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  1. Winnie the Shit



    What’s your take on Arrival? I watched both Arrival and Doctor Strange with my wife, and she found both to be a little weird, but Doctor Strange was more entertaining.


    I really wanted to like Arrival. I love slow and ponderous science fiction. 2001, Star Trek TMP, both versions of Solaris… slow and philosophical is not a problem for me.

    The first half of the movie, where they were wrestling with the basics of communicating with the aliens, was right up my alley. My problem was with the big twist, where SPOILER ALERT they reveal that learning the aliens’ language gives you their ability to see the future, and then the movie abruptly ends. Record scratch…

    Communicating with aliens is already an interesting enough premise to carry a good movie. Hell, Stanislaw Lem based two weighty novels (Solaris, and His Master’s Voice) on exploring the concept of communicating with the truly alien). So the big twist in Arrival really felt like a sharp and unnecessary detour from what was already an interesting concept. Moreover, it takes a strong suspension of disbelief to buy in to the idea that learning a language can give someone the power to experience non-linear time.

    I can put aside my disbelief if a concept is interesting enough and explored in some new way (lathe time manipulation in Doctor Strange worked for me, for example), but Arrival doesn’t do that. “By the way, she can see the future… The End.” Are you kidding me? Being able to see the future raises all kinds of questions about free will, fate, human nature and our place in the Universe, and this film just glosses over all that in its rush to finish. What happens when people learn their fates, and, unlike the protagonists, decide they want to change it? (If you foresee a plane crash, would you still try to catch that flight?) When people can figure out years ahead of time what the consequences of their choices will be (who to date, where to work, etc), what will happen to society?

    The film doesn’t even try to explore any of these consequences… our protagonist just decides to go down her preordained path, and teach others how to see the future as well, without seeming to even understand the magnitude of the changes this would bring. “Oh, we’ll all just communicate better” seems to be the only side effect of giving everyone the power to see the future, according to the film.

    One of my favourite time travel movies is Primer, where the filmmakers didn’t hesitate to dive in to the messy and complex consequences of giving its protagonists the ability to know the future. The timeline quickly devolves into a chaotic mess, and that is with just two people having access to time machines. Arrival, on the other hand, uses non-linear time as a contrivance to answer a plot riddle, without seeming to care about the enormous questions it raises in the process.

    Too bad… I’d really wanted to like the film.

    1. scottsigler

      Winnie: The main thing that struck me was a realistic, alien alien, not a human with blue skin and some strange facial bumps. I was blown away with the thought that went into creating the aliens. As for the rest of the movie, that style of storytelling (no spoilers, hard to communicate what I mean without them) is usually not my cup of tea but this time I thought it was well-done.

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