The Effective Science Fiction of Arrival
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The Effective Science Fiction of Arrival


Science fiction lies somewhere between reality
and fantasy. A unique playground for speculation, examining
our humanity either as a telescope observing what we might become or as a microscope magnifying
what we are made of. A place where complex themes or theories can
be explored to the extremes of our imagination. Thankfully, cinematic technology has advanced
to the point where most of what we can think of can be placed on to the screen. But this has also facilitated the production
of subpar attempts that simply borrow some of the concepts of time travel, AI, first
contact and space travel as a narrative tool to advance a story without any attempt at
exploring them. Sometimes they start with an interesting concept
but fall flat beyond the synopsis or the sci-fi elements are only used as backdrops to tell
a known story in a different way. Not that that can’t be good or entertaining,
but I feel we should strive for something more
, especially now that we have the technology and that science fiction is taken seriously
and appreciated by the general audience. I think we should take the time to tell much
more compelling science fiction stories. Like one of my favorite recent movies: Arrival. In today’s video we will be examining Arrival’s
believable approach to a first contact story and what makes it such an effective science
fiction movie. And as with any of our videos, heavy spoilers
will follow. -Where did you come from? [Alien noises] -Now you heard it. -What do you make of it? -Is that… -…Yes First off, Arrival is not your typical Hollywood
sci-fi blockbuster. There aren’t any space battles, earth-shattering
explosions or futuristic gadgets or tech. Just normal people doing their jobs with currently
available technology during an extraordinary event. Denis Villeneuve wanted the film’s cinematographer,
Bradford Young, to approach the movie as a “boring Tuesday morning then the aliens show
up”. He wanted the movie to look like a “dirty
sci-fi film”, stripping away the visual spectacle, leaving place for something unrefined. Like any random major world event, there usually
isn’t any pomp or buildup, it just happens unexpectedly. Our daily lives are suddenly interrupted and
the mundane gives way to the surreal. Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist, was just going
along with her life, teaching a class when 12 ships changed the world forever. Once the aliens make their appearance, the
story doesn’t jump ahead to known tropes of invasion or first contact films, instead,
we see a serious and realistic take on how we could communicate with beings beyond our
planetary system. There is no MacGuffin that magically facilitates
interspecies communication. The characters have to earn every discovery
and breakthrough while working rationally and on a step by step basis. This reminds me of the approach found in hard
science fiction. You have scientists at the top of their respective
fields working to solve a problem that humanity is facing. The focus here is on the tedious nature of
maneuvering around the basic hurdles of communication. -We need to have enough vocabulary with them
that we understand their answer. Another way Arrival grounds the story is by
how it limits the perspective of the movie. The biggest world changing event is happening
and we don’t see much of the outside world other than through screens. 12 ships have appeared, but we only have access
to one of them and the remote army base next to it. A multitude of experts, researchers and army
personnel are trying to make sense of what’s going on, but we only follow Louise’s journey. Even the cinematography visually isolates
everything using a very shallow depth of field blurring out most of what isn’t in the foreground. So how can this help the story that’s being
told? Well, it manages to create intimacy that mirrors
the first-person view of the original short story. It also helps to separate us from any narrative
distractions that might be used from this genre. We get to be in the main character’s unique
headspace and observe how the weight of this inhuman event affects someone on a small scale. Louise’s internalizations, feelings and thoughts
get magnified. It’s something that would have been lost in
the cracks of a larger, busier movie. But most importantly, it lays the groundwork
for the incoming revelation. [surprised exclamation]
-Mom. [helicopter noise fading]
-Momma! – Sorry honey… -What day is it do you know baby? I feel the best science fiction movies are
the ones that succeed in stimulating our minds. Not to confuse us with convoluted stories
but to open us to new and less traveled horizons. In Arrival’s case, the concept that’s being
explored isn’t only language and communication but our perception of time. When we think of time, we usually associate
it to the hands on a clock, the days and months on a calendar but all those things are just
manmade indicators that give us a shared point of reference like the marks on a ruler. Having one moment form after another moving
in a forward direction. The past being what lies in memory. the present what we are actively conscious
of, and the future was lies beyond it. So, in a way, our perception of time relies
on how our mind organizes information. In Arrival we meet Aliens with a different
perspective that allows them to view time as a whole (non- linearly), similar to the
block universe theory. Everything that will happen has already happened
and the past present and future exist simultaneously. This is even seen in their written language
that has no beginning or ending. They can maneuver their consciousness freely
without our directional restriction of time. Time (or how we perceive it) is what keeps
everything from happening at once But the problem as a storyteller is, how do
you present this concept to an audience so they can easily understand it? Well the movie succeeds in doing so by using
its own narrative as an example. Just like how we perceive time, most movies
are a collection of moments put in a linear order. In this case, we are in Louise’s mind and
the moments are the memories of her life. But since her mind is being rewired through
the alien language, her perception is changed. In the original short story, it’s the play
on verb tenses that reveals how Louise can see the past, present and future at once. In the movie, it’s how her memories are presented
out of order. A nonlinear narrative. Just like Louise is trying to communicate
with the aliens, the movie is trying to communicate this concept to us in the simplest way we
can understand it. Louise and the aliens use logograms as a point
of reference and in turn the non-linear narrative is our visual point
of reference to understanding this foreign concept. -I don’t… -I don’t understand…Who is this child? For a science-fiction film to be effective,
we have to be able to connect the abstract concepts to a human response in order to better
understand and by extension, create an empathic reaction. Louise has gained the ability to see every
moment in her own life. Moments she has lived and moments she has
yet to experience. She knows that she’ll marry Ian and have a
daughter. She knows that her own foreknowledge will
drive Ian away. She can see every moment of happiness and
bliss that she’ll experience with her daughter, but that one day her daughter’s life will
be cut short due to a rare illness. The film could have ended without delving
into Hannah’s story and it still would have been a good sci-fi movie. The inclusion of her story and the consequences
of Louise’s decision help elevate it and add a layer of humanity. What would you do in Louise’s stead? What choice do you make? Do you try to change your own destiny, or
do you accept what’s to come? In the short story, Louise’s daughter dies
from a climbing accident, so it could be argued that if she wanted to, Louise could prevent
her death. In the film, the screenwriter takes away this
possibility. Hannah’s cause of death is a rare disease,
so it becomes an unavoidable. Creating a difficult dramatic choice. This is the point where an effective sci-fi
film forces us to see beyond the scientific aspect and leads into philosophical territory. Do you deny your own child their existence
to protect yourself and them from pain, robbing yourself of the joy you would have both lived? Does the joy of creating life and living with
your family for a limited time outweigh the inevitable grief you’ll experience? If everything that has ever happened or will
happen is occurring at the same time, does that mean that free will is an illusion? -Despite knowing the journey and where it
leads…I embrace it and I welcome every moment of it. We could spend hours speculating,
theorizing and never actually finding a concrete answer. But that doesn’t mean we should stop. Scientists are seekers of truth, each within
their own field. Trying to find the truth about our bodies…nature…the
world…the universe…all that there is. Science-fiction allows us to expand that search
and ask questions beyond our current limitations, be it technology, space or even time. If a sci-fi film leads us to wonder and look
at life from a different point of view, it’s done its job. The best science fiction movies are the ones
that leave you questioning yourself… Thank you for taking the time to for watch
our video. We invite you to like share and subscribe
if you haven’t done so yet. I’m currently getting over a cold…hopefully
it wasn’t to obvious. Todays musical composition was made by Eduardo
Gonzalez, if you like his work you can find his information down in the description. If you wish to support this channel, please
check out our Patreon page. Until next time.

