I was expecting aliens...
I mean, there were aliens. Two of them, in fact, that never left one of the twelve, multistory tall ships that landed throughout the globe. Named heptapods for their radial seven arm symmetry, but affectionally dubbed Abbot and Castello, the aliens were hardly the stars of the movie.
Originally, I thought Arrival was going to be a film that followed the all-time classic alien movie formula. It would start with the first encounter of alien invaders followed by inter-planetary war with humankind coming together to prevail in the end but not without the only black character getting killed off shockingly early and an overload of catastrophic explosions.
Instead the star of this movie is not only Amy Adams but language itself. It is the first alien movie, that I know of, where the protagonist isn't military (although she is contracted by the military) or a biologist of some sort, but a linguist with the impossibly intricate task of translating dialogue between two very frightened cultures.
Now here's the thing...
This is the part in my post where I talk about the plot. Thinking back to my journalism school days when I wrote an A+ review for Notorious, I started off with a small bit of generic information about the storyline and its characters and now this is where I should transition into greater plot details but withhold any major spoilers.
However, that's become difficult for me to do. That's because Arrival is designed to confuse the living hell out of the audience. I've had a few days to let its entirety wash over me and I think I know less about the plot now than I did immediately after it ended. So I'm not sure exactly how to tackle summarizing the plot but I think that's the point.
This is because Arrival challenges you to consider time differently than how we understand it to work. We think of time as being continually linear. That means it has a beginning, a middle and an end and we're always moving from the past into the present and eventually into the future. Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity tells us that time can stretch and flex but it can't travel backwards and we've come to accept that as fact. So how do you tell a story with a beginning, middle and an end with a concept that time doesn't quite flow in that sequence?
Here's my best shot...
When twelve alien ships, dubbed shells, land at points scattered throughout the planet, the corresponding nations begin to panic as their purpose of their arrival is unknown. Members of the United States military show up at linguist Louise Banks' (Amy Adams) office asking for her help in deciphering the spoken language of two alien entities. Her reluctant agreement to help translate pairs her alongside theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) at the Montana location of a shell. Upon meeting the two heptapods, Louise writes the word "human" on a whiteboard which becomes the catalyst for a dialogue of written words and symbols between to two species. Unsure of how to translate, she considers how their concept of time may impact their symbols. That their written language of circles with slight alterations in serif is not supposed to be read from one direction to the other like ours. That perhaps its message is designed to be understood all at once. Plagued by recurring flashbacks of her daughter battling and dying from a rare disease, she fights through the effects of sleepless nights in order to fully understand the heptapod's language.
As her skills progress, she begins a more complex, albeit choppy, dialogue for the military's purpose of understanding why they've arrived on Earth. Her words are understood and the heptapod's message is simple. They want to deliver a weapon to humanity.
As the word of their intentions plasters itself across the planet, China gives the visitors an ultimatum. Either leave Earth or prepare to be fired upon. Louise unsuccessfully pleads with US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to explain to China that the heptapod's language is so complex that the word "weapon" could easily share a double meaning with the word "tool" and that perhaps their purpose is trade, not war.
As her knowledge of the heptapod's language expands, Louise begins to experience what is known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis where her cognitive state is altered by her growing fluency. Much like how a speaker of both English and Spanish may dream in both languages, Louise's view of time becomes more cyclical with points of ingress and egress rather than strictly linear. Slowly, Louise realizes that the visions of her child dying are not flashbacks but future memories of her life after the arrival. She is premembering events rather than remembering them.
As tensions grow, the heptapods allow only Louise the opportunity to converse with them. In her one-on-one meeting with one of the heptapods, the alien reassures her that the heptapods only want to deliver a tool. That is because in 3,000 years, they will need the help of humanity. The altering concept of time based on their language is their tool.
Using her understanding of how the heptapod's language works, she premembers into the future for the risks she needed to take in the present in order to prevent global war against the heptapods.
That is my honest and only slightly plagiarized attempt at the plot. There is so much more to this movie that I could divulge. I have so much admiration for director Dennis Villeneuve and the short story, "Story of Your Life" by author Ted Chiang, that Arrival is based upon. How do you begin to convey a linear story about time being cyclical?
