Monday, December 11, 2017

Arrival


2016 | Director: Denis Villeneuve | 1 hour 56 minutes |

I have just watched this movie during a weekend's movie marathon. Although it's a sci-fi movie on alien, it has been giving me some philosophical thinking.

"Memory is a strange thing, it doesn't work like I thought it did. We are so bound by time, by its order." 

The words of linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) opens the movie, followed with a quick recap on her life with her daughter Hannah who later died of cancer. Then it brings audience to the day 'they' arrive. They are 12 unidentified extra-terrestrial objects that land on 12 locations worldwide. One of the objects is in Montana.

Charcoal gray and rough to the touch, the objects are suspended in the air with their tips facing downward, making a pretty cool way for an entrance. A few days after their arrival, no humans are abducted, no threats are announced. The objects stay in silence and grace, while the aliens make appearances and give messages in certain time.

Due to her linguistic expertise, Louise is recruited by the US Military to translate the messages and figure out why they are here. To be able to understand the language, Louise goes with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) inside the objects, where gravity takes a holiday. Both manage to establish communication with the heptapod duo, who are later named as Abbot and Costello, after the famous comical duo.

The movie is a bit lagging in the middle, giving audience little bits of information along the way. The conflict in the movie is built through excerpts of missed communication between the 12 countries where the objects are located, news that escalate fear and distrust among the military personnel and scenes of the expert duo working hard to translate the message. I think Amy Adams nails the role perfectly as a calm linguist who works hard to hold everyone down until she manages to get things straight.

Language and communication are the things we do every day and yet, many still can not get or send their messages right. The movie reminds us, through its many beautiful quotes on language and communication, that those fields of study most people look down are actually the ones that tie human together.

  • Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict. - said by Ian Donnelly to Louise Banks in the military aircraft, it's a passage from the preface she wrote.
  • The language you speak determines how you think and see everything. - quoting the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis
  • Like their ship or their bodies, their written language has no forward or backward direction. Linguists call this non-linear orthography, which raises the question,"Is this how they think?" - Ian Donnelly on translating the heptapod language
  • The weapon is their language. They gave it to us. If you learn it, when you really learn it, you begin to perceive time the way that they do, so you can see what's to come. But time, it isn't the same for them. It's non-linear. - Louise Banks

The movie also has a mind-bending ending, which is quite refreshing for a Hollywood production. There is a question in the movie that has been lingering in my mind:

If you can see your whole life from start to end, would you change things?

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