad that Louise mentions to her daughter -- is actually Ian.
  • So the scenes at the start take place in the future, and then we flash back (for most of the movie) to the arrival of the spaceships? That would make sense. I'll have to wrap my mind around that, with regards to the scope of the whole story. Nov 12, 2016 at 19:07
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    Once again, to my understanding the director tried to create an illusion that Louise have lost her daughter before the aliens have arrived. What this actually was, are visions that Louise would see in the future - during the process of learning the alien language. Those visions were actually her future (the learning of the alien language "re-wired" her brain [like Ian said in once scene in the movie, regarding learning new languages]).
    – golosovsky
    Nov 12, 2016 at 19:22

I agree with the obvious notion that, during the new language-learning process, her visions were about her future. And sure, there can be two books that she publishes, one before, one after.

However, I feel that the director tried way too hard to trick the viewer into thinking that her dreams were from the past by adding the future visions too early into the story, by portraying Louise as very depressed (to strengthen the fake idea that she doesn't have anything to live for after the loss of her daughter and husband - she even walls by the group of students who are clearly shocked by some breaking news). Also, the conversation about her having been married before is designed with only one purpose: to mislead the viewer into thinking that her ex left because of the loss of her daughter. But the only way her statement makes sense is if she in fact was married to another guy before. In other words, there are two books, two husbands, visions only for misleading the audience, and only seen by her after the communication with the aliens.

Great idea, but the mind-bender element is forced onto the audience, thus purposely confusing them with no relation to the story or emotions. OP's questions make perfect sense even after realizing the logic of the story.



I believe the entire story is about time, and so a non-linear voiceover from Louise to introduce not only the story, but her story, is not quite as reprehensible as suggesting Villaneuve deliberately confused the viewer. The truth is, she spoke of her husband and life before her story began, and we saw moments of this to witness her humanity, and also the micro-scale of how this story begins. It's not obvious when she remembers her story and tells us as an introduction, much like how it's not obvious when certain oneiric scenes reveal other, potentially cryptic, plot points.

We know that she has one child and one husband - no other is mentioned or referred to, however there is the mystery during the film of who the girl is in the visions. This is unravelled slowly and evocatively - if we were presented with a person who witnesses her daughter die without pace or care, we'd feel nothing for this child... however we see what we see to give the relationship between Louise and the girl some context, so we care that she still embarks on her doomed marriage and her terminally ill daughter regardless. Louise can now perceive time differently, however she realises that it's the journey that is important and continues regardless.

I don't feel as though this is in any way deceiving for the wrong reasons, though it's a little convenient to present the same topic as the mystery as what we would expect at the beginning is a conclusion, or a memory to partner the voiceover.

  • "We know that she has one child and one husband - no other is mentioned or referred to...". Ian and Louise have an interaction shortly after meeting the aliens in which Louise says that she had been married before. Nov 15, 2016 at 18:16
  • Ohh... yeah, you're right. Oh, man. That breaks my argument down a bit.. Nov 16, 2016 at 8:04
  • That was a complicated movie! I feel like I'll need to see it again before I really understand it. Nov 16, 2016 at 18:12

Here's my interpretation.

For Louise, as we know, time is non-linear. So, if she is at a point t in time, for her, any time before t is past and time after t is also past.

She used to have visions of her child before meeting the septapods, but she used to dismiss them as dreams.

Now, at time T, she finds out that she has this ability (probably given to her by the septapods; if the septapods gave her the ability, then too she would always have it since time is non-linear for her), and that is the moment she realises that those weren't dreams. Those were memories from her past from a different direction!

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