No doubt you will have seen the rave reviews for Arrival. No doubt you will have read how great the acting, cinematography, story and score are (and they really are great) but that isn’t what I want to talk about. I want to talk about the approach that this film took.
I want to talk about how this film decided that there’s a very good chance that if aliens did come to Earth they might not necessarily want to automatically kill us all. Lets face it, that’s pretty much the go to idea; why would aliens want to communicate with us and expand both of our species through shared knowledge and technologies when they can blow us up and stuff? All those buildings falling down and rousing speeches are pretty cool though, right?
Do people tend to make alien films into alien invasion films because it’s easier to make cool set pieces and explosions than make a film that asks real questions and explores interesting concepts? Or is it because if we ever actually met extraterrestrial life our own automatic response would be to kill it, so we presume that they would have the same faults as humanity?
Not wanting to sound too political but there’s plenty of prejudices amongst humans that leads to killings and war… and that’s just because we can’t decided who’s God is better or we don’t like someone because they grew up somewhere different to us. It’s a very realistic possibility that if aliens came to Earth we’d probably start a war with them, because that’s what humans do best when they meet something different. Plus there’d obviously be the added complexity of not being able to communicate. But that doesn’t mean that the aliens would want to kill us, we cannot say that they would have our prejudices or even a notion of prejudice.
Communication is where Arrival comes in. The aliens in Arrival aren’t here to kill us and, for once, humanity are trying to communicate with them rather than blow them up. (Although there are a lot of big guns knocking about ready to blow things up if they get the chance.)
Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams), an expert linguist, is brought in to try and establish communication with the aliens, later named as Heptapods. The end goal is to get the answer to the question ‘What is your purpose on Earth?’. Again, this is where Arrival takes a different approach to the majority of alien on Earth films. The Heptapods can’t, obviously, understand any form of human language because… well, how the hell would they? Too many alien films lazily decide that they all know English via some nondescript technology. They then use that technology to talk some smack about our mothers and tell us they’re going to kill us all before attempting to blow us up. Noticing the blowing stuff up pattern?
Having studied, all be it briefly, how we learn and pick up language, it was fascinating to see how humans might go about trying to talk to a being that has developed in a completely different way to us. This is why Arrival is the best aliens visit Earth film that there is. It approaches it very much from a sense of what if this actually happened? What would happen? There’s a battle between those who are striving for communication and knowledge and those who simple want to find out what kind of threat it is and how best to destroy it. And if that isn’t an analogy for the way the worlds going then I don’t know what is.
In the trailer for this film we hear Dr Banks exclaim ‘I know why they’re here’ and the deeper I got into the film the more I was dreading that the filmmakers would take the easy way out. I was loving it that much that even though the rest of the film was unique it would be horrible for it to descend into the cliche of ‘yes they’re here to kill us.’ Instead they’ve come here to give us a gift, a gift that we can use and they give us in good faith so that in the future we may help them. Even with all their technology, it seems, the heptapods are naive. The majority of humanity rarely want to help anyone out if they can avoid it. Yet it’s interesting to see someone exploring, whether intentionally or not, the idea (and very real possibility) than extraterrestrials wouldn’t have our trust issues and would give us something in the hope that we would one day do something for them.
So why is this so important? Why does it matter that Arrival takes the approach that is does? For me it’s a simple answer. The world is full of hate. People love to hate. There’s horribly cliche sayings and songs about it but at a base level it’s quite true. With all the goings on around the world; including the UK’s decision to leave the EU and the USA’s decision to vote in Trump, it seems like people are very much saying ‘we want to be left alone’ and anyone they don’t like can be met with hostilities. Whereas most alien invasion films unite us under one banner, Arrival isn’t so naive. It’s hard to see anything uniting the world as one force and Arrival very much takes this opinion as even the arrival of spaceships all over the world only brings a short lived, uneasy truce between nations. So not only is Arrival a film that breaks the cliches of what we have come to expect of this genre, it also doesn’t force the flaws of humanity onto a completely different species and it’s a film very much set in the current political and world climate.
There’s so much good coming from this film and so much of it stems from the very core foundation of not every living species would be as terrible as the human race.
Seen Arrival and got an opinion? Let me know what you think! You can find me on twitter at @MJHall94 or @Fortnightlypod. Let’s have a discussion!