Not only about aliens: a psychological transcript of the film “Arrival”
Genre: fantasy, thriller, drama, detective
Year of production: 2016
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Actors: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
The film “Arrival” (“Arrival”) was based on the novel by modern science fiction writer Ted Chan “The Story of Your Life”. This movie is not pure Sci-Fi. In fact, this is a parable with philosophical overtones. The main question of the film is not “Why are they here?” but “How do we perceive the fact that they are here?”
The point of the movie “Arrival” is that it is important to take responsibility after a choice is made.
What is the movie about
Once upon a time, 12 alien ships appeared on Earth. Frightened people tried to make contact with the aliens in order to understand why they had come and what they needed. For this purpose, Dr. Louise Banks, a famous linguist, was invited.
The heroine undertook to establish contact with the alien heptapods. She started with a basic vocabulary and grammar, gradually penetrated into the essence of their language, and understood how it differs from the earth.
Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams. Frame and film.
As it turns out, human language is a linear sequence of words. The language of aliens, on the other hand, is arranged differently: there is simply no concept of sequence in it.
Their thinking is also different: they present time only as a completely accomplished fact: they can see the present, past and future at the same time.
While scientists are trying to establish contact with aliens, panic is brewing in the world. Society is divided into two camps: some are sure that aliens are preparing to take over the Earth, others are convinced that it is possible to negotiate with the heptapods, and, having shared power with them, become a real hegemon.
The film “Arrival” has two main themes. The first can be obtained by simplifying the plot to the limit, discarding all unnecessary and leaving only one structure. This topic can be called “Getting Knowledge”.
So, a woman who is helped by a man comes into contact with unknown beings. These creatures communicate some knowledge to the heroes. After that, a man and a woman get married and have a daughter. This is a banal and at the same time very vital story, since it contains the meaning of personality development, which in psychology is called individuation.
The main character of the film is a woman who lost her husband and child. In the finale, we learn that she will lose them in the future, however, at the very beginning, Louise is alone. This is a direct indication of incompleteness, unhappiness, because happiness implies that all our parts are in place, or when a person feels like a part of a whole.
Frame from the film.
Unknown creatures are somewhat similar to octopuses. Octopuses are inhabitants of the deep sea. The sea is one of the symbols of the unconscious. It is unlikely that the creators of the picture thought about it: they probably simply chose the image that best suits their intention.
But this choice is not accidental: aliens are a symbol of some unconscious formations. Contact with the unconscious enriches the personality: a person receives new abilities and knowledge.
A man helping a woman symbolizes the masculine principle. If the feminine principle is manifested as suppleness, receptivity and curiosity, then the masculine principle is strength, purposefulness and perseverance. To obtain new knowledge, the qualities of both principles are required. The unification of principles enriched with the treasures of the unconscious implies the birth of a whole personality, individuality. This person is symbolized by a child – a synthesis of male and female.
The knowledge that the creatures communicate to the main characters, according to the film, allows for cooperation between terrestrial and extraterrestrial civilizations.
The second important topic that the filmmakers touch on is the theme of the victim. Louise learns that she will lose her child in the future. Upon learning of this, she does nothing, but simply and meekly accepts her fate. In the context of the film, the birth of a daughter means that in the end she will be “given to death”. At first glance, Louise sacrifices herself: her daughter is part of her, and she sacrifices the most precious thing. But not everything is so clear.
There are two options for self-sacrifice:
- a person sacrifices either himself or some part of himself. The result of this act is the birth of something more, some new unity. That is, the act of sacrifice turns out to be the birth of a new life.
- A person sacrifices some part of himself and loses integrity, becomes unhappy.
By sacrificing yourself, you can become either a winner who will be admired, or a victim who will be pitied. The film deals with the second option.
Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly. Frame from the film.
The new knowledge received from the aliens did not benefit the heroine. So what was the sacrifice for? In the film “Arrival” there is no direct indication of something for which she should have resigned herself to fate.
Louise’s humility is explained solely by the life scenario. This concept refers to the psychological attitude that a person receives from his parents. On its basis, a person unconsciously makes a choice in different life situations. Louise’s life script looks like this: “Be unhappy.” That is why she chooses a path that leads her to a sad ending: she marries a man who will eventually leave her, and gives birth to a daughter who dies. But it would be possible to join the fight: not to marry this man.
Having accepted her fate, the heroine did not become a winner. Alas, it’s stuck in the victim’s mind.
Circles and the cycle of time
In all analyzes of the film “Arrival” it is said that there are vicious cycles and circles everywhere. Its very structure also seems cyclical: the viewer is sure that the movie begins with the past of the heroine. Louise herself talks about what happened to her, using the past tense. Only at the end of the film everything falls into place: the first shots depict her future. The explanation here is simple: as soon as she began to understand the language of aliens, time closed for her.
The heptapods know that some time will pass and they will need the help of humans. This is how they explain their appearance on Earth.
Frame from the film.
The meaning of the correlation of circles on the earth and time cycles is revealed in the conversation of the heroine with her daughter. Louise explains that the girl’s name (her name is Anna) is a palindrome. The daughter’s name becomes a key for the heroine: she realized that time has two directions – both forward and backward.
Living beings perceive and cognize the world depending on the specifics of the language they speak. According to this theory, the logic of language subjugates the thinking that depends on it. different concepts of space and time follow from this.
How does Louise’s mind change?
In some reviews, viewers suggest that Chinese characters could be the prototype of the alien language: the thinking of Europeans and the inhabitants of the Celestial Empire is too different.
Louise is sure that there is only one right way – to know these symbols. The doctor is sure that language is “the cornerstone of civilization, the first weapon in the moment of conflict and the glue that connects people to each other.”
During contact with another civilization, Louise periodically sees visions that help her understand the essence of the alien language.
The meaning of the ending
To understand the end of the film “Arrival”, you need to remember its beginning. The viewer sees that Louise is witnessing how her daughter dies. At the same time, her husband leaves her. The explanation is this: these are not events from her past – this is something that has not happened yet.
Cyclicity is present throughout the whole picture, including at the end.
That is, the heroine saw what would happen, but did nothing to prevent it. This is precisely the idea of the picture and the hidden meaning of the finale: time is not a direct trajectory, but a person determines his own destiny.
The meaning of the ending of the film “Arrival” is that we, absorbed in everyday affairs, unfortunately, often do not find time to live. Given the main themes of the film, we can assume that he also tells us the story of failed personal growth.