Current Events, Movies

Arrival: Your Life Matters – A Christian Perspective

arrivalI had the chance to watch “Arrival” this past weekend. It was excellent. I can’t emphasize enough how much good science fiction is steeped in worldview and forces us to reflect upon humanity. “Arrival” is just that: excellent science fiction. Here, I will discuss worldview issues the film brought forward from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Your Life Matters

Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the film is one that could not be fully appreciated until the end. Once we see that Louise has been having not flashbacks but rather flash-forwards, we come to realize that she is seeing what will happen in the future. But that means the scene at the beginning, in which Louise has a daughter, Hannah, who eventually dies from cancer, will play out as she has seen it. And if that’s the case, then Louise’s decision to marry Ian and have a baby with him is something that leads, directly or indirectly, to her daughter’s death.

The question that arises, then, is whether such a life was worth living? The film presents what is one of the most beautiful ways of looking at such a question I have seen. The answer is yes. Without Hannah’s life, her poetry, joy, song, and dance could not have been part of the world. All of that would have been lost. Even the inevitable pain and tragedy that Louise and Ian will experience is part of that future world Louise saw: one in which love had a chance to play out in Hannah’s all-too-short life. It’s a message that says: Yes, your life matters, even if it is not perfect; even if it goes poorly.

And really, what right would Louise have to cut that life from the world? What right would she have to destroy that future life of Hannah, however painful it would become for herself and for her daughter? Would it really be better to cut off all the joy and beauty that her daughter would bring into the world just because Louise knew it would end badly? Such questions are monumentally important in an age in which choices of life and death are increasingly available.

Linear vs. Non-Linear Time

I found the theme of time to be quite engaging in the film. One may think that it was just a novelty to discuss non-linear time, but a number of major ancient cultures had non-linear views of time. I have much interest in studying Mesoamerica, for example, and basically across the board the Inca, Maya, Aztec, etc. had non-linear, cyclical views of time. Why does that matter? What does it have to do with worldview?

Well, in the film it was used largely as a way to tie the whole plot back together and show that one’s ideas about reality can be shaped by the way one conceptualizes of very basic ideas. But more importantly, one’s view of time impacts how one views reality itself. I have read time and again how a linear view of time helped to spur scientific discovery, among other things. A linear view of time allows for a logical A => B sequence of events in which causation is linked through time. A cyclical, or non-linear view of time would change that. In “Arrival,” it is unclear as to whether the ultimate non-linearity of time is viewed as cyclical (though the emphasis on circular imagery for the language might point in that direction). One wonders whether a non-linear view of time, taken to its conclusions, could actually ground such things as cause and effect. The movie provided a framework to think through such questions, and as someone who’s very interested in philosophy of time, I found that utterly engaging.

Time, Part 2

Another aspect of the discussion of time in the film is the implication that Louise sees the future, but also that she may be able to change it. Indeed, it seems pretty clear that Louise makes a conscious choice to allow the future she saw to play out. Does that mean the future is set in stone, or that her decisions actually will yield the future she saw? This may not seem very important for worldview, but a simple shift to examining divine omniscience might show how such a concept could impact worldview directly. If God knows the future, as I believe God does, what does that mean for human action? What does it mean if God does not comprehensively know the future, as open theists claim?

Such questions are not directly referenced in the film, but a moment’s reflection on how Louise responds to her own knowledge of the future makes these questions loom in the distance. I think it is important to think about how things like one’s view of time and God’s knowledge of the future impact things like human free choice, salvation, and the like.


“Arrival” is the best kind of science fiction: one that raises questions not just about the future but about humanity. I highly recommend readers go see the film. It’s phenomenal. Let me know what worldview questions were raised in your mind from watching the film.


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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


12 thoughts on “Arrival: Your Life Matters – A Christian Perspective

  1. Great review as you bring out great elements/implications which I missed. It’s a phenomenal film. I think worth a second viewing at the theaters.

    Posted by Luis Serrano | November 14, 2016, 7:12 PM
  2. I am watching it tomorrow. I am an Open Theist, so I will find the future issues to be sci-fi, not biblical, not logical. Here is a less than positive review from another perspective. Thank you for your helpful review:

    Posted by William Lance Huget | November 23, 2016, 2:28 AM
    • Thanks for sharing the link! I looked over it and I think some of the points are on. As I pointed out with my review of Star Trek: Beyond, there is a trend in many sci-fi movies to point to this kind of humanist paradise. However, I think that writing this film off as a kind of globalist propaganda piece is mistaken. Moreover, I’m skeptical of so many 1-to-1 applications of the Tower of Babel to any form of globalization, as often happens in my observations. Many such interpretations strike me as blatantly anachronistic rather than faithful to the text of Scripture.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 23, 2016, 10:42 AM
    • [I assumed the comment that just said “test” was because your comment didn’t show, so I deleted the duplicate. I get a lot of comments with cursing/derogatory language/etc. so I make sure to moderate all comments as they come in. Thanks for stopping by!]

