In many ways, Arrival and Interstellar draw natural comparisons. Both films rightfully take their place in the sci-fi hall of fame for cerebral, thought-provoking takes on the concept of space and time, respectively mixing complex theories on language and physics with an undertone of life-affirming humanity.
But the link between them isn't on tone alone. Arrival screenwriter Eric Heisserer has explained how Christopher Nolan's 2014 intergalactic Oscar-winner had a significant impact on the film's script, changing the overall direction of Denis Villeneuve's philosophical tale of alien contact.
In an interview with Collider, Heisserer — whose Oscar-nominated screenplay was adapted for Ted Chiang's Story of Your Life — revealed how the release of #Interstellar thrust the core of #Arrival into a different direction. When asked if there were any changes from the initial script, he said:
"I would say the only real significant change is the gift that the heptapods leave us with. In earlier versions they were leaving sort of the blueprints to an interstellar ship, like an ark of sorts.
And then Chris Nolan’s Interstellar came out and all of us got together and said, ‘Well this doesn’t quite work now’ (laughs). So we focused more on what we had there in front of us, which was the power of their language."
Like Arrival, Interstellar also focuses on the concept of time as a non-linear, physical dimension. In a particularly moving scene, Joseph "Coop" Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) enters a tesseract through a black hole, allowing him to communicate with his daughter, Murphy, at different stages of her life, sending her coded messages including quantum data. The information Coop sends enables Murphy to solve the equation to help humanity leave a decaying Earth and colonize on other planets.
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How The Script Change Helps Explain 'Arrival'
Aside from the fact there's a mutual cause and effect between the two films, the change in story also helps to explain a major plot point in Arrival, one that was perhaps not elaborated on in the final cut — why and how can humans help the alien heptapods in 3,000 years?
Before we explore the explanation, first, a recap of Arrival's plot: When 12 identical spacecrafts land on Earth, the unlikely duo of linguist Louise Banks (#AmyAdams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (#JeremyRenner) are tasked with "saving" humanity; but not by militarism or heavy-handed strategy, instead, they have to distinguish the heptapods' purpose for landing.
Arrival is multifaceted, as much a meditation on decision making and the freedom of choice as it is science fiction. The true brilliance lies in the heptapods use of non-linear language, portrayed in the form of ink-like circular orthography. As Louise begins to decipher the heptapods' language, she also begins thinking in their language, tapping into a linguistic theory known as Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.
By digesting the hepatapods' form of communication, she unlocks the "tool" that they were giving her — the ability to view time as a non-linear, circular entity, with the ability to access past, present and future simultaneously.
What initially appear as flashbacks, are slowly revealed as visions of the future, taking the audience on a similar journey of being able to perceive the beginning, middle and end at the same time. This also sets of Louise's own arc of personal loss, and the choice to pursue a relationship with Ian, knowing that they'll have a child, Hannah, who will die, causing Ian to leave when he uncovers that Louise knew that the events would unfold.
In this version of events, the heptapods' "gift" was the ability for Louise to learn their language and see time in a non-linear fashion, providing her with the tools to persuade China not to fire at the spacecraft, and to seemingly bring about an element of global peace.
'Interstellar' Helped Improve 'Arrival's' Plot
So, back to the 3,000 years conundrum, which wasn't fully expanded on in Arrival's final cut. Heisserer added a little more context around that:
"Yes, it was always that in three millennia we would end up being in a place to help them, and in order to have that happen we needed to start colonizing. We needed to start getting off Earth."
Which goes some way to filling in one of the few blanks from Arrival, as in the original script humans would colonize on the heptapods' planet, and help them with a significant challenge in the future, or, in heptapods' understanding of time, the "now."
It's not clear from Heisserer's comment how different the narrative would've been, and how the blueprint would've changed the focus on language. Perhaps with more attention paid toward the blueprints, less would've been paid to Louise's own personal struggle of choice, and deciding upon Hannah's future.
Either way, for fans of both movies, the serendipity is pleasing, leaving both films forever interlinked, mirroring their own narratives in real-life. Interstellar's subtle tap on the bookshelf left a few dusty footprints that were picked up by Heisserer and his creative team, ultimately sending Arrival in a different direction, and arguably the correct path.
Would you have preferred the heptapods in Arrival to communicate blueprints, rather than the gift of language?