Review: Arrival (Minor Spoilers)

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We saw Arrival (no “the” in the title) this past week, and while I loved it, there was a point that stuck with me - and it probably wasn’t the point that you’d think.

Things that I loved - that it was a slow film, that it gave you time to think about what you were seeing and experiencing. I loved that you don’t always get answers. I loved some of the ideas, such as language limiting what you're allowed to think.

The aliens’ ultimate fate was unexplained, as was, if you think about it, their arrival. And I have a sense that those two are joined to each other somehow. The ’twist’ of the story was strong and made me want to go back and watch it again to see if it was obvious with foreknowledge or if it stood up to repeat viewing.

But… but… but… there was this nagging thing in the back of my mind.

At one point it’s mentioned in passing that the aliens don’t understand algebra but do understand higher maths. Since math doesn’t work, we need language. Bring on the linguists! I thought that was a cheap and cheesy way to get around the idea that math is a universal language.

I know there’s a difference between teaching a language and learning a language, and I know the character is a linguist, not an ESL teacher. However, once the linguist had decided that she needed to teach the aliens English or at least map English words to the equivalent alien ideas, she did it poorly.

The old Polish man in this Christmas advert does a better job teaching himself:

Look at his use of Post-it notes. He does what our linguist should have done, especially when trying to separate ‘human’ from ‘personal name’. First everyone gets a 'human' post-it, then each individual gets their own name as a post-it: So much simpler than how she worked.

It’s an incredibly small thing, but it bugged me, the way that watching Interstellar bugged physicists. When you know something and a film gets it wrong, you are bumped out of the film. I got back in, but I wish I hadn’t been thrown out.