(Here be spoilers)

Crucial events in the plot of "Arrival" involve:

  • Main character Louise learning from the Chinese General his wife's last words, as well as his phone number (that apparently never changes) ; along a vision she gets of a reception subsequent to the Heptapods visit
  • Louise using this phone number to call the General, and remind him of his wife's last words in order to trigger him to stop using violence towards the Heptapod visitors, during their visit to Humanity.

According to the General's comments during the reception (something like "I don't understand how your mind works"), it seems that he has not mastered the Heptapod language, and only has a linear perception of time. From his point of view, it seems that the reason he mentions his wife's words during the reception, is because he remembers the phone call Louise made him years ago. And a reason why Louise can tell him those words during their phone call, is because she learnt them from that discussion. This seems like a "circular" paradox to me: the depiction of a universe and timeline where event #1 causes event #2, and where event #2 causes event #1. Also, the easiness with which the General discloses such a personal information does not feel consistent with the character.

I was very happy to watch a movie depicting a somewhat rigorous scientific approach to communication attempts with visiting members of a new species; and am not reluctant to discontinuing my disbelief regarding the perception skill that mastering the Heptapod language brings, given how convincingly this feature is presented during the movie. However I feel dissatisfied with what I perceive as a violation of the rule of causality, introduced without any other justifications, and that looks like an artificial way of generating more "buzz" and discussion around the movie - while it already has more than enough good material to inspire those.

Is this paradox present in the original novel? Is there an explanation that makes it more consistent with the overall rigorous tone of the story?

  • 1
    This question poses two interesting points: 1. This seems like a "circular" paradox to me: the depiction of a universe and timeline where event #1 causes event #2, and where event #2 causes event #1. This explanation is summed up in very few words, and very clearly. 2. Asks about the original novel. Although it is not sure that such a question would be valid in this movie site.
    – nilon
    Jul 14, 2017 at 22:33
  • 1
    There are not multiple timelines in arrival, there is only a single one that is self-consistent. There is no paradox here because both events are fully consistent with each other. Causality as a physical law only exists as a consequence of information being unable to travel faster than the speed of light or backwards in time (which are equivalent). So by allowing information to go backwards in time, you are inherently giving up causality as a physical law. Feb 14, 2020 at 20:05


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