Simon, thanks for your reflections.
Re free will: I would draw a distinction between the possibility of free will and the exercise of free will. My theological point is that Louise would at least have to have the possibility in order for her choice to have any true meaning. If it were completely predestined — not just Hannah’s life and death, Ian leaving the marriage, but Louise’s choice —then that pivotal moment of her response to “want to make a baby” loses its dramatic impact. As you say, if she had said “No,” that would have been a clear exercise in free will, but made for a crummy ending! Having the possibility to say “no”, which is what I think is going on there in that exact moment of her choice, is enough to satisfy both the thematic / theological point I raised AND the entertainment value of a character making a crucial decision.
A key question — theme if you will — in Arrival is this: Who are you? Louise is in essence asking this of the aliens with regard to their intention in showing up, learning their language as a means of determining an answer. Indeed in taking off her helmet — a choice she makes — she is moving beyond looking at them as The Other to acting on her own instinct and seeing them as You.
“Who are you” is a question which arises in her relationship with Shang: Is he a warmonger willing to permit humanity to initiate a battle against the aliens and perhaps each other? The dying words of his wife — “War doesn’t make winners, only widows” — is what Louise conveys to Shang on the phone which causes him to stand down, a choice he makes.
And “who are you” is a question that comes up throughout the thread of ‘memories’ about Hannah leading up to the moment she says “yes” — Will she choose to live THAT life or not? Parent or not? Wife or not?
That’s the story’s central theme or, at least, question, as far as I’m concerned.
Your observations re collaboration, I think, are absolutely at work in the story: Collaboration with Ian, collaboration with the aliens, nations collaborating with each other. Some don’t collaborate, acting out of fear, like the young soldiers who try to destroy the alien ship. But again the question: Who are you? Which seems to be underlying the challenge put forth by the aliens to humanity. They wouldn’t have come to Earth if they did not believe that we, as a species, would respond FAVORABLY to their appearance and message because they NEED US to help them in 3,000 years.
So a lot going on thematically with arrival and we have to add communication to the list, don’t we?
Thanks for your observations, Simon. Glad you shared them.