Like ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Starman, Independence Day and a host of similar films over the past 30 years, Arrival explores the theme of an alien visitation to earth. In this version, Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams) is a linguistic expert who is called upon by the US military to facilitate conversation with visitors from another world, whose spacecraft have landed (actually not quite landed, for they hover a few feet off the ground) at a number of locations around the globe.
This meditative film has a great deal to tell us about communication, language and the patience required to enter into the cultural environment of a higher intelligence. As such, it speaks, whether its director and writer intended it or not, about God’s distinctive manner of communication and the process by which we come to understand it.
To her infinite surprise, Louise one night is whisked to a remote site in Montana, where she is briefed, encased in a suffocating protective suit and then brought into the presence of the aliens, who turn out to be octopus-like creatures, moving slowly about in a liquid environment. After recovering from her initial astonishment, Louise commences to reach out to her strange interlocutors, writing a few simple words on a cardboard and indicating their meaning through gesture.
Almost immediately, the creatures respond by squirting an ink-like substance which, presumably under their intelligent direction, forms itself into calligraphically rendered circles. This is their unique, highly sophisticated and utterly alien language. Much of the quiet drama of Arrival occurs as Louise endeavours to understand this qualitatively different form of communication.
What she comes to grasp is that any attempt at “translation” of this strange argot in the ordinary sense of the term would be futile. For as she enters into the world of the extraterrestrials, she comprehends that their symbol system bears a distinctive, quasi-mystical relationship to time and that she is receiving from her conversation partners much more than mere information.
Lest I spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it, I won’t go any further into the plot. But I would like to elaborate upon what this film says, at least implicitly, in regard to what we call Divine evelation.
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