I think what I like best about science fiction, outside of the idea of being shown a world of seemingly outlandish possibilities, is that science fiction, particularly good quality science fiction, provides an opportunity to take a look at ourselves from an outside perspective. More importantly, it examines the idea of what we can ultimately achieve and improve – and not just from a technology standpoint.
Watching Star Trek now, is almost as exciting to me as it once was when I first caught it as a young boy because it’s inspiring to see humanity united, without poverty or war, without inequality, travelling the galaxy together. Science fiction can often provide a template to aspire to. Not just for flying cars, transporters and replicators, but for harnessing a clean source of energy and for solving other, untold numbers of present day imperfect technology and social challenges.
In Dennis Villeneuve’s latest film, Arrival, twelve mysterious objects descend from the heavens at seemingly random spots around the globe. A doorway opens every 18 hours to allow a small group of humans up. Linguist experts, played by Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, are given a shot at figuring out who the extra terrestrials are, and why they are here.
A major plot point of the film highlights our issues with communication. Not just the initial clumsy attempts with a newfound species, but also amongst our own counter parts. As you might expect, each craft is situated within a different country. Each country has it’s own interests at heart; their governments and militaries all share that human urge for greed and self-preservation. With the exception of a small group of dedicated scientists, the rest of the planet’s populous reacts with fear and terror to the newcomers. The cable news networks report worldwide riots and protests in the streets. Sound familiar?
Don’t expect much in the way of laser blasts and CGI explosions of various landmarks being decimated. This ain’t Independence Day. In fact, you could call it the anti-thesis of those alien exploitation movies. Arrival is decidedly cerebral, slow and methodical. Not quite 2001, but in the same category. It certainly reminded me of the film adaptation of Carl Sagan’s Contact. The soundtrack, courtesy of Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, helps build the film’s mood of eerie uncertainty.
If there’s anything to take away from Arrival, it’s that the only way for us to move forward as a species is by establishing dialogue and cooperation with one another. Given our current political climate of protectionism, à la Brexit and the recent results from the US election, along with fresh news of Russia withdrawing from a nuclear trade pact and just yesterday; the International Criminal Court, now may be the time to take pause and reconsider our current trajectory.
It’s all too easy to give in to our natural impulses when a stranger rolls into town. Many of us feel the urge to close the blinds, lock the doors and call the sheriff.
Far more can be accomplished if we can unite as a species. Our capacity for compassion, empathy and understanding may not always offer an immediate, favourable result. It may take a little more time. It may take more money. But the long term alternative of protectionism, military intervention and disunity on a global level can have far reaching, irreparable consequences.
Arrival is in theatres now.