By Caleb Bobrycki
Image Credit: Paramount Pictures
When twelve alien space crafts land in seemingly random parts of the world, the military hires Linguist Professor, Louise Banks (Adams); and Mathematician, Ian Donnelly (Renner), to figure out the aliens’ purpose. Louise embarks on a journey of politics almost-war that will change and redefine her entire life.
Most critics are calling Arrival the best film from Denis Villeneuve so far. He has gone above and beyond in showing his skill in crafting an intriguing story, yet never at the expense of meaning and symbolism. We see this in his previous pictures Enemy, Prisoners, and Sicario, on which I wrote last year. Arrival is his first sci-fi, which is exciting since he is currently making the sequel to Ridley Scott’s classic Blade Runner; he has well-proven his ability to tell amazing stories, even with a larger budget.
One of Villeneuve’s greatest achievements with this film is the many weighty themes throughout, such as, the paradox of time, language barriers, enjoying life in light of death, and much more. I have linked below a very helpful spoiler video in understanding the many themes of Arrival, by Rami Mahdy from The AtZ Show. Most exciting is the incredible message of communication with one another. As our main character learns to communicate with the aliens, she realizes that the aliens long for the humans to communicate with one another.
The Importance of Communication
Without getting into any spoilers, suffice it to say that Arrival’s largest contribution to our theology is our need to communicate with one another. Again, our need to communicate with each other better is emphasized as Louise Banks learns to communicate with the aliens. What is the significance? Perhaps the significance in communicating with each other while communicating with the aliens is the fact that we cannot have one without the other. Let me word it this way: if we want to understand the aliens, we must understand each other; if we want to understand each other, we must understand the aliens. I cannot delve too deeply without spoiling the film, so I will tread lightly, but just in case, I advise you see Arrival before finishing this article. I hope these comparisons will cause us to be a people who love God’s Communication toward us.
In the film, the aliens’ language is circular, whereas ours is linear. Our main characters say that language affects the way the mind operates, therefore, since their language is, for lack of a better word, eternal, their minds lack the barriers of time and space. There are obvious barriers between the human and alien language, since we are so linear and frail in our thinking and languages. This is not trite in our theological connections.
Discard, for a moment, the textually critical baggage that often comes with translations of the Bible and consider: God has spoken. When we come to the Word of the Living, eternal God, we are coming in contact with a God whose “language” and thoughts and, unlike the aliens, whole existence does not have any barriers of time or space. Let us wonder at the impossibility, without the Holy Spirit, to understand the mind of such a Holy and set-apart God.
But what does this have to do with communication with one another? Let me state an above statement, but replace “aliens” with “God”, and “one another” with “the church”: if we want to understand God, we must understand the church; if we want to understand Christ’s church, we must understand his Father. If we want to know and love our God, we must know and love his people; if we want to know and love his people, we must know and love their God. It is so simple that it is paradoxical. God’s Communication to us is holy, and to unlock its mysteries, we need to rally around it together; and yet, the only way we will truly rally together is by the power of the Word! We obviously need the Spirit of Christ to truly understand God together, but one of the ways the Spirit brings us together in through his Word in our investigation of it. The aliens are a prototype of our great God: their desire was for us to learn to get along, despite our differences by unlocking the mysteries of their language in unity. Linear as we may be, let us be a people who unlock paradoxical, circular mysteries in God’s Word together.
Arrival Ending Explained:
Symbolism and Language