Begin Again (Arrival review)

Sometimes artists are misunderstood, and sometimes it’s just a case of poor translators. Or maybe those artists are operating on another level of language?  A love language if you will. Oooh foreshadowing…

I personally would like to think that our attempts to understand the alien are important and when a film does well at the box office, more so when it’s a film which is about the other, it’s time to stand up and take notice. And reframe some thoughts.

Another first contact film you say? Well, I say it’s the best one.

Arrival (2016)

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Director: Jeff Nichols
released on blu-ray February 7, 2017
********* 10/10

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IMDB: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, Audience Score 82%
The Guardian: ****/*****

 

Denis Villeneuve is a French Canadian director. Yay for Canadian content! He’s a pretty swell guy too. I’ve reviewed one of his films before, but this time I think he has a shot at real international success: if you consider the Academy Awards a big deal that is. And since I wrote that review he also started development on the new Dune movie, so yeah. Cool guy. Cool cool cool.

Arrival is a story about aliens. Well, on the surface anyways.

Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) relives the childhood of her daughter, who has just died of cancer. Fast forward to Louise in the midst of a university lecture, when twelve spacecraft land across the Earth. U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) enlists Louise to aid physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) in decipher the alien language to find out the purpose of their visit.

Visiting the spacecraft of the “heptapods” the scientists discover that the aliens have an advanced circular language which is communicated via ink flares and in which whole thoughts appear in ink circles within seconds, regardless of the complexity of the sentence. Louise also beings to dream of her daughter and the father.

When Louise unravels that the aliens want to “offer weapon” to them, similar translations of “use weapon” are uncovered at other spacecraft sites. Certain countries like China respond by closing off global communications, while other prepare for an attack. Louise further argues that weapon might mean tool in this case. Some US soldiers plan to bomb the spacecraft and succeed.

After an explosion goes off which almost kills Ian and Louise, Ian determines that the circular symbols relate to time, and that the twelve alien sites are each sharing part of the technology.

China prepares for war, and Louise finds her way back to the aliens. They explain that she has been seeing the future and that their tool AKA language allows humanity to change their understanding of time. They offer this gift in exchange for help 3000 years into the future. Louise returns to camp but has a vision of the future wherein the UN has implemented the language and the Chinese general who ordered the attack on the heptapods is thanking her for turning him around.

She was able to do this by calling him on his personal mobile in the present, while he shows her his number in the future – she convinces him of the truth in the present by repeating the same whispers of his wife’s dying words to her in the future. This is when we learn that Ian is the father of Hannah and the husband of Louise. It just hasn’t happened yet. Ian admits his love for Louise, while Louise knows the reason they eventually split up is because Louise knows Hannah will die.

Despite this future knowledge, when Ian talks about babies with his wife, she agrees to it.

Pros: The plot twists are original, the story is realistic, and the tone is gripping. The idea of language is carried throughout the film, and somehow we are taken right along with it, to a very satisfying conclusion. Amy Adams is a showstopper in this film.

Cons: At times the moodiness and melancholy are a bit much to take in. You need to be completely relaxed and willing to sit still for the full runtime in order to enjoy the payoff. The details are key in this story and Villeneuve is relying heavily on them. It’s a thinking persons’s scifi.

Runtime: 1 hour 56 minutes

Points of Interest: The ink circles were created by Montreal artist Martine Bertrand. Yay Canadian content! It is also the artist’s son who created Hannah’s drawings. The movie is based on a short story titled Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang.

It might seem obvious at this point what Arrival is about. Aliens. Well no, actually. It’s about time and the relationships between people define our sense of time. Language is merely an activator towards that resulting outcome, and once we can appreciate another language, we open ourselves up to visiting and revisiting themes of our lives, and in some cases, becoming available for new ones.

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I cannot say enough good things about this film. I have to admit when I first sat down to watch it, I was a little bit tired and disappointed at how slowly paced it was, but then on a second viewing, starting over, which I find a tad ironic now, I was able to settle into Villeneuve’s dirty sci-fi and appreciate the thoughtfulness. And I kept thinking about it all week, which is what a good movie should have you do. The arrival of this realization was worth the wait.

