Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Advent 2020 Is Near & Needed | Film Reflection: "Arrival"


Amy Adams as Louise Banks with daughter, Hannah, in opening scene of "Arrival"


Denis Villeneuve's thoughtful and timely, heartbreaking yet hopeful film, "Arrival," helps us engage the mystery and the disorientation of Advent as we close 2020. This special film also invites us to receive an infinite gift from a messenger from the heavens with a Magnificat boldness if we'll only dare to trust that a greater other's coming to us is meant for our good even during a pandemic and time of uncertainty.


Suddenly, a messenger appeared among them ... and they were terrified, but the messenger reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you Good News that will bring great joy to all people. ... Suddenly, the messenger was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” ...Luke 2:9-14

The Scriptures above tell of a shocking moment that shook the lives of those who saw the skies part open and beings from another world break in with a message. These bystanders could either dare to believe the promise was true, beautiful, and good, or they could run away terrified that the message was a trick or a lie.

A similar otherworldly event occurs in Denis Villeneuve's science-fiction film, "Arrival". Those who know me know that Villeneuve is my favorite working director today and in 2016 he did not disappoint again with this fascinating film. Along with John Krasinksi's instant horror classic, "A Quiet Place," I also consider "Arrival" to be an instant science fiction classic. It sits secure in my Top 4 Advent films to watch during the four weeks of Advent heading into the holiest of days to help close the year on December 25.

In remembering that "Advent" comes from the Latin roots of the word "come" and the English word is derived from the Latin "adventus" meaning "arrival," this film's title alone provides the preview of how this cinematic experience invites us as viewers to consider how we receive the message of Advent that surprises, shocks, and stirs us to either hold back in fear or step forward in faith.

Advent begins in the dark ... but while Advent does begin in the dark, it also reveals God is coming in surprising and powerful ways to meet us in our darkness, confront evil, and reveal more than we could hope or imagine ... Advent | The Coming Day Before, Now, and Again

For this post, I will focus on a few scenes in the film along with the overall outline of the plot in order not to give away the revelatory finale.

The Opening Scene of "Arrival" in full HD on YouTube


"I used to think this was the beginning of your story. Memory is a strange thing. It doesn't work like I thought it did. ... 

(Baby crying) 'Come back to me, come back to me, come back to me ... '" 

These are the words spoken by our heroine, Louise, to her daughter, Hannah, as the story of 
"Arrival" begins to unfold on screen. In so many perceived and revealed ways, "Arrival" is a film about remembering and revealing. It's a story about invitation and communication. It's a challenge to love even in the midst of known suffering. It's a consideration that a gift may come with a cost, but in sacrificial love, it's worth giving again and again in our memories as well as in our practices with others.

When first contact occurs with the heptapod aliens on earth across 12 different locations around the world in various oceanic and rural spaces, the U.S. military invites Louise Banks, a renowned linguist, to help them communicate with these beings because "she's at the top of everyone's lists when it comes to translations." Priority 1 for Louise: discover "What do they want and where do they come from?" 


Amy Adams as Louise Banks encounters the Alien Spacecraft in "Arrival"

Louise comes across as smart, melancholy, and perceptive. She has a painful peace about her that conveys a wise presence in the face of potential chaos. Because in the first two minutes of the film, we saw she gave birth to a little girl as well as watched her die as a teenager, we perceive that Louise has suffered, but still journeys on in her life, seeking to bring curiosity and healing to her work in languages translation rather than assumption or accusation. 

And her wisdom is needed now as around the world, nations are suspicious of each other as well as the aliens' intentions. No one is sure how to work together, and most are afraid that these messengers are bringing death instead of life.

"What happens now?" ... "They arrive."

Amy Adams as Louise Banks in "First Contact" Scene in "Arrival"

The word "angel" means "messenger." ... In spite of all that's going on in our culture right now, with images of angels that look more and more like Barbie dolls by the minute, the biblical angels remain elusive, enigmatic, alien. They come not so much from another place "up there" as from another sphere of reality altogether. When angels appear, it means that the Kingdom of God has irrupted into this earthly orb. ... they are very different from us because their existence is exclusively shaped by the will of God. 
+ Fleming Rutledge, Advent

Instead of fear when they arrive, Louise takes another route. One of her Magnificat moments occurs early in the film as she leaves the confines of her group, sheds all protection in the alien ship, saying, "They need to see me." Louise knows that in order to truly communicate, for our words to line up with our bodies and actions, we have to come vulnerable with each other. She not only speaks, she comes towards the aliens and presses her hand against their surface, her words becoming flesh. Her words and her actions are a cry for connection against everyone else's silence for self-protection.

... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

The aliens understand her gesture, and they reach out, too, beginning to speak to her and the rest of humanity she represents in their language, full of shape, dimension, and circular scope. They trust her, and she makes strides forward in helping them understand humanity's existence. They also help Louise experience their language, a communication that not only begins to fill her imagination and dreams, but gives her a vision of the past, present, and potentially, the future.

She continues to share what she's learning with others in military intelligence, but fear increases. What if this is a malicious delay? What if the aliens have a weapon? What if another country uses what they discover against the rest of the world, or someone attacks the aliens and the U.S. needs to be ready to defend themselves against global war? Louise disagrees and sees it as a gift for unity and collaboration across all humanity with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation, saying:

"This is a way to force us to work together for once." 

Even after a shocking display of violence, Louise's response is sacrificial. "I go back in." She continues her song of making herself vulnerable, seeking to bring peace, seeking to bring the world together, to make things whole.


Amy Adams as Louise Banks in "The Heptapods Speak Scene" in "Arrival"

Is Louise deceived? Do these heptapod (i.e. 7 limbs representing the heavens reaching into earth to bring wholeness and completion like the number 7 symbolizes in ancient Scriptures?) aliens mean to bring a gift of life or destroy with a weapon of death? Why are there 12 (i.e. number of tribes and apostles sent into the world with a good news message of communion with God and men for eternity?) ships located around the world, not in places of power, but in humble locations of beauty and serenity? And why does Louise keep dreaming of her daughter with more intensity the more she connects with these messengers from the heavens?

"There are days that define your story beyond your life ... like the day they arrived ... "

My words are purposefully mysterious because to reveal any more would ruin the brilliance of Villeneuve's modern science fiction masterpiece. However, I will say that "Arrival" invites us to look beyond ourselves to the heavens for a bigger view of life, communication, peace, and time. It presents a view of humanity, through our current skills of translation and revelation, that unveils us as broken and afraid in our pride of presumed understanding of our existence, rather than open and courageous in a humility of discovery. 

The messengers in "Arrival" bring a Word made flesh that might bring peace if humanity is willing to receive it. Louise receives their timeless gift with awe and wonder. And when things get worse, an act and a vision of mercy is given, but with a price. If Louise believes and acts on what she sees, her conception and memory of a child as well as a comrade across the world will be the key for the salvation of humanity. But it will come with a bittersweet cost. Will Louise embody the vision to sacrificially choose love and its loss and save the world?

What we receive and do now in the present displays hope based on what was sacrificially done for us in the past until our future is made whole in peace with Him and each other based on what He revealed to us will occur (ref. 1 Corinthians 11:23, 26).  

If you plan to watch the film, or already have and want some more background to other considerations in relation to communication and revelation, check out Bishop Barron on "Arrival" on YouTube. He thoughtfully shares about the Word of God in the words of men and how a timeless communication comes into time and place in strange, peculiar ways that translates us into an infinite world.

More Advent Film Reflections: 


Rev. Mike “Sully” Sullivan