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  • Fiona Prior

How to Talk with Aliens


Director: Denis Villeneuve

A relatively little hyped and very clever movie I have seen this holiday period is Arrival. Directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Amy Adams, Arrival follows linguistics professor Dr Louise Banks (Adams), as she is pulled on board a team of military and academics to investigate why twelve alien craft have made their way to planet Earth and landed on different countries across the globe. Like her professional equivalents in other world locations, Dr Banks role is to try to communicate with the aliens and understand why they are visiting.

The white noise of the movie are cries from different sections of the global community to blow away the strange visitors before they blow away the human race.

The intelligence of this movie is an exploration of communication, taking what we know about learning a new language, and then extrapolating with that understanding to the nth degree.

The audible sounds the Aliens emit are too far away from any language that Dr Banks has experienced to be of use, so she begins with an object based approach, signs saying ‘human’, then identifying herself with a name 'Louise', and so on and so forth; the slow process of visually finding an accumulating shared vocabulary that will ultimately and hopefully end in an understanding of the purpose of the aliens' visit.

Different countries round the world have their bravest and brightest also involved in these ‘meet and greet’ sessions using different approaches to communicate, and the worlds academics and governments are in a 24/7 hook-up, sharing their findings to crack the communication code until, one-by-one, the 24/7 hook-up screen goes blank.

We learn that somewhere on the planet the word ‘weapon’ has been translated and that their is a growing belief the aliens are offering each nation a means of annihilating each other. Ascertaining if this translation is correct is one element of the rapidly escalating drama of Arrival.

Throughout this dubious epiphany in translation, our linguist Banks is having what appears to be a series of hot flush flash-backs. We soon realise that her complete immersion in the alien’s language in her attempts to communicate has led her to unconsciously learrn their language; a language not restricted by time. As language shapes our understanding of reality so her new linguistic ability is providing her with a new way to interpret her environment and situation. Think of a Picasso painting with past, present and future on the one canvas – albeit, far more complex and detailed – and Dr Banks' flash-backs begin to make sense as both a history and fast forward of her life experience and possibilities. Dizzying stuff!

A seriously thought-provoking movie with many more elements of surprise and interest to be discovered – plus a romance.

Compelling, entertaining and highly recommended!

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