'Arrival' film review

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I'd been looking forward to watching 'Arrival' for the last few months and, fortunately, it didn't disappoint. I do like thoughtful science fiction movies and although Hollywood can produce some absolute turkey sci-fi films, along with a steady stream of macho-xenophobic-US-centric tosh, they can also make some excellent offerings. Contact with Jodie Foster was excellent, so was Gravity (which was actually filmed mostly in London's Soho), along with the Stephen Soderberg remake of 'Solaris'. I even liked Matt Damon's 'The Martian', or at least until the schmaltz and woefully impossible orbiting times in the latter half of that movie tarnished the story.

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Arrival revolves around Amy Adam's character, an academic linguist who studies language structures as well as knowing multitudes of languages fluently. Although the film is supposed to be about the aliens, it's really about her as a mother, (mild plot spoilers) overcoming a family tragedy. For anyone who blurts out 'but that's exactly the premise of Sandra Bullock's character in Gravity!' I can only say that it seems to currently be the view in Hollywood that the only type of woman who can reach out to the stars and be intelligent and resourceful has to have seriously suffered as a mum.

Louise (for that is Amy Adams' character's name) is asked to try and understand the communications of some aliens that have arrived on Earth. From this point on, the film explores some clever ideas, including a circular written language that does not proceed in a linear fashion and how understanding this language can free a person from perceiving time. There is dramatic action in the movie, including a big explosion, some guns and a desperate cellphone call, which is all fun but it's the ideas that, for me, really make the movie shine.

Interestingly, on a science theory note, Prof Jahn and others have actually shown that our minds have the capacity to remotely perceive events in other times and places. I've also been explaining in my book How Science Shows… that science proves to us that our minds originate from outside of physical reality. This has to be the case in order for Life to exist and to explain the paradoxes of the Big Bang. This theory shows us that our minds, theoretically, are not constrained by the present. In fact, the passage of time may actually a creation of our minds and does not actually exist in of itself, an idea described in the ancient Zen story of the two monks looking at a flag waving in the breeze:

Two young monks stared at flags, flapping in the wind. One said ‘the flags are moving’. The other disagreed. ‘No’, he said, ‘the wind is moving’. An older monk, passing by, shook his head. ‘You are both wrong,’ he stated. ‘It is not the flags or the wind that move, it is your minds.’

‘Huineng’s flag’ - Zen koan.


'Arrival' does a great job introducing these concepts to a wide audience, for which I think it should be applauded.

As a small criticism of the film, I would say that Jeremy Renner's character seems to have been tacked on to give the story a romantic element; he's a theoretical physicist but spends the entire movie making sympathetic noises to Adams' character, along with a bit of pattern analysis. I think she'd have been better off with a HAL 9000. She doesn't hug Jeremy with a great deal of enthusiasm, maybe she'd prefer a gentle voice and a red bulb?

One depressing element of the film is that the United States appears to be a country where the military do everything of any importance, even if there's no sign of hostility. The military also seem to be viewed in the film as a good second choice to civil democracy, should any problems of any kind occur. This is a worrying strategy, as all militaries are rigidly hierarchical and generally obey all orders without question. Considering who's at the top in the U.S. now, this seems like a disaster waiting to happen.

Overall, I really enjoyed 'Arrival'. I enjoyed it as much as I didn't enjoy 'The Force Awakens'. I was especially pleased that 'Arrival' was philosophical, in the same way that the first Star Wars film was philosophical (although even that wonderful classic of cinema wasn't perfect). One final compliment; I thought Amy Adams was excellent in the title role and that commendation has nothing at all to do with the fact that I have a soft spot for redheads. :-)