I watched this movie because my mom plopped me in front of the TV and made me watch it. And I was not disappointed. While the story of a linguist and a physicist may seem dry on paper, the movie takes it way deeper. This review might contain spoilers, but I promise it will be 1/100 th as good as the movie, so you should still watch it :).
The conflicting reactions to aliens landing on the planet is something that I think really connects to the current events of our time. While the Chinese in the movie take an extremely defensive approach from the beginning when the aliens (septapods) mention a phrase that is understood as weapon they go as far as to almost starting a worldwide offensive on them, without taking time to try and completely understand their intentions. Not to get too political, but I feel that this directly relates to the treatments and perspectives that refugees and immigrants have been receiving in this country, and as the movie shows, taking time to understand where they are coming from makes a world of difference. I think everyone, including our political leaders, can take a look at this refreshing perspective on the world’s treatment of the unknown.
Towards the end of the movie (SPOILER ALERT), we learn that the “weapon” the aliens speak of is their language, allowing them and those who understand it to see through time. This led towards some crazy reflection on my part. The protagonist within the movie gains the ability to see through time, seeing some unfortunate things in her future, but she chooses not to change it. I don’t know if I could be that strong, and while seeing through time may seem cool, the optimist in me is hiding in a corner from that possibility.
So while this review touches on only two main themes within the movie, I would highly recommend taking a look at it yourself. I could 10 times and still pick up on new things. But don’t only take my word for it!
I’m going to take my review in a different direction than Kasey. I will agree with her about how great the movie was. When the day comes that we are approached or we approach another life form from this vast universe, I hope we as a people can stay as calm and collected as this movie portrayed. Granted, I know that won’t be true, but what is life without some hope.
I want to discuss the importance of language throughout the film. I am a scientist, I study math, I have grown up learning that math is THE universal language, because no matter what 1 plus 1 will ALWAYS equal 2. At one point, the two scholars meet each other on the way to one of the landing sites, one a physicist of sorts and the other a linguist. I know if I was in this situation I would want to hastily approach the situation like the physics did – how did you get here, show me your equations, energy source?
It was eye opening then to see what the linguist had to say. There is at one point where a higher up in command in the army is getting frustrated with the amount of time it is taking to get information from these creatures. Dr. Banks, the linguist, then takes us through a simple sentence.
“What is your purpose on Earth?”
Here is what Dr. Banks says about this.
“To get there, we have to make sure they understand what a question is, and the nature of a request for information along with the response. Then there is clarifying the difference between a specific “you” from a collective “you.” We don’t want to know why Joe Alien is here, we what to know why all of them landed. Purpose requires an understanding of intent. Which means we have to find out if they make conscious choices or if their motivation is so instinctive they don’t understand a “why” question, and biggest of all, we need to have enough vocabulary with them so we understand their answer.”
This there was more to just those six words than I had even thought about. We all take our own language for granted. There is so much more to language than what we take at face value. This scene made me want to drop out and go study language. I imagined myself in Dr. Banks’ shoes and wanted to be that person.
This last part contains spoilers of sorts:
One last thing I wanted to talk about, the beauty of the language these aliens “speak.” It reads the same forward and backwards. It’s shape is circular and each “sentence” seems like a piece of abstract art. This part helps tie into the non linear timeline of the story and the nonlinear aspect of life after one learns this language. These circles can be broken down into segments, each describing and telling its own complex string of words. The extra neat thing is the producers made this an actual language of sorts for the movie. They had 71 circles that if studied one could figure out the language. In the end, Dr. Banks write’s a book on how this circle language is the universal language. If that book were real, I would read it in a heartbeat. Until then, I guess I have to stick with math and maybe go read the actual book this movie was based on.
How many times have you left a movie theater wanting to be a better person or leave you in awe? Not many. Going into the theater, I expected this movie to be about aliens but what I didn’t expect was so much more. It challenges you to think while you’re watching and after the movie has ended. There are linguists, language barriers, physics, time travel, the foretold future and past. I think the word, “Humanity” is key here. This movie also showed humanity at its best and at its darkest in some ways.
I found Arrival to be deeply moving, beautifully told, and very entertaining. What would we do if aliens came to Earth and tried to make contact? How would we react? Would we try to understand them or destroy them? If you could see your future in its entirety, would you change it? Can you believe in something if you can’t understand it? These are all questions we don’t often ask ourselves let alone our friends.
In addition, the acting and cinematography played beautifully together from beginning to end. Arrival made me reflect on my own life and what I take for granted. It reminded me to live in the moment, challenge myself, and to keep believing in others. I left the theater feeling different, in a good way.