Additionally, there are so many throwaway lines in this movie that piece the story together so wonderfully. Such as a "flashback" where Louise's daughter asks her what the scientific term for a win-win agreement is. Louise responds shortly with, "If you want scientific, ask your father." Then the memory ends and is never talked about again. It seems insignificant at first but, as the movie unfolds, you find out that this one little line happens to be a major point in the plot that was revealed nonlinearly. Lines like this are scattered throughout the movie.
Arrival is genius, unorthodox, gripping and perplexing. I loved this movie the same way I loved Interstellar. Both are the types of movies that I'll gladly fall down fan submitted theory rabbit holes and the ones that I'll find myself reciting lines from when I'm safe to be weird. My plan is to go see it in theaters one more time and then actually walk into a brick and mortar store to buy it on Blu-ray because I can't wait the two days for it to ship from Amazon.
If you have read this far into my review then I would hope you've already seen Arrival. If you haven't, then I'm sorry for the spoilers. However, what makes this movie so enjoyable is that while I have divulged the general plot, there are entire subplots within the movie swimming with complexity that I could not have possibly crammed everything into this already long review. So go see Arrival anyway. I promise that it'll be one of best movies of 2016.
The idea that the Earth's climate could possibly be altered by the consumption of fossil fuels first caught my attention in high school. Not because I was a budding environmentalist or because I meticulously took notes in physical science. I was hardly a good student. I struggled maintaining C's and the rare B was cause for a celebration and eased my parent's fear that I wouldn't make it into college. Science class was a challenge even though the natural world fascinated me. I struggled wrapping my head around theories and balancing chemical equations. However, one concept was so simple in its explanation that even I could understand it.
The greenhouse effect.
Radiation from the sun hits the Earth where a portion is absorbed by the ocean and the Earth's surface. The other portion is converted into long wave infrared radiation that travels back into the atmosphere. Some of that infrared radiation makes its way through and out into space while the rest remains trapped in our atmosphere halted by CO2 molecular bonds. That remaining heat builds and warms the planet, which is why we're seeing the ice caps melt and the oceans rise.
How I understood this concept was to imagine the Earth as a greenhouse. The glass ceiling acting as molecular CO2 bonds lets sunlight through the top but keeps heat from escaping, thus raising the temperature inside the greenhouse. It's that simple and its been happening for over a century.
This week, when Donald Trump was elected president, I watched in horror as I felt the weight of the impending cataclysms of climate change grow closer. That is because Trump is known a climate change denier. The far too few times climate change was addressed this election; Trump claimed that it was a hoax. He proclaimed that climate change is not man made but just a myth invented by the far-left for political gain.
I don't honestly think Trump truly believes this gross inaccuracy. I think he want's to appeal to his political allies that have the interests of fossil fuel industries in mind. With that being said, his accession into office with a Republican controlled Senate and House means Trump no longer needs to pretend it's a hoax. He no longer has to claim it's an invention of climate scientists greedy for government grants. He doesn't have to pretend anymore because our country just elected leaders with personal interests that are in direct competition to clean energy technologies.
Despite that fact, I believe that there's real possibility within the private sector in pausing the damage of excess CO2. To become the conqueror of climate change by mid-century is a challenge that the brightest minds on the planet are striving to tackle. Right now, we are in our infancy of clean energy technologies. Solar panels are still not widely available and the electric car has yet to become practical. So it's crucial that our government, dare I say, regulates CO2 polluters and incentivizes those who embrace alternative sources of fuel.
With saying what I've wanted to say about climate change, I admit that I've really struggled with writing this post. There are a million frightening reasons to be worried about the Trump administration. Combating climate change is an incredibly important topic to me but I have by no means ignored his other fallacies. His disgusting and barbaric call to violate human rights has questioned my desire to one-day raise a child in the near future. I don't know how to rank his climate change denial among his horrific campaign promises because on one hand the environment affects every single person on this planet...
While over on the other, and more immediate hand, his promises of mass deportation, a ban on Muslims, a defunded Planed Parenthood among other essential programs, his blatant sexism, his running mate passing a law allowing the discrimination of Indiana's LGBTQ community, his declaration that his political rival should be jailed and a refusal to denounce the endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan are looming threats that have to be taken seriously and it has me beyond terrified. If you believe that his words were simply political doublespeak or embellished by the media, his red-hatted followers would disagree. His rallies and finger pointing have created a safe space for bigots to step out publicly with their hatred. Just look at the Twitter timeline of @ShaunKing for day 1 of Trump's America.
