Arrival is a movie that was released in 2016 and described by Rotten Tomatoes as follows, "Arrival delivers a must-see experience for fans of thinking person's sci-fi that anchors its heady themes with genuinely affecting emotion and a terrific performance from Amy Adams." It received a critic's ranking of 94% and an audience score of 82%. Being a fan of science fiction and looking for a "must-see" movie I decided to watch the movie last night. If you plan on watching the movie in the future you should probably stop reading this blog post. Let me give you the Mad Welshman's review of Arrival.
The movie begins with a contrived and manipulative series of images of the featured character, who's name I forget and played by Amy Adams, as she gives birth to a daughter who eventually dies in her teen years of some unnamed "rare illness." I am a sap for a sad death tale as much as the next emotionally secure fellow but this one was presented with no backdrop and no given reason for why I should care about either the daughter or the mother. As a result, I didn't care about the daughter or the mother and I was immediately put off by the movie, looking at it from the outside with no care or concern for the characters.
After the girl dies we jump to the present and find Amy teaching languages at some college on the day a group of 12 alien spaceships arrive at various places on the face of the earth. As expected, none of them landed in Wales. Also as expected, some landed in the Socialist Democracy of Amerika, China and Russia. At this point the typical plot development revolves around why the aliens have come to earth. Are they here to kill us all? Are they here to enslave us all? Or are they here to give us lots of presents? The movie tries to develop tension around the question of their "purpose in coming to earth" but fails miserably to do so.
It was refreshing that rather than moving to an immediate series of action scenes in which various military forces engage the gigantic egg-like spaceships, the movie decided to go down the road of trying to figure out how to communicate with the gigantic squid-like looking aliens. I found that portion of the movie most engaging as Amy uses all of her linguistic skills, as well as some genuine moxie, as she bravely engages the aliens while the military cowers in the background. She eventually forms a bond with two aliens, whom she names Abbot and Costello, and the process of figuring out why they have come to earth begins.
As expected a couple of military types begin to develop itchy fingers. These guys are all action and they believe it is time to start killing some aliens. I must admit that I also appreciate the portrayal of the military as a bunch of neanderthals intent upon nothing but violence and empire expansion. I thought that portion of the movie was quite accurate. Why the military powers decide that the aliens constitute a threat is never clearly defined, other than a vague reference to the possible use of the word 'weapon' in one of the alien communications. That was all they needed and the next thing we know China, Russia and the SDA are preparing to blow the aliens to smithereens. Movie watchers are left wondering why it is so important to start killing these clearly benign creatures.
Along the way various pot-shots are taken at different groups. Although the references are veiled, they seem to me to have been thinly veiled. One of the primary protagonists that inflames the military to start killing aliens is a caricature of Glenn Beck. At one point Amy is speaking on the telephone with her worried mother and she tells her to quit watching "that news channel" because the people there are "all idiots." It is not hard to figure out which cable news network she is referring to. All of this is expected in any movie that comes out of Hollywood so I was not offended by it. In fact, I found it mildly amusing.
As Amy is running around trying to keep the Russians, Chinese and Amerikans from blowing up the alien space ships she manages to find out that their mission is indeed beneficent. They have come because they have seen the future and the future, at least for the earth, is not good. In 3000 years, she is told, something terrible is going to happen to the earth. Not to worry though, the aliens have something, mistakenly interpreted as a "weapon," that will keep us all alive a bit longer. I couldn't help but think that the cause of our future demise had to be global warming, although no specific reference was ever made to it.
The big surprise ending has to do with time travel and all the standard errors are made in regards to the concept of space/time. Science fiction writers have long used the concept of time travel to cover gaping holes in their scripts and this story is no different. At the end of the movie we discover that the aliens comprehend time differently than we do and they share their gift of being able to see the future with Amy. While sharing their gift with Amy they give her some specific information about the Chinese military leader who is spearheading the war with the aliens. She quickly grabs a cell phone, calls him up and impresses him with her knowledge about his life so much he decides to call off the attack. Even positing the possibility of time travel this portion of the movie makes no chronological sense whatsoever. It was best to not even attempt to figure it out. The aliens, however, have had enough with man's evil intentions and they dissipate into space, never to be seen again I suppose.
Space/time is not a box, it is a dimension that moves forward in a linear fashion. It does not oscillate. It does not leave a trail in the past nor does it project a path for the future. Space/time does not exist in all moments along the continuum of itself. The concept of moving forward or backward through time is an interesting way to create dramatic story lines but it has nothing to do with the real world. In the real world there is only one time and that is now. The past is past and the future is not yet. There is no place for a time traveler to go in the real world because neither the past nor the future exist. I appreciate a good story as much as anyone and using the absurd concept of time travel is a way to create a good story but Arrival uses it to ill effect.
The entire message of the movie ultimately has nothing to do with time travel, space aliens, the aggressive tactics of the military, the stupidity of conservatives, the inevitable reality of global warming killing off all human beings or even the death of Amy's daughter from a rare and incurable disease. I was able to see the end of the movie well before it arrived, as I suspect most movie watchers were also able to do. At the very end of the movie we discover that Amy's flashbacks to her earlier life in which she was married and had a child that died young are really yet in the future. To the surprise of nobody, the man she is working side by side with as she attempts to communicate with the aliens is her future husband. We learn that he is a colossal jerk and will abandon her and his daughter the moment he finds out about her illness. So here is Amy's dilemma....should she marry this guy who will eventually walk out on her and have a daughter with him who will die young of a terrible disease? She knows what is going to happen and none of it appears very fun. What should she do? Those of you who have seen the movie know the answer. I will not tell those of you who have not. To me it really did not matter in the slightest because by this point in time I had experienced so many bait and switch plot twists I no longer cared about anything any of the characters did.