MovieMonday: Arrival


Humans are obsessed with the idea of life on other planets. As we learn more about the size of the cosmos and its nooks and black-hole crannies, we also want to know whether there are other civilizations out there.

“Where is everybody?” the frustrated physicist Enrico Fermi said impatiently in 1950. More than 60 years later, we still don’t know.

This has not stopped us from imagining.

In 1898, H. G. Wells published a novel called “The War of the Worlds” about an alien invasion. Forty years later, Orson Welles turned the story into a Halloween radio broadcast that caused a nationwide panic.

More recently, we have had the “Star Trek” television shows, “Star Wars I – VII,’ “Independence Day,” “Independence Day: Resurgence,” and an uncounted number of superhero movies dealing with the same general topic.

Arrival, the Movie

“Arrival” is the most recent entry in the alien invasion genre, but it differs in theme from the earlier shows.

The set-up is that 12 great big cigar-shaped, windowless rocklike things arrive uninvited and hover silently above the ground at various locations around the earth.

This causes curiosity and not a little worry. The Army seeks out scientists and sets up a camp near the cigar thingie that sits above a Montana plain. A colonel leading the observation/defense effort brings in an American linguist, Louise Brooks, to study whether the alien thing, whatever it is, has bad intentions.

Because humans are naturally uneasy about the uninvited new visitor/s and because the task of military forces is the protection of citizens, there are preparations in Montana and worldwide for a possible war. The Chinese government seems particularly keen to shoot its own spaceship/cigar out of the sky.

Professor Brooks proposes trying to communicate with the unexpected guests. Over time, she makes some headway. Events proceed from there.

The movie is based on a short story that involves the professor’s personal life and weaves that with the global event to form a broader, more thoughtful narrative. The film resolves itself naturally without any glaringly implausible plot points except, of course, the premise.

As you might guess, a film involving a female lead and an alien force takes different turns than the kill-them-before-they-kill-us procedure that we have come to expect from alien encounter films.

“Arrival” is good. It won’t sell more tickets than the Disney Star Wars iteration or a superhero-alien punch-up, but It’s worth a watch. Give it a try, I say.


The famed Stephen Hawking of the Cambridge Centre for Theoretical Cosmology, has spent a career considering whether there are other life forms than those on earth. He has come to believe there is a high likelihood that other sentient beings and civilizations exist or have existed or will exist.

At only 4 billion years old, he says, the earth may be a relative youngster of a planet. And our civilization and intelligence may be much less developed than others.

Under the circumstances, he said this year, we should be wary of making connections with distant neighbors.

A quote: “If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the American Indians.”

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