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Would the 18 months later conversation between Louise and General Shang in Arrival still be the same after Louise having accessed the information from that conversation before she "physically" reaches that point in time? If not, wouldn't that create a paradox?

For the immutable time theory to work, i.e. Louise to be unaware of her calling him, she shouldn't have that information which after the events of the movie she does.

Does this suggest a multiple timeline theory? That would support heptapods trying to change their fate by transcending humans and asking for their help. But at the same time it challenges their ability to be able to perceive the future, as there would be infinite possibilities and also they would have choice to change their fate which the movie plot goes against.

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My general interpretation of the movie is that the future is immutable. I realize this is a point of contention for some, and of course generating that sort of philosophical discourse it ultimately the purpose of science fiction IMHO, but this is the side of the fence that I sit on.

The idea is that all of time is determined in advance, and that our perception of time from a fixed point ("the present") is what leads us to believe things "haven't happened yet" and "can be changed." The heptapods perceive time differently. They see all of time at once (at least within the scope of their own lifespan and experiences) and learning their language somehow changes our own perspective to do the same.

Would the 18 months later conversation between Louise and General Shang in Arrival still be the same after Louise having accessed the information from that conversation before she "physically" reaches that point in time? If not, wouldn't that create a paradox?

Working under the immutable time theory, of course the conversation would be the same. It would need to be, because everything it already decided. Therefore, no paradox is possible.

For the immutable time theory to work, i.e. Louise to be unaware of her calling him, she shouldn't have that information which after the events of the movie she does.

I have my own theory about why Louise appeared to be surprised during her future conversation with the general. It's not that she was unaware or had somehow forgotten anything - her suprised expression was a kind of "soliloquy" for the benefit of the audience, to keep the mood of the scene going, it was not "in character" shock.

That would support heptapods trying to change their fate by transcending humans and asking for their help.

We don't actually know that the heptapods came here in an attempt to change the future. They could have foreseen that humanity would save them from their crisis just as easily as they foresaw the crisis itself, and they only came here to contact us because - again - they foresaw that this is when they first made contact with us.


it challenges their ability to be able to perceive the future, as there would be infinite possibilities and also they would have choice to change their fate which the movie plot goes against.

If you prefer the multiple timeline theory, the most obvious explanation for this issue is that you see the current future assuming nothing changes. Every time you "remember" a future event, it pertains to the timeline you're currently in. In essence, the future you see is not guaranteed to come true, however, you retain the "memory" of that event even though it won't happen anymore. Because once you've "remembered" it, the "memory" exists in your present mind.

This handily avoids any paradox for Louise's future conversation with the general. At the moment she made the phone call, there was a future meeting with the general where he gave her the information she needed. No matter how the future may change before that meeting actually happens, it doesn't change the information she has in her mind due to having perceived something of the future.

Like I said, I prefer the "immutable time" interpretation. =P

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    Also, the "immutable time" theory is confirmed without question in the source short story, "Story of your life" by Ted Chiang. The whole point of the story is, to quote, "What if the experience of knowing the future changed a person? What if it evoked a sense of urgency, a sense of obligation to act precisely as she knew she would?" – mzywiol Jun 27 '17 at 8:50
  • [our perception of time] leads us to believe things "haven't happened yet" and "can be changed.": that is a great summary of the concept of time behind the movie. Also, [heptapods] could have foreseen that humanity would save them from their crisis. I'd change a word there and say something like they "backsaw". Or another word that we don't have, such as they "omnisaw" or something else. – nilon Jul 14 '17 at 22:27
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Louise experiences time omni-presently

As Louise explains at the beginning of the movie:

Memory is a strange thing. It doesn't work the way I thought it did.

Louise is able to perceive time omni-presently. The thing that is strange about her visions is that when she has them, they appear to be more than just her present self gathering information. She actually experiences that moment both as her future and present self. Compare this to the way memory works. You are still your present self, but you also remember what your past self experienced. But memory works differently for Louise. She "remembers" things in the future too and experiences them as her present and future self.

This is why in the banquet scene, she appears to not remember having called Gen Shang. She hasn't called him yet in the past so she doesn't remember having called him when she is first "remembering" the banquet. Her future self of course would remember, but since she is experiencing it as past and future selves, it is the past one that we see reacting. Gen Shang remembers her calling him because he still experiences time linearly.

There are several examples of her past/present/future selves jumping around and remembering things non linearly. A few examples:

  • When she remembers the lake with her daughter, she asks her what day it is with a confused look on her face.
  • She tells Ian "I just remembered why my husband left me" to which he replies "I didn't know you were married
  • She tells Ian "I forgot how good it felt to hold you" the first time they hug.

Could she change the events in the future?

Honestly after having gone back and forth on this I think it is hard to say definitely if she could or not. I think it would require an in-depth discussion about the debate of free-will vs predestination and people have been burned at the stake for talking about such things so I think I'm going to pass ;)

But I do think that Louise believes that yes she could choose an alternate version of the future, but that she willfully chooses not to.

When speaking to her daughter in the future at the lake:

Believe it or not I know something that's going to happen. I can't explain how I know, I just do. And when I told your daddy he got really mad, and he said I made the wrong choice.

Speaking to Ian -

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

V.O. at the end of the movie:

Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it and I welcome every moment of it.

This last one, I think is the ultimate message of the movie. If you could change things, would you? If you knew all the consequences of your actions, would you sacrifice the good ones just to avoid the bad ones? Or would you embrace it?

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    Thanks for taking the effort to write a detailed answer.I do get what causal loops are and there are theories about how they can be started and them changing so slightly with every iteration such that after many iterations it is impossible to tell the initial cause.In you answer you start with immutable time theory but end with timeline theory which can lead to confusion.One thing I don't get is,is it possible to break the loop since you have the information from previous iteration and can make different choice? In Predestination the loop repeats because somehow they can't recognize themselves – chiragjn Feb 6 '17 at 7:40
  • @chiragjn In context of the movie, I believe the answer is no. We do after all see in the film that they did happen again since we see Louise years later. I think getting into whether it is possible to break the loop or not is a little beyond the scope of Movies and TV SE though. To my knowledge the movie doesn't answer this question explicitly so we can only assume that the loop will continue, unchanged. – sanpaco Feb 6 '17 at 8:09
  • This is all nice explanation of what a time loop generally is. But is there any way you could also adress the fact that future Louise had no recollection of having been given Shang's number? – Napoleon Wilson Feb 6 '17 at 12:40
  • @chiragjn I have gone back and forth on just about every possible theory that could be argued from this movie, but I think I'm finally settling on my latest edit. After rewatching the movie, I changed my mind about bootstrap paradox, while its an element of the movie's time theory, its just not fleshed out enough to be able to know definitely what the "rules" of time travel within the Arrival universe are. So I'm sticking to what the movie actually tells and shows us. And I actually am ditching the immutable theory because the movie seems to suggest otherwise. – sanpaco Feb 7 '17 at 7:08
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    I like your idea about experiencing the future and the present at the same time. In essence, the scene they show us on screen is not the "real" future meeting, but rather Lousie's "memory" of that meeting playing out in her mind, as she's on the phone with the general in the present. +1. – Steve-O Feb 8 '17 at 13:54

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