Arrival’s Last Line

If you haven’t watched Arrival, this will contain spoilers.

Arrival is a science fiction movie based on Ted Chiang’s short story Story of Your Life. I think it’s a great movie, slowly building from the mystery of alien visitors to the way learning their language changes our experience of time to circular rather than linear, to the climax of a poignant and philosophical question that it poses, a question that is asked,

“Do you wanna make a baby?”

The entire theatre must have chuckled at this incredibly awkward moment.

The ultimate philosophical question that is being posed is whether you, knowing in advance all the joy and suffering that you will experience in your life, would still live it.

And there’s the problem.

See, this question is asked not by Dr. Louise Banks, the main character who is learning the aliens’ language and experiencing the future birth and death of her child, but her romantic interest, Dr. Donnelly. The delivery of this line makes perfect sense framed as a philosophical thought experiment, where you are presented with a premise and return an answer, but it makes virtually no sense emotionally. Dr. Ian Donnelly doesn’t know they’re going to have a child. By having the man ask the question with the word choice of ‘make’ you put more emphasis on the sex than anything else.

If it was instead Dr. Banks who asked, “Ian, can we have a child?” This would put much more emphasis on her agency, and in turn, the emotions behind such a poignant decision. It humanizes the abstract philosophy behind the question, allowing the readers and audience to connect, which I think was the original goal behind making the question about whether or not they would have a child. The delivery is just a little off because they didn’t think to let their female lead ask and answer the important philosophical question.


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