This is the second take on my earlier short-form article about goggle-boxing a movie. For those of you who are interested – this draft owes its life to my enduring battle against SEO, and the internet, and a hundred other things which I am sure I will talk about, at length and with a terrible Fleisch Reading Score – at a later date….
So, we got around to seeing Arrival the other night, and damn if that isn’t a nice little piece of specfic weirdness! Which I should have expected, coming as it does from the pen of Ted Chiang (Tower of Babalon, Lifecycle of Software Objects, and the novella that Arrival is based on; Story of Your Life). Not having read the novella, I was anticipating the main character Louise Banks to break into a Kwisatz Haderach moment, but what director Villeneuve achieved was far better. Human and profound, Villeneuve keeps on pulling back on the arg-intersteller-war sort of action, and instead piles all the rising tension into the encounter between self and Other which is at the heart of the movie.
There’s too-obvious comparisons to draw between first contact scenarios and, say, imperial contact of indigenous tribes, or the flood of globalization(s) into pre-consumer economy. The Heptapods have something to offer, and that immediately throws all of the local-scale political economies into a tizz as each human economy fears that another will get it and destabilize everything. So far, that seems pretty accurate in historical terms. Just about every old world power brokered and armed different First People’s tribes against each other in their struggle for the ‘New World’ [sic].
I found Arrival a much more satisfying take on alien encounter than say, Signs and Cloverfield. Although, to be fair, you can’t really compare the sort of cerebral Arrival with the monster-stomps that the others are. The film is aware of the whiff of scientific-transhumanism (that I actually really like in my science fiction), but is in all probability, deeply troubling in reality. The Heptapods have a technology (“the gift”) which will evolve humanity, if they allow it too, and if they don’t kill each other for it. What saves the movie from the moral quagmire of ‘having a technology save us from ourselves’ are, funnily, the most understated parts of the film in my view. At the end, Professor Banks quite pointedly doesn’t use the technology to save her future. She wants her life, her loves, and her losses. Or in other words, dude: it’s not about waiting for technology to save you, it’s about living with your own choices.
Of course, watching the film I was reminded of that Calvin and Hobbes quote: Calvin says something like “you know the surest sign of intelligent life outside our solar system is that none of it has visited us yet.”
I’m sure that the First Peoples, the Trobriander Islanders, and many other peoples around the world could empathize with that sentiment.
God forbid that the Intergalactic Space Squids of Beetlegeuse (or whomever) ever decide to make first contact with Earth, as right now we’d probably either nuke them, or ask for their immigration status.
Oh, and Villeneuve is the guy working on the Bladerunner reboot – so nails are being bitten and geekery is being loaded as we speak.