Thesis: Can Louise decode the occupying alien’s language?
Inciting Incident: Louise is fled to the site of the alien ship.
Linguist Louise Banks finds herself in the memory and trauma of her daughter’s death. Glimpses of their life together meld in moments of silence, the beginning, the end, the places in between.
Since then, she’s been teaching at university, until one day when news of extra-terrestrial contact arises. A military helicopter lands in her front yard that very night, and she’s called to interpret the language of the presiding creatures.
While her meeting with Colonel Weber is a call to action in the most traditional sense, it’s the arrival of the military that rips Louise from her current life, making it the inciting incident.
Threshold: Louise meets the Heptapods.
An smooth crescent form dwarfs the military and its meager establishment below. This is the Heptapod ship. Louise is brought to its base where a hatch recedes. A long hall leads them to a defined barrier enclosing a misted white room, where the Heptapods prowl on seven arachnid legs.
Their voices boom, low howling brass.
Louise leaves completely shaken.
The threshold is broken as soon as she confronts the Heptapods. Moreso than simply being brought to the coded and precise world of the military, Louise witnessing the aliens is what pulls her out of her natural world. It’s the start of an adventure.
Midpoint: An implied violent message is received from the Heptapods.
Louise makes progress with the written word, realizing that Heptapods don’t speak, they write. Ink flows from their bodies into crescent shapes that bear a complex coded language.
Trouble arises when one of the twelve Heptapod ships rings out with the message –
All progress backtracks at the possibility that the Heptapods are trying to incite war between the world’s nations. Conversations between countries black out as the diplomatic game becomes too dangerous to played in plain sight.
This is the film’s turning point as the relationship with the Heptapods have irreversibly changed. It colors the rest of the film with doubt, strains conversation between Louise and these otherworldly creatures.
Low Point: The Heptapods sever their ties after an act of military aggression.
Talk of war levels a paranoia that begs for a show of force against the Heptapods. At Louise’s base, a soldier plants a bomb inside of the Heptapod ship while she’s inside – with a gargantuan discovery.
The creatures don’t mean weapon, they mean technology. Louise flashes in their language –
“Give technology now,”
And the Heptapods unleash a torrent of language, circled insignias that wrap forwards, outward, in microbial flow. At the end of their deluge, the Heptapods push Louise out of their ship just before the bomb explodes.
War against the Heptapods has incited.
Climax: Louise decodes the Heptapod’s language of time, and halts an impending war.
Chinese General Tzi Ma has formally announced war against the creatures. The Heptapod ships align with their faces to the sky as military forces surround.
In a final gesture, a pod descends from their ship, space only for one, Louise. She meets face to face with the Heptapod where it tells her –
“Louise sees future.”
Flashes of her daughter envelop. She asks –
“Who is the girl?”
Louise’s exposure to the Heptapod’s language has caused her to experience time as they do, all at once.
She meets with Tzi Ma at a dinner party fifteen months later, after she’s averted crisis. He tells her his wife’s dying words, and tells her that he stopped the war because she recited them to him all that time ago. With knowledge of the future, she calls Tzi Ma with his very words. War recedes, and the alien ships vanish.
It’s not Louise’s meeting with the Heptapod that changes everything. She recognizes what the language means, but not how she must use it. It’s when she experiences time as they do that she truly decodes their language.
I chose to write this form in the chronology of what the viewer is exposed to in the film. It keeps the narrative clearer as a whole because structural moments within the film are designed to play off an aspect of chronological ignorance of the viewer.
This is one of the rare instances I’ve reviewed a structure with a turning point as opposed to a false victory. I would have loved to rather choose the moment where Louise uncovers the names of the Heptapods, but the discovery of the word ‘weapon,’ in their language is what truly changed the second half of the film.