Science fiction literature offers a wonderful platform for creative engagement when it comes to dealing with moral and philosophical issues that impact our humanity and our belief systems.
Unfortunately, thoughtful science fiction films are few and far between.
“Arrival” – starring Amy Adams (Dr. Louise Banks), Jeremy Renner (Dr. Ian Donnelly) and Forest Whitaker (Colonel Weber) – is one of the few and is worth seeing.
Writing about this film is difficult because it would be easy to share spoilers that would, well, spoil the film for you.
There is a significant twist that is interwoven throughout the film and, I have to admit, someone had to explain it to me.
The protagonist of the story is Dr. Banks (Adams), a linguist who is enlisted by the military to interpret the language of a crew of an alien craft that has landed (actually, it never touches the ground) in Montana.
There are 12 of these crafts all over the world. Various governments are working to discover how to communicate with the aliens.
Initially cooperative among themselves, this cooperation between nations is endangered by distrust and fear.
There are some interesting themes in the film. Two that are especially important right now are: (1) learning how to communicate with the “other” and (2) cooperating across international borders for the good of humanity.
Perhaps those themes are two sides of the same coin. The aliens are extremely “other,” but the greatest conflicts occur with those of our own kind. Banks models a desire to first understand and then to be understood.
From a biblical perspective, the underlying challenge is, “How do we practice hospitality to our neighbor in a world that grows more hostile to the outsider every day?”
Whether that person is an “alien” or just a person who differs in ethnicity, social standing, nationality or education, Christians must find a way to engage in meaningful dialogue.
Little more can be said without spoiling your enjoyment of the film.
Director Denis Villeneuve creates a claustrophobic and almost dream-like atmosphere, which increases the tension of this close encounter.
Adams and Renner are two of my favorite current actors, but Adams steals the show as the smart, intense but vulnerable central character.
If you miss “Arrival” in a theater, catch it on DVD or streaming video.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is associate professor of ministry praxis at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this movie review first appeared on his blog, Barnabas File, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ircel.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Eric Heisserer (screenplay) based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by Ted Chiang.
Cast: Amy Adams (Dr. Louise Banks); Jeremy Renner (Dr. Ian Donnelly); and Forest Whitaker (Colonel Weber).
The film’s website is here.