It was Stephen Fry I think who said: “A true thing poorly expressed is a lie.” It’s the theory that the language they speak determines how you think and… Yeah, it effects how you see everything. The point being that there is no thought without expression, no content without form that an idea however profound it feels to you does not really exist until you can write it down or in some cases put it on film. To watch Denis Villeneuve’s arrival is to watch a filmmaker in command of the language, his ideas presuppose just to say that he has a firm grasp on craft. I can’t really tell you how soothing this is for me as a filmgoer to feel that I’m in the hands of someone who knows why the film is constructed the way it is. So much of today’s filmmaking is all over the place to the point where the viewer has to exert themselves more to compensate for a lack of focus. In this way, I think Arrival is the perfect response to the bad movies we see so much of. Pretty much everything they do wrong arrival does right, it is effective and impactful and it does this by focusing on the very thing that affects and impacts us- language, but I think Arrival is just as concerned with the language of film as it is with written or spoken or alien language, for example the first couple scenes are kind of like an enlarged experiment in the kuleshov effect- the phenomenon in which a viewer derives meaning from two sequential shots that Hitchcock famously illustrated by turning a kindly gentleman into a pervert by replacing a single reverse shot Villeneuve does the same thing in Arrival, but on the scene level. The first scene is a montage of the birth and young death of Amy Adams’ daughter, the second scene is Adams coming to teach at her school on the day of the aliens’ arrival. Because of the tragedy we witness in the first scene and our assumption that the film’s timeline is linear we read Adams disinterest here as despondency and her general dry demeanor as one of deep sadness and heartache. It’s not until we finish the film and learn that the opening montage happens after the events of the movie, that we understand Adams in the second scene was merely a blank canvas that we attached meaning to. “Montage means the assembly of pieces of film which moved in rapid succession before the eye, create an idea.” What separates Villeneuve from many other filmmakers is his ability to generate ideas with cinematic craft then on another level mingle those ideas, collide and blend them to create a higher order of meaning. So what’s the meaning for example that Villeneuve suggests with this Kuleshov effect experiment, perhaps that the future can influence the past? That’s certainly a reasonable thing to derive from this kind of experience in the film, in fact it’s an idea that turns out to be the key to the climax of Arrival as Adams learns that the Aliens are higher dimensional beings that can see all of time at once, and uses that skill to access future events to influence her present. “I called you didn’t I?” “Yes, you did.” But you could also read another meaning from the same experience, namely that communication is limited by perspective. From our perspective at the beginning of the film everything tells us that Adams is grieving, only later do we learn that that wasn’t true. This too is a major theme of Arrival- the limits of human communication are reinforced and expanded upon in probe throughout the film, the limits of our biology of relying on what our senses report, the limits imposed on us by our culture or our own personalities. “Trust me you can understand communication and still end up single.” In conversation with the aliens communication is literally imagined as a screen- a mediator that blurs intention. Now screens can connect us, they can also divide us and it’s the same with communication. Communication is a link between two parties, but it’s a link that often facilitates split. “Language is the foundation of civilization is a glue that holds the people together, is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.” “We are falling asleep at the wheel people you know what I’m talking about I know you do.” What’s important here is not that both these readings are valid, they are, but that both have echoes elsewhere in the film and echo off each other, a theme once introduced isn’t wasted. The alien language is circular, so the film is too. The difficulty of cooperation in the small group at the Montana site echoes the difficulty of cooperation between Nations. Louise’s understanding of her displacement in time happens simultaneously with the audience’s realization that the events depicted aren’t linear. “Non-zero-sum game?” Every theme is filtered through other moments and characters and eventually other themes until it starts to feel like something solid, you start to think what is the relationship between language and time. Maybe it’s that the mind is not a thing, but a process, language happening in time, just like film is communication occurring in time. [Speaking Russian] So much of Arrival seems to be about the possibility of meaning in film. What is it? Where does it come from? I think Villeneuve imagines it as an alien spacecraft: mysterious, obscure, an expression that’s not quite written or spoken language, and so always difficult to decipher. Something when bored out of craft and character and story is always hovering over the film. It’s always in the background seen from different angles impossible to avoid. Arrival isn’t just a repudiation of bad movies because it leads by example. It’s also I think an act of exploration into what makes a movie great. It explores the kind of unique perspective that a film can gift to the filmgoer like a language gifted by aliens, and what kind of brand new world that perspective allows us to see. Hey everybody, thanks for watching. Happy Wednesday and happy Valentine’s day to my girlfriend who’s sitting right over there. Even though it’s a daylight I recorded this on the all-time stay so I love you baby. Anyway. Thank you squarespace for sponsoring this video. 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