Denis Villenueve, director of Sicario, is back! This time directing a cerebral, sci-fi film, Arrival. He is joined by the magnificent Johan Johannsson, who never fails to impress, capturing the viewers attention by gravitationally pulling them into the scene through his music. The star of the movie is Amy Adams, whose character is named Louise. She is an academic expert in language who is asked to help the US government try to communicate with the alien life forms after twelve spacecrafts appear across the Earth. Her job is to systematically break down their complex language and come up with a way to translate the question: What is your purpose on Earth?
Louise develops a relationship with the alien lifeforms, a deep understanding relationship founded on good will. This type of relationship is in contrast to the one many neighbors in current America display to each other. A relationship which has manifested into bitterness and hate campaigns. Neighbors are responding to hate with reciprocal hate, antagonizing each other and intensifying an already broken community. Arrival does a great job making these social tropes come to life in the big screen.
The alien life forms that Louise interacts with are named Heptapods. A Heptapod has seven limbs, whose arrangement makes the creature symmetrical. They sort of look like squids, using ink as the medium to write in their language. They essentially have no human features, and can probably be seen as monsters from a human’s perspective. However, Louise never dehumanized ( or depersonalized since they aren’t humans) their existence. The most important thing revealed about the Heptapods was not the texture of their skin or the number of limbs they had but the quality of their soul.
Louise becomes more proficient in their language and determines that their purpose on Earth is to offer humanity a “tool,” which is understanding one of the deepest unsolved mysteries of the universe, the arrow of time. Our current concept of time consists of it being a linear, asymmetrical phenomenon. If the future and past exhibited the same symmetry as left and right, we wouldn’t be able to recognize our reality. We would be able to remember the future just as much as the past. Understanding the concept of time was their gift to humanity; however, this required the cooperation of all the nations in the world. An exchange that benefits both parties involved is known as a non-zero sum game. The Heptapods saw in the future that in 3000 years they will need humanity’s help, a non-zero sum game. Whereas, in our current state of affairs, when Donald Trump vowed to “Make America Great Again!” he is echoing to a country united on ethnic nationalism, which is a zero sum game. The gains of the majority being balanced by the loss of virtue and loyalties of the minority.
The Heptapods in Arrival may be emblematic of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s idea of a cosmic companion. The “existence of some creative force that works for universal wholeness.” If our cosmic companion can help us with our arrow of time mystery in Arrival, the oppressed people of the world should also be optimistic on the creation of Dr. King’s beloved community. He had the foresight to remember “only one face- the face of the future.”