I was hoping ARRIVAL would get a nod for best score at the Oscars. The sequence of approaching the spacecraft that looks like a floating almond, a low cloud deck rolling down the mountains, and then entering the thing from the bottom into a brutal corridor with rounded edges and a texture like dead tree bark — the music has low hum with a voice occasionally getting a noise in. And later on these growls from the double-bass, and a steady pizzicato rhythm from the low strings. The crew set down a bird in a cage, back lit by the screen and white fog, the “dank tank.” (Amy Adams gets hot-boxed in a shuttle craft before going behind the screen.) Anyway, this was some memorable surreal cinema business.
It was nice to see a mainstream science fiction film — for real sci-fi, not a violent fantasy set in space or the future, and one that was pretty intelligent and optimistic about the fate of the species.
The yellow peril stuff, with the naughty Chinese PLA, who the current predator in chief can’t stop insulting, was cringe-inducing, but they had to get all that military hardware in camera somehow.
In the Adamic language, word and object are at one. There is no remainder. The language of the heptapods may very well be this Adamic language, or the language of humanity before the tower of Babel. The film goes into the details of its mechanics quite thoroughly, but I can’t forget actually watching the substance come out of their tentacles, appearing both inky and fibrous like hair, and forming the circular calligraphy. Their writing is a natural production — the material body as the sign.
I was kinda disturbed by the end revelation and its implications. The story takes the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis seriously, so that the heptapod’s language re-wires the brain so that you can see through time. Amy Adams learns that the universe is deterministic, and that the most authentic act of freedom is to surrender to it, even if it means bringing a child into the world who will suffer and die from illness at a young age.
But I’ve been reading a lot of Edgar Allan Poe lately, and in one of his more esoteric mystical pieces there is a notion that death is precisely the place where the Adamic language is grasped, and all that was ineffable disappears, that is, everything can at last be described. So maybe the language mystic Adams knows something her hardcore scientist lover Jeremy Renner doesn’t. Perhaps their love child is an emissary to the truth of cosmic being.
Amy Adams can perceive all events simultaneously, which is conveyed to us in pseudo-flashbacks and surreal visions, and it’s all very fascinating and formal film making. It’s a little cheesy at the climax, but it’s your straight ahead BILL AND TED kind of time travel (which is also what the heptapods are up to this whole time).What I want to emphasize is that viewing history in toto drains it of any consequence, which is also what Poe suggests in this piece happens when you die. So maybe Amy Adams is a living death, which is the inauguration into the language of heptapod. I mean, the design of their spaceship is like Thanatos incarnate.