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In the first episode, we discussed some key elements of Arrival, like how it differs from the source short story, the use of language and what language is as a plot element, and a little bit about how politics were slyly injected into the movie despite their general absence from Ted Chaing’s story. In this episode, we’ll take a look at time and how it figures into the story being told.
Just a reminder…
As this is a DVD/Blu Ray/Digital Media review, there is no spoiler free section for this episode. If you want to avoid spoilers, please hold off on listening to this episode or listening to these show notes until after you’ve seen the movie.
Time to Every Purpose
Dovetailing critically with the language discussion, the story of Arrival is about time. How do we wrap our heads around an intellect that views time from outside of the standard linear view that humanity perceives? It’s not just about what happens in the past, the present, and the future. It is also about the idea of the “known” and the “unknown.” How can anything that is ever known, ever be unknown, when you view all of time itself at the same time?
Mind blown, yet?
Yeah. Ours too.
In our discussion on time, Tim references Jame’s Isington’s The Shadow of What Was Lost, the first book of the Licanius Trilogy. Eve reads from the source story, Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang.
The entire discussion on time, as well as the issues that the movie raises, are (perhaps intentionally) mind boggling. By presenting the Heptapods as viewing the present from outside the timeline encourages a parallel with how we as Christians think God must view time. As the Creator, he is the ultimate actor rather than simply the actor or observer as the aliens seem to be.
He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, but no one can discover the work God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes [3:11])
The God-shaped Hole
That appears to be the hole for the author, director and characters of Arrival. They hold time as something beyond—an immutable force. They are missing the fact that time, like every other aspect of reality, is created. For us, the complete absence of the omnipotent and ageless God is a glaring hole in the entire discussion presented by the movie. A hole we recognize because God is written upon our hearts.
They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts. Their consciences confirm this. Their competing thoughts either accuse or even excuse them. (Romans [2:15])
Man, too, was intended to live forever, but when Adam fell, God had a plan to offer mankind a chance at salvation:
The Lord God said, “Since the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. (Genesis [3:22]-23)
By making mankind mortal, he has freed us from the thought of living eternally in a fallen world. He also granted us free will, the ability to praise or reject him on our own accord (even though he has known believers since before the foundations of the world).
Here are some additional scriptural supports for God’s being outside of time:
When I saw him, I fell at his feet like a dead man. He laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid. I am the First and the Last, and the Living One. I was dead, but look—I am alive forever and ever, and I hold the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation [1:17]-18)
Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.” (Revelation 21:6)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” ( Revelation [22:13])
Terms and Meaning
Semasiographic (say that correctly three times in a roll, lol)
The whole definition of what is and is not a semasiographic language was confusing for us. Are there any examples in human culture of a truly semasiographic language? Eve can think of several languages that cannot be sounded out phonetically from their written form, but perhaps this misses a shade in meaning. We’d love for an expert to chime in and explain it better.
We mentioned in our last episode that Arrival is a logogram, which is a symbol that expresses a concept with no beginning or end. However, in our discussion in this episode we rapidly abandon the discussion of this term and talk about the names of the Heptapods and how the movie characters and the viewing audience have a limited perspective of them until one particular climatic scene. This limited perspective is a good way to remind ourselves how little we understand God.
Dr. Banks names her daughter “Hannah,” which is a palindrome, a word that can be read both forwards and backwards. “Eve” is also a palindrome, as is the year Eve graduated from high school (1991). Palindromes are fun things to play with both in phrases or words and dates. However, we couldn’t discern any real significance to this term’s presence in the movie.
If you knew what was going to happen, COULD you change anything?
Was Louise changing things when she called the Chinese General because she remembered a future memory where he was telling her she had called, gives her the number, and tells her what she said? Or was she just fulfilling the future as it would happen. She also goes ahead and has a baby, even though she know that that act will eventually cause Ian to divorce her. Does knowing the future do away with free will?
Was Louise the only one who learned the language?
This is where the movie diverts again from the story. There were several others who spoke the language at the end of the story, but while the movie doesn’t necessarily answer the question, we are left to assume that Louise is the only who mastered the language and her knowledge of time.
Bits and Pieces
Tim brings up a cute scene in the story that didn’t make it into the movie about Hannah requesting to be “made of honor.” This is a humorous representation of language acquisition, especially for a language like English that is full of homophones.
Another interesting incident that makes it into both is the discussion of “non zero sum game” where Louise answers her future daughter’s question after hearing the answer in a present time discussion. These types of interactions between times happen more frequently as the movie progresses.
The number 12 seems to have great significance in the movie Arrival, and Eve points out that 12 is the number of completion in the Bible and is repeated often in the book of Revelation. The movie has a humorous explanation of why the heptapods used 12 landing sites.
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