*Warning: This article contains spoilers for Arrival and Passengers as well as a potentially life-changing (non)scientific theory.
Sometimes, the seed of a theory can grow into a life-changing, scientific discovery. Think Isaac Newton and gravity. Albert Einstein and relatively. Stephen Hawking and the theory of, well, everything. The theory you're about to read might not be quite on that level, but I'm sure you'll agree — it's close.
The seed was planted when Hollywood screenwriter Eric Heisserer explained how, before the release of Interstellar, the original storyline of Arrival focused on a different gift from the heptapods; instead of their non-linear, time-independent language, the alien species were going to leave plans to a blueprint. A blueprint of an interstellar ark. An interstellar ark curiously similar to the one in... Interstellar! Wait, no, the one in...
Passengers! Yes, that's right. The film was released only a month after #Arrival, but this theory is based on the assumption that #Passengers was originally scripted as a sequel to Arrival. Outrageous, you may cry! Outrageous, indeed, but didn't the majority of scientists once believe that the theory that Earth wasn't flat was outrageous? They did. The answer to that question is they did. Anyway, on to the brief.
Was 'Passengers' Originally Intended To Be A Sequel To 'Arrival'?
The brief: Explain how Sony originally obtained the rights to both Arrival and Passengers, with the intention of linking the two promising scripts together, based on nothing other than speculation and massively biased *detective work in the name of mild entertainment.
Before we focus on the potentially conjoined narrative, we'll first focus on behind-the-scenes, to add legitimacy to this ambitious task. As the brief explains, that link is Sony Entertainment. The scripts for both Arrival and Passengers have lingered in development hell for some time; Heisserer explained how it took him years after adapting Ted Chiang's Story of Your Life before a studio took the chance, while Hollywood A-lister Keanu Reeves campaigned for Passengers for almost a decade.
While both films had been doing the rounds in the cutthroat circles of Hollywood, #SonyPictures took a chance on both, purchasing the international rights to Arrival in May 2014, before winning the rights to Passengers at auction in December the same year. It's important to note that Interstellar was released in November 2014, so it's more than likely at this point, the Arrival script was in its original version — a version that deviates from Chiang's source material, which didn't include blueprints as part of the plan.
*I Googled it.
How The Hepatpods' Gift Links 'Arrival' And 'Passengers'
In the original, non Interstellar influenced plot of Arrival, 12 alien "heptapods" land on Earth in different locations, with the intention of giving the human race a gift —instead of their language, which unlocks Louise Banks (Amy Adams) ability to perceive time as non-linear, the gift was the design to the interstellar ark. Presumably, Louise would've still been the linguist chosen to decipher the message, before relaying the plans to those in the know.
Here's the key link between Passengers and Arrival: In that narrative, the reason the heptapods landed on Earth and gave a "gift" was so humans could repay the favour, and help their species in 3,000 years time. In the final cut, the way in Louise's understanding of the heptapods language sets this chain of events is unclear. But in the original script, the means to help the alien race was more explicit — humans needed the blueprints to colonize on the heptapods' planet, and others like it. Which leads us on to Passengers.
In Morten Tyldum's movie, space-set stalker Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and sinisterly-awoken Aurora (Jennifer Lawrence) are aboard the Avalon, an interstellar ark carrying a colony of 5,000 people on the 120 year journey from Earth to the planet Homestead II. Ignore the fact everything goes horribly wrong for our A-list protagonists, what we're interested now is the context of this journey.
In the Passengers universe, the Avalon isn't the first spaceship to travel this course. The Homestead company are like the Virgin of intergalactic space travel, an all-powerful corporation who scan space for exoplanets to see if they are primed to be populated by humans. While aboard the spaceship, it's clear from the digitalised familiarity the holographic crew that this form of travel is as common as a long haul flight.
How The Timelines Match 'Arrival' And 'Passengers'
Neither film explicitly states the year respective events are set in, but we know Arrival is set in the not-too-distant future. Passengers, on the other hand, is clearly further down the line, but not entirely disconnected from present day.
- The Way 'Interstellar' Changed The 'Arrival' Script Further Explains The Heptapods' Purpose And The Film's Ending
- Forget 'La La Land,' Here's Why 'Arrival' Deserves To Be The First Sci-Fi Movie To Win A Best Picture Oscar
- How Keanu Reeves Was Snubbed For 'Passengers,' A Passion Project He Worked On For Over A Decade
There are enough clues to suggest this isn't as far in the future as the interstellar element may suggest. Jim essentially uses an upgraded version of Facebook to social stalk Aurora, the pair wear clothes that wouldn't look out of place in any millennials wardrobe, and Jim orders — or at least tries to order — an on-trend pumpkin spice latte.
Running with the theory, a link with Arrival could explain how society is ready for interstellar travel so near in the future; the hepatpods' gift expedited the construction of spaceships like the Avalon, unlocking one of the biggest scientific discoveries of all time. Within the paradigm of both movies, this link is entirely feasible. Jon Spaihts, who wrote the screenplay for Passengers, was careful to keep the design of the Avalon within the realms of possibility. In an interview with Collider, he explained simply:
"There is no warp drive, hyperspace or artificial gravity. It runs on fusion. It is propelled by a constant thrust ion drive and probably gets up to high speed with the aid of some booster or launcher that lobs it out to get it moving. But then, after that, it’s a fractional G constant thrust ion drive."
Yeah, I've got no idea what he's talking about either, but basically, science makes this all possible. I think? Regardless, the discovery from Arrival would've no doubt expedited the development, making this kind of cosmic travel possible much, much sooner. Because of fusion. And ion drives. And stuff.
'Passengers' Marks The Beginning Of The Heptapods' Plan
So what if it is possible? And what if the events in Arrival influenced Passengers? What then? 3,000 years is a long time. Even Jesus wasn't born that long ago. Using their ability to see past, present and future, the heptapods identify that's how long it'll take for humanity to save them. The process would no doubt be gradual — we are currently living in a post-Trump world, after all, and society as a whole is some way from a pacifist form of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Perhaps the heptapods originally observed the development of the human race, as we gradually achieve interstellar travel, set up colonies on various planets, and spread like bacteria throughout the universe. Humans may've even discovered the heptapods planet at some point in the distant future, in the unaltered, no-blueprint-gift timeline.
But at a certain point, heptapods suffer a great crisis. Using their omnipotent nature, they then make the decision to reach out to us mere humans, speed up our colonization process, and unlock the key to interstellar travel sooner, so homo sapiens can change the events of the future by preventing the heptapods crisis in 3,000 years.
Once the Earth's top scientists work on producing the ark, interstellar travel becomes commonplace, and the Homestead company establishes colonies on multiple exoplanets using spaceships like the Avalon. While we think the focus in Passengers is on Jim and Aurora and their unfortunate (and eerily orchestrated) romance, in truth, the colony was making the pilgrimage to distant planets with one goal in mind: To save the heptapods.
What do you think of the theory? Could Passengers be a sequel to Arrival?