Tim!

Where The Art Is (The Google Cultural Institute)

You ever watch those movie trailers, posters or commericials which start off by saying “since the dawn of time…”? I find them cheesy too, dear readers. But I want to try it out one time okay?

Since the dawn of time, mankind has created artwork and stored it in precious places. In other words, for what seems like forever.

What’s forever, precious?

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You know, FOR-EV-ER? Eternity? Infinity? Time without end? Even you can comprehend THAT Gollum.

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You don’t believe me, well that’s fine. I love pulling out my art history cap every now and again. Just give me a minute here to get down to business and find some images and links to get this party started.

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This image was one of the first cave painting images I ever saw when I was doing my undergrad, at the time it was considered to be one of the oldest images ever made (approx. 32,000BC – 30,000BC).

According to this article, a new theory has cropped up. Humans having been making art for about 42,000 years, which when taken along with the theory of evolution, means that humans have been making art for even longer than we’ve been thinking about things. Which is amazing to me, because I’ve always considered art to be a language in and of itself.

That means that we need art more then we need literature and speech, it’s something that we all can understand and relate to, no matter what the oral or sign language we subscribe to. And it’s foundational to who we are. That’s right, sign language is not universal to all creeds and ethnicities.

So visual language is something we can all experience and relate to, and one which is not interpreted differently in other communication styles. It’s fascinating, really.

Also, while I haven’t read this academic paper on comics, linguistics and visual language, just yet – I did find an interesting point made pretty much at the start of the paper which helps with my argument.

Many authors of comics have metaphorically compared their writing process to that of language. Jack “King” Kirby, celebrated as one of the most influential artists of mainstream American comics, once commented, “I’ve been writing all along and I’ve been doing it in pictures” (Kirby, 1999). Similarly, Japan’s “God of Comics” Osamu Tezuka stated, “I don’t consider them pictures …In reality I’m not drawing. I’m writing a story with a unique type of symbol” (Schodt, 1983). Recently, in his introduction to McSweeny’s (Issue 13), modern comic artist Chris Ware stated overtly that, “Comics are not a genre, but a developing language.” Furthermore, several comic authors writing about their medium have described the properties of comics like a language. Will Eisner (1985) compared gestures and graphic symbols to a visual vocabulary, a sentiment echoed by Scott McCloud (1993), who also described the properties governing the sequence of panels as its “grammar.” Meanwhile, Mort Walker (1980), the artist of Beetle Bailey, has catalogued the graphic emblems and symbols used in comics in his facetious dictionary, The Lexicon of Comicana.

You see, we need visual art just as much as we need other languages and the fact that so many people discard this skill for themselves, their children, their students, and the younger generation is frightening to me.

I’m generalizing here, which I hate to do, but so often I hear stories from people that made art when they were young, and then gave it up. We cannot seem to find value in learning the right skills needed to draw accurately, and attribute it to an ability which only some humans can possess. That is false and limiting behaviour.

But today’s Wisdom Wednesday resource is going to get you back to your roots, so to speak.

Alright, I have a secret to share with you fine folks today. Well, I wish it was a secret, because this is one of those resources anyone with an internet connection has had access to since 2011 and which I cannot believe hasn’t shown up more often in Facebook newsfeeds, on blog posts, and in cultural events.

The Google Cultural Institute is an amazing achievement in digital curation and one which features artwork from around the world, archival exhibitions, and three-dimensional recreations of world heritage sites.

You can navigate this content through Art Project, Historic Moments, and World Wonders, all from your main navigation menu. What I find especially cool is that you can take virtual tours of over 40 different museums, whenever you want.

The search terms are incredible as well – collection, medium, event, place, person, media type, date. And did I mention the Discover feature? It lets you explore related topics at the push of a button. And of course can share your findings with friends too.

But that’s not the best part. As an artist, this gets me the most excited. You can save your favourite items and create your own gallery.

Now tell me that that is not cool. Ha, I don’t believe you! Tell me what you really think! Leave some comments, share some thoughts, and I’ll catch you tomorrow for something timely.

Tim!