Arrival’s Terrifying Vision of a Global ‘Unfriending’
Image: Paramount Pictures

Reader, I confess: I clicked “unfriend” last month. Several times.

Understand, I wasn’t ending friendships. I was respecting them—by refusing to let Facebook’s limitations do them further harm. It troubled me to see conversations we might have enjoyed in person go so horribly awry on social media. And anyway, our heated arguments attracted other angry voices, voices that overwhelmed our debate with snark, hostility, bullying, even hatred. I had to shut things down.

Nevertheless, I lose sleep at night over that “unfriending.” It feels like unforgiveness. It feels like despair.

So Arrival, the new science-fiction feature from director Denis Villeneuve, kicked me where I already hurt.

Arrival, based on Ted Chang’s novella The Story of Your Life, is the kind of mind-bending science fiction that cannot be discussed very thoroughly without revealing the movie’s huge surprises. But I promise to proceed with caution here, so that you can discover its challenging, rewarding, and—for some—confounding revelations for yourself.

Louise (played by Amy Adams) is a linguist who previously worked for the US government. In a time of crisis, she is called upon to help translate strange messages from alien visitors. Twelve spaceships—they look like stylish tower speakers in an extremely expensive 12.1 surround sound system—have come to hover just above the ground at locations all around the world. Where have they come from? What is their purpose here? Is this an act of war or an invitation to a meaningful relationship?

When Louise comes face-to-face with the aliens—quite literally through a glass darkly—she is braver than others in her company. While they remain insulated, fearing contamination, she dares to throw down her armor and reach out.

At this point, Arrival becomes a movie about communication, and what it reveals about our perspective, our experience, and our relationship with time. As Louise opens herself to the way the aliens experience reality, her own perception changes. As she learns to translate their speech, her own speech begins to confuse her colleagues.

This shows why it can be such a frightful prospect to welcome those whose faith, minds, cultures, languages, and perspectives differ from ours. We know that—for better or worse, we will be changed by relationship.

Arrival shows why it can be such a frightful prospect to welcome those whose faith, minds, cultures, languages, and perspectives differ from ours.

In Arrival, the global community—represented by a screen full of anxious ambassadors’ faces—shares information, investigates theories, and attempts to cooperate. But as scientists and linguists struggle to understand the Others, riots break out around the world. Nations arm themselves to deport these illegals with force. Unions collapse. Nations lose hope and give in to fear. And one by one, those ambassadors’ faces slam the door on conversation.

That’s what hurt the most as I watched Arrival. While the movie’s central story is inspirational—I can’t say more without spoilers—I came away burdened by what I’d seen.

October
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Arrival’s Terrifying Vision of a Global ‘Unfriending’