This weekend, I watched Arrival and I really enjoyed it. I keep trying to call it The Arrival, but that’s a different movie (with Charlie Sheen, and aliens with inverted knees.) Aside from that, Arrival was a great movie, and one I really enjoyed watching – a large part of it was the philosophy of the piece (which was downplayed a bit in the movie), but I also appreciated that it was willing to tell a sci-fi story without it being “action packed!” Pretty major spoilers as I delve into philosophy after the jump.
For me, Arrival is posing the question, “If you know the future, must it happen that way?” In doing so, the writer had to tackle some other interesting questions , such as, “What does it mean to know the future?” “What does choice mean if you know what you will do?” Arrival answers the first question in the affirmative – if you know the future, it is because it does happen that way – and then explores the nature of choice and what it means to know the future.
I want to take a moment to contrast Arrival with another movie that poses similar questions – The Butterfly Effect. Both are interested in knowing whether consequences can be changed based on choices that have not yet been made. In Arrival, this is framed as future events that are known before the protagonist makes some choice that would cause those events to happen (specifically, her daughter dying of a degenerative disease before she has made the choice to have a child with her husband) whereas in The Butterfly Effect, this is framed as present events that can be changed based on past choices that are unknown to the protagonist (i.e. what to do with the stick of dynamite.) What is interesting about these two movies is that their answers are different. Arrival states that once you know the future, you cannot change it as you are impelled to make those choices where The Butterfly Effect states that you can make different choices and change the outcome from what you know (even if the outcome is unpredictable).
In either case, Arrival is something of a feel-good movie for me. I agree with the core premise, and the way it was told just clicked with me. I would definitely recommend it to any science fiction fan, especially those who haven’t found enough science fiction that isn’t also an action movie – this movie moves slowly, and it really makes the ideas sink in.