Arrival: Is Time Non-Linear?

Is Time Non-Linear?

Movie: Arrival

What is life?

It’s the middle thing between birth and death, right? Between the middle and end.

What if you’re wrong about it?

In the film “Arrival” directed by Denis Villeneuve based on Ted Chiang’s short science fiction story: “Story of your life”.

Our curiosity thrusts us into some serious questions like how we perceive life? What causes us to perceive it the way that we do? And what do we do about it?


The core concept is underlying the story that Arrival masterfully brings to the cinematic form, linguistics relativity, time perception, and determinism.

The movie centers around Dr. Lewis banks played by Amy Adams who is one of the best linguists in the world, about halfway through the movie she starts having visions and the term “sapir-whorf hypothesis” is mentioned by one of her colleagues. This theory is also referred to as linguistic relativity.

This concept is a real-world hypothesis that is deeply debated to this day it was started by Edward Sapir and Benjamin Lee Whorf in studying cognitive differences between people’s exposed to diperceptionup between Special recognition between large groups of separated humans.

A commonly seted example is the Mayans description of objects are based on material rather than the English use of relative size, also some Australian Aboriginal tribes describe space as absolute versus the relative description used by English or Latin based speakers.

The deeper held belief that language determines cognition has been heavily refuted but there are many studies backing up the significant amount of influenced language holds on our perception.

As the world becomes more and more connected our perceptions will continue to merge and this theory will become harder and harder to test.

A huge part of the movie revolves around trying to and often times failing to communicate with the alien species referred to as the hepta pods.

Hepta pods use vastly different languages for speaking and writing their written language is a circular form without a beginning or end. We can imagine a species with a vastly different vantage point in the universe and little to no similarities in the way it evolved would have a massively different perception on the universe compared to two separate human languages.

Throughout the film Louise starts to understand the language more and more, until ultimately dreaming in their language. She experiences confusing flashbacks more and more frequently as she starts understanding the language more, in this way the movie is showing us an extreme case of linguistic relativity where she starts to perceive time as the hepta pods do.


Isn’t time constant..?


Although there’s many discussions about time in relation to physics and other scientific realms, it’s clear that the way that we perceive time is not absolute and highly flawed as measurement. Many scientists are subscribing to the notion that time does not exist as a fourth dimension as often mentioned in many movies. Instead, time should be considered the numerical order of material change.

The way the material world acts is a lot different than the way we perceive it, our perception is less measurable and unreliable and compared to more empirical tests, an example of this can be observed with the use of depressants and stimulants, the level of dopamine or similar neurotransmitter activities in the brain may be responsible for the overestimation of time humans feel on stimulants like caffeine, and the underestimation of time on depressants like alcohol.

To take this a step further imagine that time does not exist outside of your brain.

“In this universe, we process time linearly forward but outside of our space-time from what would be a fourth-dimensional perspective time wouldn’t exist.”

– Neil Degrasse Tyson

That’s the perception the hepta pods in arrival are living through.

Learning their language which is timeless, Louise slowly starts to perceive her whole life as timeless.

This leads to one very huge question.

If you knew how your life was going to happen would you change it?

This question dives into the themes of determinism and the existence of free will.

Do we really have control over the choices we make or are they predetermined by an incredibly complex series of events prior to making that choice.

Arrival seems to point towards a less deterministic outcome, although Louise chooses not to change the natural course for life. It is portrayed very much as a choice that she decides to make.

The choice she’s making is a very very hard choice. specifically for her, it’s where a lot of the emotional tension in the movie comes in it dives into some deeper existential philosophies.

What do you think?


If you knew how everything in your life was going to turn out. Would you do things differently?


Let me know in the comments below!

What do you think?

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