I’m going to go out on a theological limb here and suggest the aliens are metaphors for God. They descend from the heavens. They speak in a ‘holy’ language delivering wisdom from on high a la God of the Old Testament giving the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mt. Sinai. They have a message of ‘salvation’ and a prophesy for the future.
But the main thing is this: Their experience of time is precisely the same as what orthodox Christianity asserts about its God — the Divine Being transcends humanity’s boundaries of time. To God, time exists in the moment, Past, Present, Future all happening at once.
The really interesting question deriving from this construct is does Louise have free will or not? Is her future Predestined? For centuries, Christian theologians have debated this point: The Calvinists argue that humans are, indeed, predestined to their fates, precisely because God can ‘see’ into the future and ‘knows’ how things turn out. They argue how could it be otherwise if God is all knowing and all powerful. As humans, we may THINK we have free will, but that is in effect an illusion.
There are theologians on the other side who argue that if we ARE subject to predestination and do not have an authentic experience of free will, then that defames the human experience and reduces us to little more than slaves to God’s will.
So from a thematic standpoint, what is intrigues me most about Arrival is this question of predestination vs. free will. And I think what screenwriter Heisserer gets at with the very ending of the story, when Louise says “yes” to making a baby, she DOES in fact exercise free will, she DOES have a legitimate choice, she COULD say no, even with the idea that her future is somehow laid out in front of her, visions of which she has already seen.
In a way, the ending of Arrival puts onto the screen the precise pivot point between these two theological schools of thought: Predestination and Free Will, how they can coexist in wholly authentic ways.
I can only imagine the late night discussions at my alma mater Yale University Divinity School about the movie and that moment when Louise says… “yes”.