When the Future Is Hard to Recall

Episodic Memory and Mnemonic Aids in Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival

in Projections

Puzzle films like Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (2016) present challenges not only for viewers, but also for scientists seeking to understand brain functions such as memory formation, because these films deliberately scramble the temporal and spatial contexts that viewers normally rely on to create mental narratives and to form episodic memories. The strategic shuffling of multiple plotlines and chronologies in Arrival ultimately builds to an illusion of clairvoyance in the viewer, the imaged sensation of being able to see into the future, alongside the protagonist, Louise Banks. In order to create this “special effect” within viewers’ memories—a false memory of the narrative’s future—Villeneuve seeds the film with key pieces of information that viewers must hold in memory before ultimately solving the puzzle at the end and enjoying a special form of catharsis in the process.

Projections

The Journal for Movies and Mind