46 thoughts on “The Effective Science Fiction of Arrival

  1. The Arrival weighed on me heavily. The director perfectly captured the mental fatigue the characters went through. I was exhausted, by the end of the movie. The next closest experience I've ever had was GoT S6E09. When Jon Snow was under that pile of bodies, my chest felt constricted…I was also exhausted, at the end of that episode.

  2. This channel has really helped me expand my writing and delve deep into first caring about and later developing my characters. When my books get made into movies I hope the story fits right in with this channel and they do a video about it, I'd be so happy

  3. Annihilation and the arrival aren’t appreciated enough because people are too narrow minded and dumb. Movies can be great for exploring philosophy and other concept types.
    Writing these films off as pretentious just proves someone to not even get any messages behind the film because of their non expansive tastes (not bashing mainstream movies in this statement, just bashing the mentality behind mainstream only appeal)

  4. Was just scrolling thru the comments to see if i could found the only one that disliked the video, I couldn't 🙁 but don't worry werever you are I'll find you and I'll dislike you!

  5. Your videos are the best videos on this platform, great as usual. Looking forward to the next one! Also loved this movie btw :3

  6. Bradford Young deserved a Cinematography Oscar for his work on Arrival. The shot at 1:08 is gloriously magnificent.

  7. I can't watch his movie, it makes me furious like no other, even though I enjoy the aesthetics of it: It's her decision. If everything is predetermined, then so be it, but the move hints on it, that she had a choice and she chose death and suffering for her child. It's such a selfish, ignorant, gruesome choice, that it ruins the whole movie for me.
    This anger of her choice transcends the movie into real life, because I know exactly well, that there are people, who would chose the same thing in her position as this empathetic retarded asshole.
    I can reduce my moral compass to this: Reduce or prevent pain and suffering, but she creates and enhances pain and suffering, thus she is in my understanding and from the perspective of my moral credo a tyrant and an abject existence fanatic.

  8. I absolutely loves this film. I wish people really invested and paid attention cause most people I've talked to about it didn't, and the concepts went over their heads.

  9. I'm so glad this movie is getting more coverage over the past couple of months, I remember first watching the movie a couple of years ago and thinking to myself "I wish this movie won awards."

    Honest to god one of the best movies I've seen in a long time.

  10. I have never liked the way that most fiction portrays future sight/precognition. If you have the option to change what is seen, then it's not really seeing the future. If there is some element of unchanging "fate", then seeing the future means nothing. It's rare for a writer to imagine something beyond these two possibilities.

  11. Thanks for this! It's rare for me to rewatch a recently released film a few times within the span of a few months, but Arrival quickly became one of my favorites.

  12. Would’ve been an interesting meta-moment if you had structured this video essay in a non-linear fashion, but it’s still good.

    One of my all-time favorite movies. Definitely my favorite of the last 5 years, at least. Well, Arrival and Hereditary probably tie.

  13. I love your editing, soundtrack, subjects and that beautiful voice!!! Also the movies you choose to talk about are amazing!!
    There is one thing that i believe would be great to apply which is putting a simple spoiler text before a spoilerd gets shown (for example when you show the appearence of the aliens), im not saying something big but just a little text or subtitle to alert. I havent watched every movie you talk about, but i still love watching your videos, although i'd like to know when to close my eyes or skip parts of the video as to avoid spoilers.
    Much love to you! <3

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