The film “Arrival” explores some very interesting themes. While many reviewers have focused on the aliens, the themes of time, language, and cooperation, I am going to focus on a totally different theme. In the film, the military wants to know, “What is your purpose on Earth?” That to me is really, the most important question of this film and one that Christians love to ask atheists. This film answers that question if you can understand the alien language from the future… just kidding, but it really does answer that question. Here is how…
But first, if you have not seen the film “Arrival,” go see it right now! Do not read any further until you have seen this movie. Yes, there will be spoilers and this is your final warning. Here is the trailer for the movie:
Okay, let’s get into it. The narrative of the film is about a linguist played by Amy Adams, named Louise Banks. The movie starts with her memories of her daughter Hannah being born, growing up, and yes… dying. Louise learns with the rest of the world that multiple monolithic contact lens shaped alien space ships have arrived. See what they did there. The filmmakers have successfully put this film in the context of Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001,” and Carl Sagan’s “Contact.”
Our linguist is soon asked by the military to take point in trying to translate the alien language and find out the most important question of the movie, what is your purpose on Earth? Meanwhile, the arrival of the aliens has caused wide spread panic everywhere. Because as it turns out if aliens came and really wanted to destroy us, all they would really have to do is sit there and do nothing at all for a few months and we’ll happily destroy ourselves for them. Aside from looting and religious nuts killing themselves and other, world leaders are quick to threaten to attack these alien ships before they continue to do nothing for another few months. It’s like the Republicans who still insist with a few months left in President Obama’s term that he is a secret Muslim bent on taking away our guns and destroying this country from the inside… any day now.
Anyway, back to the question at hand and its relevance. Awhile back I got tired of constantly hearing Christians ask that since atheists “believe” that we will all just end up as “worm food,” what is the purpose of life? I wrote an awesome article addressing that question on Huffington Post, where I compare life to a movie. The best answer I had at the time was to quote the character, Ferris Bueller from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” The film, “Arrival” answers that question better, but with a less easily digestible soundbyte.
You see, the alien language is not a linear language. Because as philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein put it, “the limits of our language are the limits of our world” (Tractatus), our linear language limits our world. The aliens have no such temporal barrier so they think through time. In a sense, they are able to transcend time and use information from the future to help them in the present.
Once they teach this to Louise, she is able to do the same… or actually she already did and didn’t realize it yet… because time. That’s the twist. Her dead daughter hasn’t even been born yet! So back to the question at hand. Knowing that if you had a daughter, she would die of cancer as a teen, would you still conceive her? For Louise, the answer is, yes because while she knows her daughter will die of cancer, she also knows that she will love the time she has with her daughter while her daughter is alive. As William Wallace from the film, “Braveheart” put it, “Every man dies. Not every man really lives.”
Ultimately, the answer to the question, “What is your purpose on Earth?” is to live life. Life isn’t about a destination or how or when you die. It isn’t about how long you live. It is about living life! So what if I will be “worm food” in a hundred years. I am alive right now. Life isn’t a video game. We don’t get extra guys or second tries. Life is a movie and we have to enjoy the show and it doesn’t matter that it will end in two hours. We are still watching the movie.
This is the real message of “Arrival.” Your purpose on Earth is to enjoy your life!
BTW, this movie was based on a short story called, “Story of Your Life.”
- Transformers Rescue Bot Answers The Meaning of Life (skepticink.com)
- Move Over Wolf 1061c, Here Comes Proxima b (skepticink.com)
- Life’s a Movie; Enjoy The Show (Huffington Post)
- First Cause Argument… Again (skepticink.com)