3 Stars – Thought-provoking

Time has been a favorite subject in science fiction films.  In most films time is seen as a linear experience going from a single beginning to an ultimate end, yet people manipulate it in some way to either visit the past or go into the future.  However, in Denis Villeneuve’s film Arrival, time is explored not as linear but as a cyclical experience.  If true, this would mean that if we adequately understood the language of time we could access the future as we can the past, with both being a form of “memory.”  Based on a story by Ted Chiang and adapted for the screen by Eric Heisserer this film explores just such a reality.

The basic theme of this film is the common sci-fi situation:  Aliens have come to our planet and we are trying to discover their intention.  Do they come as friend or foe?  In this version of the archetypal tale, twelve identical ships have appeared over a dozen different nations.  The story focuses primarily on the ship that has been “assigned” to the United States.  Like clockwork, every eighteen hours the door on the bottom of the concave-oblong shaped vessel opens to invite the humans access. 

Under the direction of Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker), the military has invited two scholars with top clearance, a physicist and a linguist, to make first contact.  The linguist is Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and the scientist is Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner).  Predictably these two are single and there is professional respect and relational chemistry between them.  What is not as obvious is that their relationship is central to the arrival of the aliens in ways that are neither predictable or expected.  We won’t spoil this fascinating partnership.

Not as unique is the predictable government/military response that is ready to attack at the slightest misunderstanding.  Similarly, the fear-filled protests by the citizens of the various nations fuels the generals who are trained to see threat and respond with force.

The question of how we should respond to the arrival of life capable of visiting us from beyond our atmosphere is answered at the end of the film in a way that is not well developed.  The answers that are given and Louise’s part of that resolution is lacking enough description to make it understandable.  But that resolution is not the primary purpose of the film and what happens between Louise and Ian in the timeliness of their relationship is the central message.  As such it fulfills its purpose and provokes our thoughts in new and engaging ways.  That is the purpose of this genre of cinema.


  1. Vajrayana Buddhism posits the cyclical nature of history known as Kalachakra. Do think it possible that time is cyclical?  On what information do you base your opinion?  The Christian world view is that time is His-story, and that the author has a specific purpose in beginning and ending this linear experience.  Which do you this fits our shared experience most adequately?
  2. The fact that language impacts the way our minds’ think about reality means that languages are both a result of what we think and create what we think.  How has your language impacted your view of personal responsibility, cause and effect, as well as purpose in life?
  3. The use of the question of why the aliens have come is stated in the form of purpose.  How would your purpose change if you knew the future as well as the past?


Posted on December 14, 2016 and filed under 3 STARS, THOUGHT-PROVOKING.