Arrival, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker
–Review by Ashley Linne
SPOILER ALERT: This article contains major spoilers of the film and assumes the reader has already viewed it. For a spoiler-free review consider: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/11/movies/arrival-review-amy-adams-jeremy-renner.html?_r=0.
Every now and then a movie comes along that you simply have to watch twice, because it’s a different movie the second time. I happen to really love movies like that, and Arrival is undoubtedly one of them.
Arrival transcends its genre. It clearly has a sci-fi element—it is about aliens visiting earth and their non-linear conception of time. But it also is a tragically beautiful commentary on the human condition, examining the choice to love even when heartbreak is guaranteed. Not since Gravity have I sobbed my way through a science fiction film.
Within the first few minutes of the movie we learn that alien vessels have descended upon 12 seemingly random locations in the world. Our main character, Louise Banks, is a linguist the military enlists to provide translation of the aliens’ language and is tasked with discovering their purpose for visiting Earth.
It’s nice to see a sci-fi masterpiece without a bunch of violence and bloodshed. I found it interesting that there are no real ‘bad guys’ in this movie. Of course it is easy to assume that the aliens are hostile, and many of the film’s characters do. But Louise sees the beauty in ‘the other,’ and approaches these beings with open-mindedness and a desire to learn from them. She sheds her outward defenses (figuratively and literally), approaching them with deep respect. Eventually we learn the only way for the world to be saved from itself is for all 12 ‘arrival sites’ to work together as one. The film opened the week of the presidential election, which was incredibly appropriate whether it was intentional or not. I have to wonder what our country would be like right now, if, instead of fighting among ourselves, we approached ‘the other’ with the grace Louise approaches aliens from another world.
The linguistic element of Arrival can also be parabolic for the Church. Louise educates her coworkers on the importance of establishing common meaning through language with their new visitors. We do well as Christians when we recognize that to the world, we are the aliens in this scenario. Instead of waiting for a ‘Louise’ to make the first move with us, we must be the ones to take the initiative in establishing dialogue. The first to shed our defenses to make a proper introduction. The ones to create a non-zero-sum game. We also need to be the ones with insight into the future—to see beautiful possibilities in even the hardest of hearts.
The other major theme running through the film is Louise’s decision to marry Ian and have their daughter Hannah, even though she knows from the start that Ian will leave her when she tells him Hannah will die of a rare cancer. What could have been portrayed as an easily dismissed “better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all,” the whole storyline weaves together the very heartbeat of parenthood. I kept thinking of a different Arrival—the Advent of the Christ Child. How the Triune God, who exists outside of our linear perception of time, knew from the foundation of the world the pain and suffering He would endure on Earth… How God knew His very heart would be broken… and how He chose to come as a baby anyway. How He chose to love humanity anyway. How He chose to suffer and die anyway.
In the end, we learn the aliens’ purpose for visiting Earth is to save their future selves by finding allies in humans. Louise is the recipient of the aliens’ gift: their complex written language, which brings with it the ability to transcend time and gives Louise the ability to see and ‘remember’ the future. Her vulnerability and courage unify humanity and, 3000 years in the future, save a race from another world.
This film is rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
Wow – wonderful review, Ashley.Such a great comparison to the coming of Jesus into the world of flesh and blood, and all that being a human means. Wouldn’t it be interesting to think of the complex written language that Louise receives as the language of semiotics, which is the ability to read not just the words but the signs/pictures of the future? Enjoyed this very much – thanks!
Yes!! Semiotics is the term I would use to encompass it, too. 🙂