Explaining the movie ‘Arrival’ – to my understanding

January 24, 2017


During the failed Suriman expedition – when I encountered tribesmen deep in the virgin forest. We had no means to communicate. One night while riven in the delirium of malaria fever. The headman brought out an old pair of WW 2 era goggles and a water bottle – from the inscription the headman drew on the sand these artifacts resembled the circle of the empire of Japan.

At first I did not understand what all this meant – only much later did the connection dawn on me that I might have once looked like a Japanese soldier to these tribesmen who had followed me for days without even me realizing it. Perhaps once upon a time such a man had crashed his plane deep in the jungle and they must have believed I was that same tragic pilot who had now appeared before them.

It’s very hard to convey meaning or even thoughts when the tribesmen I once encountered deep in the jungle untouched by the hand of modernity, do not seem to share our concept of linearity of time through units of measurement like days, months or years. Events aren’t broken down neatly into sequential parcels of dates or time where the past, present and future is clearly delineated and assigned a place in the past, present or future – when one of the braves put on the goggles and took the worn water bottle to my lips – it pleased the elders who all smiled wryly and even though I could not understand what was said between them, it must have been…he will soon be up running – it then in the glow of the wan of a tongue of light, these old men were all suddenly young again as they all smiled supremely.

Eventually I did recover my strength and vigor thanks to these tribesmen.

The lesson here is very often we take the idea of time for granted – farmers I imagine more than others can only see it all splayed out in the chastening passage of how time is marked by one season bowing out and another stepping in….only for the whole process to end and begin again like the idea of the mythical circle in the movie the Arrival – the simple idea of conceiving and even regarding time differently from others and how this may affect our perception of reality, is indisputably one of the most fascinating dimensions of the human condition.

I often wonder in the quiet moments of the lonely nights all by myself deep in the plantation – far removed from the distractions of the world. So far that when I look up into the heavens on a starry night – I can even make out details that only those who have known desolation can ever experience such aching beauty and awe….if we as mankind can see the future of how the world will be in the future…will we perhaps treat her with more kindness and consideration.

I do wonder.

It’s sad that we seem to only seem to have a blinkered view of time – I wonder if we can see a shriveled up prune of a old hag in a beautiful young girl, will we still love her? Or see the fullness of her beauty in a old woman? Will we perhaps even feel compelled to raise question on how so much of life is impermanent and transient.


‘Sci-fi can be cerebral at times. Eye opening even. In so far as it can even alter the way you see yourself in relation to the idea of time and people and events. No Arrival is definitely not Starwars – for one the sequence of the movie itself attempts to mimic the unorthodox way the aliens perceive the idea of time and I imagine communication as well – that in the movie, man is content to interpret as the word ‘weapon.’

Thru out the movie the main protagonist is thrust into the future without her even realizing it – she sees images of a young girl at varying stages in her growth, but she doesn’t know who or how this girl fits into her life….only because she is shackled to the idea of linearity of time. Eventually when the main protagonist cracks the codex that enables her to communicate with the aliens – she realizes the term ‘weapon’ refers to knowledge or a gift – the gift to see the world differently from the way she is accustomed to seeing it – that’s when she realizes the child that she keeps seeing in dreams is her unborn child who she even knows will die young from a rare and incurable disease. As since she’s a linguist, we are not told why despite knowing that her unborn will die, she still decides on being a mother. Perhaps by then her understanding of time and how events may unfold has changed so much that it really just like the circular patterns the aliens use to communicate states of minds – there is no actual beginning or end in a circle, just perhaps the perpetuity of motion in the way a person chooses the various options that presents itself in the course of his or her life at every point in this circle….and that is perhaps a metaphor that life will go on.

Serendipity and chance I imagine may feature preponderantly in this circular motion – but even despite the power of foreknowledge that the choices we may make may all not always end well as in the case of her her unborn child. Nonetheless, just like the main protagonist who commits herself to motherhood – perhaps what the movie is trying to convey to me with my limited processing capacity – is the act of living is not about trying to bubble wrap oneself to best live a purpose driven life. Life. Or shall I say to be part of living is by itself a dichotomy between good and bad, happiness and sadness, power and powerlessness. I am reminded life is hardly the stuff of breaking in new boots – it’s doesn’t ever get suppler or comfier with regular use. I guess some things do – like being able to wash my clothes while I shower in five minutes flat. But for the significant aspects of life – the act of living requires the acceptance of loss and perhaps even pain that comes from taking a chance on life. And it is this interplay between pain and relief, happiness and sadness that makes it all worthwhile. Often I say to myself whenever a new dog comes into my life…hold back a bit…hold back, because one day when he or she leaves, it will leave you feeling so blue that you would only wish you didn’t give all of yourself to that experience. But when I think back about the good times and the many moments when I threw caution with the wind and ran to my hearts content. Even in profound sadness I could at least say, i never once held back and I don’t ever have any regrets. Not at all. As pain and happiness is really one of the same line that makes up the circle of life.

And at times, when I see a new parcel of land…again there is always a niggling part that murmurs, hold back some as she will break your heart like twig when things take a bad turn.

But I never hold back…after all what’s the point, at least I gave it all. And even if it gave me back only one little grain of happiness that could well be the difference between living and just existing.

That I imagine is the essence of what it means to live…to commit to the act of love even should only have the foreknowledge that it may not always end happily and to just revel in the moments while it all last. As that is all there is to life…and very little else…life is after all just a series of endless circles.’

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