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 23, 2016, 10:50 AM
  3. Great analysis of the movie. Okay, so here are my thoughts regarding the alleged pro-life content of the movie.

    Basically, given the information we got in the film, I don’t think we’re justified in calling Louise a “pro-life hero” (as I’ve seen from at least one pro-life advocate). What she did (keeping her child instead of aborting her due to a rare illness) wasn’t heroic, it was the morally obligatory thing to do. Additionally, we don’t know if she’s pro-life, all we know is that she chose to have her child in a difficult circumstance. By calling this a pro-life film, we seem to be tacitly implying that a pro-choice person wouldn’t do that.

    In fact, Ian was a likable character in the film, and after he leaves Louise and their daughter, she still takes great pains to tell her daughter that he’s a good man. So it didn’t seem like, to me, the movie believed he actually did anything wrong, like it was her choice to have the child and his choice to leave, and both were perfectly fine choices.

    Additionally, given the time aspect in the film, that raises other questions. First of all, we see that Louise decided to conceive and have her child because of all the wonder and love she brought to Louise’s life. But what if the girl didn’t become a dancer, or any of the other things we saw in the flash-forward scenes? What if the girl, in fact, was confined to a bed for her entire life, or something like that? Would Louise, then, have chosen to conceive her child? In fact, while pro-choice people erroneously refer to an unborn child as a “potential” person, in the case of Hannah, she really was a potential person in that sense of the word. So really, unless we hold to a b-theory of time, Hannah didn’t yet exist. If we *do* hold to a b-theory of time, then Hannah already exists and none of the choices Louise made would matter (so all we have to look at is her intent, and in that case her intent would have been determined and she really didn’t make a conscious choice). However, if we’re talking about an a-theory of time, then since Hannah didn’t yet exist, would it have been wrong to prevent Hannah from coming into existence? At the very least, this doesn’t seem nearly as wrong as killing her after she comes into existence? So in this case, we need to have a discussion of whether or not we have any sorts of obligations to future persons, and that’s an issue that I haven’t looked into too closely. My instinct is that we don’t have obligations to future persons, but I don’t have a firm opinion on that. I have a book by David Boonin that addresses this very question that I’m going to read eventually.

    Anyway, those are my thoughts on it. I’ll probably be writing a blog post about it. You’ve inspired me to do so. haha. And I’ll post a link to your review of it when I do.

    Posted by Clinton Wilcox | November 23, 2016, 10:51 PM
    • Clinton, I only have a phone to respond right now so I’ll keep it short. Thanks for coming by and commenting.

      I get what you’re saying but the time at which she made the decision, she was not pregnant, so I don’t think it was a choice not to abort. It was a choice to try to conceive. Indeed at the time it happened it was a choice to date Ian, and the vision of a future where he’d ask if she wanted to make a baby. Then she said yes. So at each step we are shown it isn’t a choice between abortion and not, it is a choice between conception or not and setting events up to get to the point of making the choice to have a baby or not.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | November 24, 2016, 7:37 AM
      • It was originally a choice of whether to abort or not. They learned that Hannah had a rare disease. Ian wanted to abort but Louise chose to have the child, which is what caused Ian to leave them both. At the end we realize that she was seeing the future, so that’s when it became a choice of whether or conceive her or not. But the movie doesn’t seem to indicate that Ian was wrong for leaving her based on how it treated him. Additionally, as I said, she had the child because of all the joy Hannah brought to her life, which could be interpreted as we’re only worth what we can add to someone else’s life. What if instead of joy, the only thing she added was more hurt, like if Hannah was bedridden her entire life with no good prospects for the future? Would Louise still have chosen to keep her if she knew that would be the case?

        Posted by Clinton Wilcox | November 24, 2016, 10:29 AM
  4. I believe that exhaustive definite foreknowledge is not compatible with libertarian free will. Time is unidirectional duration/sequence/succession. There is no retrocausation and EDF offers no providential advantage since the fixed, foreknown future could not be changed without making FK false even if God wanted to.

    I had to laugh about the Pentecostal cult reference since I am Pentecostal (and Open Theist). Blessings.

    Posted by William Lance Huget | November 24, 2016, 2:05 PM


  1. Pingback: Ted Chiang’s Religious Vision and Critique in “Exhalation” | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason" - September 9, 2019

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