Arrival and The Language of Film.

*Disclaimer: I am not a film expert, nor do I claim to be. However I do love film and through watching (I won’t lie, mainly the appendices on the LOTR extended dvd editions) many films over the years, I have learned a lot. So, with that in mind…gimme a chance.

A few weeks ago myself and my usual viewing partner, (my boyfriend) Jordan, watched Dennis Villeneuve’s Arrival. It had been recommended to me by numerous people, knowing that I love ANYTHING Sci-Fi related, especially if it pushes the boundaries of that genre; Nolan’s Interstellar being another example of this.

Over the last 5/6 years we have began to expect more from Sci-Fi as a genre. No longer can a standard close encounter story grip audiences like they used to. Nor is the almost western style, conquering the frontier, exploration film, enough. As a species we are learning more than ever. Papers on theoretical science are available to the public online, numerous online newspapers and mags keep us up to date with the theories at the forefront of modern day science. My point is this: a Hollywood, Tom Cruise Blockbuster doesn’t cut it anymore; films like that tend to leave us with a hollow, meaningless feeling: throw away.

Villeneuve’s Arrival, however, is most definitely not throw away. I read some reviews that criticised it for trying to be too ‘art cinema’. Contrastingly, others compared it to Nolan’s Interstellar, claiming Arrival has done what Interstellar tried and failed to do. I personally don’t think you can compare them and (don’t worry this isn’t a spoiler) the only thing they have in common is the appearance of a parent child relationship. Interstellar is vast, it places you at the feet of the universe and watches as you look up in awe. Arrival is concentrated, specific, this isn’t a story about space, it isn’t even really a story about aliens; it is a story about language.

Just as the process of learning and teaching a language takes prominence in the film of Arrival, we too, are being taught a new language.

The arts have been communicating what we cannot always say, or express through words or everyday speech for thousands upon thousands of years. What is a language but a way of communicating? Before we had alphabets, letters and numbers we had picture symbols, cave paintings, the visual medium to convey meaning. Paintings are a language, photography is a language and film, is a language. 

Languages change over time, words lose their meaning, some languages even fall from existence entirely; so it is no surprise then that the language of film has changed. Sci-Fi especially, is a film genre that moulds and changes with each generation, fluidly morphing into what the people at that time fear, what they’re thinking about and their ambitions. Take the Wachowski’s The Matrix, a perfectly formed product of the Y2K problem and what the millennium meant for technology and operating systems. Another example of how Sci-Fi has changed and been reborn for a current generation was the hysteria caused by the legendary radio broadcast of H.G Wells’ War of The Worlds by Orson Wells; the panic which ensued after this realistic Halloween eve broadcast is easily linked to the paranoia and fear that Americans had, as a powerful, untouched (for hundreds of years at this point), new superpower, about invasion.

In 2016/2017, with a world and it’s political climate the way it is, it isn’t invasion or a worldwide technological crash that we’re scared of; it’s loneliness, a lack of purpose, a lack of control, a lack of unity. As I have spoken about in my post on the Netflix original The OA, the modern audience – especially the liberal, open minded of us who are frustrated with the close mindedness of the world – craves something to give them hope. Arrival is another of these stories, like The OA, that felt like it needed to be told.

In many ways, Arrival could be more likened to Spielberg’s masterpiece, Close Encounters of The Third Kind; in that,instead of an alien race coming to our planet as a threat, in both circumstances we have the human race being given an opportunity to further themselves. Spielberg’s Close Encounters was released in 1977, with a very clear stance on peace and the unity of the world. Back in 1977, after the free thinking decade of the 60’s, young people felt the same separation to the older generation as we do now, being conscious and aware was becoming more and more important, just as it is in 2017.

All I can ask of the language that Sci-Fi speaks to us is this: keep reinventing yourself, keep giving meaning, keep creating film and fiction that help us to understand the unimaginable, keep giving us hope. Just as the small group of characters in Arrival, headed by Amy Adams’ Dr. Louise Banks, search for a way to communicate, to understand; we all do too. And it’s hard out there, so we could do with the help.

Featured image can be found here.


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