The Year in Liturgical Cinema: Advent

Movie aliens aren't real. That doesn't keep them from raising thought-provoking provoking questions for us today.
The Year in Liturgical Cinema: Advent
Image: Paramount Pictures

“The Liturgical Year in Cinema” is an ongoing series, a personal exploration of the thematic connections between the Christian calendar and films. Advent is the final chapter in this exploration as we celebrate the season of Christmas and Christ coming to Earth as a human being. Read Mayward’s previous reflections on Epiphany, Ash Wednesday, and Ordinary Time

If an alien came to your home, how would you respond?

Would you run away and hide? Shoot first and ask questions later? Attempt to communicate? Give a hug or high-five?

The sci-fi subgenre of “alien arrival” movies invites self-evaluation as we navigate the fantastic experiences of encountering extraterrestrial visitors. These are not stories of invasion or menace (I’m not talking about Independence Day, The Thing, War of the Worlds, etc.) but of an encounter with the ultimate Other: a being which transcends our world and yet chooses to approach ours to intentionally make contact with us. (Caution: Spoilers ahead.)

In the most recent of these films, Arrival, the alien contact begins when 12 large “shells” appear across the globe: The American government charges linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) with learning how to communicate with the heptapods, the creatures’ name derived from their unique seven-sided form. Through many painstaking back-and-forth conversations, Louise discovers that these aliens experience reality in a non-linear fashion; from their language to their physical dimensions to their perspective on time and reality, the heptapods are circular and holistic, a stark contrast to our human way of thinking and being.

The communication barriers explored in the film aren’t restricted to the human-alien relationship, ...

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