Thursday, November 24, 2016

film review: Arrival

Janice I went to see Arrival last night.

It’s a thoughtful sci-fi film from Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. It’s a story about 12 mysterious spacecraft that touch down around the world. An elite team – led by Colonel Webber (Forest Whitaker), linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) – are brought together to investigate. As the world teeters towards a military response, the team races against time for answers.

This is not a film that depends on special effects and amazing technology for it’s impact. Arrival takes its time unfolding, but gradually gets under your skin and commands your attention.

It’s a film that draws us in to consider big questions. It's about love, loss, tolerance, compassion, language and non-linear time. it’s a film that asks questions.
  • How do we approach those things, the unknown, that terrifies us?
  • Will man’s tendency toward violence kick in before its science and language leaders can figure out a way to stop it?
  • Why is it important to communicate through language and not action?
  • What would it mean if we could see visions of not just a possible future but our specific future?
  • Would the choices that get us there be any less significant?
  • Would the “gift” of seeing the future be a blessing or a curse?
  • How could a brain that grasps the eternal picture—an all-at-the-same-time awareness—not go insane in a time-bound world?
  • It raises questions about geopolitics and the nature of time and the sanctity of life.
Arrival is a film that remind us that we’ve all had those days when communication breaks down and fear over the unknown sets in. And it is the best of us who persevere, get up from being knocked down and repair that which is broken.

As I reflected on Arrival this morning, I came across some lines from T. S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding” that describe something of the circularity of overlapping departures and arrivals: 
What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.
Or this:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time. 

Eliot (and others) put into words a feeling, an idea that haunts us: that we’re eternal beings in a time-bound world. Little ruptures (liminal spaces and moments) are everywhere:
  • the strange way that joy is so closely related to impermanence and longing;
  • the mysteries of memory, imagination, and dreaming;
  • the oddity of deja vu;
  • the prophetic gifts that Christians chalk up to the Holy Spirit and secularists dismiss as uncanny intuition.
Christians have language for this, because we believe that there is more than we can see, that our being is eternal. C.S. Lewis wrote “if we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world”?

As the characters in Arrival discover, “time” isn’t what they understood it to be: the future, the past, and the present are all the same from the point of view of the heptapods.

I wonder, as we approach Advent, the season when we contemplate the mystery of an eternal God taking on temporal form “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4.4), if Arrival helps us approach the incarnation with fresh insight and an invitation to revisit the familiar story and see afresh the mysteries the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. To quote Eliot again, maybe we will
“arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

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