‘Arrival’ explores alienating force of language

Arrival is without a doubt the best movie I’ve seen all this year and, funnily enough, I almost regret choosing it as the topic for this week’s review. I could fill the entire paper with a discussion on this movie and only just barely scratch the surface, so talking about it in such a short-form format feels almost disrespectful.

The story follows two scientists, a linguist played by Amy Adams and a physicist played by Jeremy Renner, who are recruited by the US government after 12 alien vessels land at different points all around the world. Their task is to try and communicate with the aliens and find out what it is they are after.

For me, the best thing about this movie was how different it was from typical “first encounter” movies. In other films, the aliens are either benevolent humanoids who are capable of full human speech for some reason (The Day the Earth Stood Still) or generic villains who need to be repelled (Independence Day).

Arrival presents a more realistic approach and shows what a first encounter with an intelligent alien life would actually look be like. The entire movie revolves around Adams and Renner trying to learn the alien language while also teaching them how to understand us.

Language is something we tend to take for granted, but Arrival shows just how limiting it can actually be. Not only do the aliens not speak English, they have a completely different understanding of concepts, such as identity, which complicates makes communication. even harder.

There’s a great scene where Adams explains why using games to help explain basic concepts – as one country does in the film – is inherently problematic because it means all understanding is firmly rooted in conflict and a win/lose binary.

There are plenty of scenes like this where the main characters discuss language and how it affects us in ways we might not even realise.

In fact, this concept forms the basis of the film’s mind-blowing twist. I won’t spoil too much here, but keen viewers should pay attention to when Adams’s character explains how different languages change the way we understand and interact with the world.

This is a movie unafraid to tackle deep philosophical issues and because of that, may put off people looking for something lighter. However, if you want to see an honest-to-goodness intelligent science-fiction film, then Arrival is definitely for you.


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