Denis Villeneuve


“Arrival’s narrative plays out in four languages: English, Mandarin, Russian and Heptapod. Though they are not spoken in the film, we learn that Louise is also fluent in Farsi, Sanskrit and Portuguese (and possibly others). The language learning process and the growing translingual bond between Louise and the heptapods forms the film’s narrative arc and the majority of its plot. Thus language, and specifically the mechanics of ←215 | 216→multilingualism, is Arrival’s central theme. Within this context, the ability to communicate across language barriers is an asset, and the flexibility to navigate new linguistic challenges is invaluable. The heptapods are pure science fiction, but serve a powerful metaphorical function. As Emily Alder (2016) writes in The Conversation, “ultimately, Arrival is less about communicating with the aliens than with each other – internationally but also individually […] The film’s message is that difference is not about body shape or colour but language, culture and ways of thinking. It’s not about erasing that difference but communicating through it”. Gemma King