Arrival (2017)

Friday, June 2, 2017



I’m going to begin by saying that this is not usually my favorite genre. Alien invasion films, to me, always seem a bit repetitive. They always feel a bit too familiar, like they’re just stories being told again and again and again, the same question, “what would we do if aliens invaded our planet?” That is how Arrival is different; it doesn’t feel like the regurgitation that we’re used to. It’s refreshing and new and it enchanted me within the very first minutes. This wasn’t a story about an alien invasion, it was a story about a linguist named Louise Banks.



Louise is an expert linguist that had worked for the government before, and when a number of alien spaceships land around the globe in seemingly random locations, she’s recruited in an attempt to discover what they want. It was fantastic to see Louise’s struggles when trying to get her voice heard, when trying to explain to her team that communication would take time. It was fantastic seeing this sort of film through a woman’s eyes when we’ve been so used to seeing women take a backseat in science fiction.

All throughout the film we’re given flashes of moments that we assume are flashbacks, but in actuality are flash-forwards. She has a daughter who gets terribly sick and passes away at a tragically young age. She has a husband, one that ends up leaving her for reasons we aren’t certain of until the reveal at the end of the film. Bits and pieces fall together to form Louise’s life, and it’s not until the end that we realize we haven’t been watching the story in a line; time has never been linear for us. The opening shot of the film is of her daughter, someone who isn’t even conceived at the start of our main character’s journey.



The use of language in this film was beautiful in itself, how the aliens communicated with circular logograms while we communicate in sentences. They perceive time as going in both directions, able to “remember” things that happen in the future, while we see time as something linear. How linguistic relativity, the theory that the language we speak will shape the way we think, was incorporated. However, our focus is on Louise. With her passion and genuine curiosity, she’s able to understand and read the aliens’ logograms. She soon realizes that learning their language allows her to perceive time the way that they do. This allows her to prevent the imminent attack from China on the alien ships by “remembering” a conversation that hadn’t happened yet. Without her the world wouldn’t have been a united force, something necessary for humanity to aid the aliens in 3,000 years.

So the question that this story is asking us is not, “what would we do if aliens invaded our planet?” The question is much deeper and much more terrifying and much more human. Louise agreed to have a child despite knowing that she would outlive her, and Louise married Ian despite knowing that he would leave her for knowing it all before it happens, “[making] the wrong choice.” She knew the pain and the suffering that her life would bring her, but she knew the joy and love and light that would come from it as well. If you could see all of that, the light and the dark and everything in between, if you could see exactly how your life would turn out, would you do it all again anyway?

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