The only thing I want to take from this disastrous election is the enormous divide between white men and people of color, women and religions other than Christianity brought to our televisions and timelines every night. I always knew this schism in America existed but I never knew to what severity until recently. I never knew what that fear was like for a black man to be pulled over by the police or what it was like for a woman to be grabbed without consent and then told it's her fault. I will never know that feeling of oppression but I'll never stop listening to those who do.
This man makes me so damn sick and angry that I haven't brought myself to say the words "President Trump" aloud. My non-acceptance of his term as president will not change anything - I know that. He's now in command despite my wishes that I'm about to wake up from a spiraling nightmare.
So now that we're getting ready for the Trump administration, my hope in the years to come is that the vast majority of American's will not tolerate environmental and human rights violations. That the misogyny we witnessed will inspire more of us to encourage young girls in exploring their curiosity in education, STEM careers, government and the arts the same way we encourage our boys. That we'll recognize the value in setting good examples for more impressionable eyes to witness and we'll treat every single person with the inherent respect they deserve.
The Chicago Bulls are the most electric team in the NBA right now and it's not even close. I know the Warriors already have chemistry and look absolutely terrifying. LeBron fulfilled his promise to Cleveland and is playing relaxed and MVP quality ball. The Warriors and the Cavs are the two best teams and they'll play each other in the finals no doubt.
The Bulls, however, are playing with zero expectation. Preseason predictions have the Bulls as a sub .500 team and starting their summer vacations after the 82nd game. Everyone, including myself, thought this team would collapse under weak coaching and surgically repaired knees. I was in an Uber on the 4th of July when I got the notification that Rajon Rondo signed a two-year, $28 million contract with the Bulls. I immediately walked into my friend's house while tweeting my profanity laced displeasure. Then just 48 hours later, it was announced that Dwyane Wade had accepted the Bulls offer of a two-year, $47.5 million deal. This time I texted my brother and asked him what the fuck the Bulls were thinking.
When the Bulls missed the playoffs last season, the Bulls front office promised us that the team was going to get younger, more athletic and focus on 3-point shooting. The Bulls were going to bury the dinosaur basketball they had been playing by trading Derrick Rose to the Knicks, letting Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol walk and developing young talent like Doug McDermott and Bobby Portis. Then free agency began and the Bulls signed a 30-year-old point guard with a career average of 10.9 ppg and a 34-year-old shooting guard with a plummeting fg% since his days with LeBron. Not to mention our two newest acquisitions butted heads with each other in the past. Our fears as fans of a potential team chemistry disaster felt too real when Rondo was quoted as saying the Chicago Bulls had "three alphas." Yes. Three alpha players and a head coach who is the antithesis of Thibs. No way the three alphas don't fist fight each other by mid-January.
However, the Bulls experiment of going old with poor shooting is weirdly yielding positive results. Through three games, the Bulls are undefeated and have scored 100+ points in one game, and 110+ points in two games. I know the sample size is small and plenty of lottery teams look good to start the season. That's important to remember right now. But, what's important to fans after the disaster of the 2015-16 season is that Bulls basketball is fun again.
Last season, when Rose played, it was just aggressive layups while wings stood around and poorly executed 3-point attempts. Noah sadly came off the bench before ending his season early with a shoulder injury. Doug McDermott and Nikola Mirotic did not seem to improve much from their rookie seasons and Pau Gasol racked up meaningless double-doubles against teams like the Sixers and the Nets. It was ugly, flat and made me loathe my favorite basketball team.
But to everyone's surprise, it seems that the 2016-17 Bulls don't have the chemistry issues we all anticipated. Wade has this undeniable joy to be playing in his home town. Rondo is playing with an appreciation for a somewhat functional franchise after spending a year in Sacramento. Taj Gibson is finally getting the starting role he earned several seasons ago and McDermott has a shot that would make Klay Thompson blush.
Then there's Jimmy Butler. The face of this franchise and the face of Bonobos. I believe we're going to see Jimmy's role as this team's leader firmly established this season as he'll most likely be selected to his third straight all-star game. The locker-room disfunction has faded with the absence of number 1 from Memphis and Jimmy has this team playing with passion and brain power.
I was wrong about this team. You don't score 105, 118 and 118 in your first three games accidentally. This team, including coach Fred Hoiberg, clearly spent the summer preparing to attack this season with intelligence and throat slashes. This team is equipped to make the playoffs and will ultimately test itself against LeBron. I can't wait.
I write the words I'm too uncomfortable to say.