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Movie: Arrival (2016)

  1. Feb 23, 2017 #1
    SPOILER ALERT. I saw this movie recently and, as usual, there are some things that I found puzzling and was wondering what other people thought.

    For one thing, the aliens were very much more advanced than us, so why didn't they figure out our language, instead of us having to figure out their apparently far more complicated one?

    Also, how was the ability to experience the past and future imparted to Amy Adams?
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 23, 2017 #2
    They probably could understand our language, but letting the humans know that would undermine their real mission.

    They say in the film that learning the septapod language is what lets her remember the future.
  4. Feb 23, 2017 #3
    Learning their language was important. It took me two views to realize why.
  5. Feb 23, 2017 #4
    I thought that was the case, but how is that explained? How can figuring out a language change your mental state in such a manner?
  6. Feb 23, 2017 #5
    Can you share that realization?
  7. Feb 23, 2017 #6
    The premise is that when you learn a language and think in it your thought processes change, different "symbols". The heptapod language goes that one better, allowing a person to think nonlinearly, to do a Billy Pilgrim if you will
  8. Feb 23, 2017 #7
    Learning a language can rewire your brain. So what could learning an alien language do?

    Well, it is just a movie. I liked it.
  9. Feb 24, 2017 #8
    But in the movie weren't her "flashbacks" occurring before she even got involved with the aliens?
  10. Feb 24, 2017 #9
    Although I think the movie is better, some points are more clearly displayed in the original novel.
    The novel tries to convey some of the nonlinearity of the alien language/viewpoint. It's tuned down in the movie, so it's just acceptably confusing, but it's still there. The events are not linked by a straight timeline, but more by a thought process.
  11. Feb 24, 2017 #10


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    The film plays with the concept of language influencing thoughts. At one point it drops a hint, when dr Banks dreams up a conversation with Ian where he mentions the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which was a rather strong version of the idea (where language determines thought).

    The language of the heptapods is described in the film, both in conversation and visually by the use of circular patterns as not having the concept of a beginning and the end of an utterance. All sentences are formed already whole, so in the accordance with the aforementioned hypothesis, one can imagine their thoughts being similarly already-formed, with no perception of what's before and what's after.

    The conceit here (the 'fiction' bit in the S-F that we need to suspend our disbelief for) is that this extends to the whole of their existence, that they see all of their life experiences as already existing, rather than being a series of temporally-ordered events one has to either wait for or remember. When Banks begins to learn their language, she begins to 'remember' her whole life (i.e. see the future) - but there's more. As in this new way of seeing the world there is no beginning and no end, and all of experiences exist at once, it means that she has always known what she will ever know. That her flashbacks (premonitions? flash-forwards?) did not begin only after she learned the language.

    That she doesn't always understand what's going on, or doesn't remember everything, can be blamed on it being an alien language that she struggles (have struggled, will struggle) to grasp in its entirety. It all fits rather nicely, I thought.

    As for why didn't the aliens learn human instead - it's a film about communication. About meeting half-way and understanding each other. But also about the concept of 'uplifting' by a more advanced race. One can argue that the most advanced 'technology' the aliens wanted to transfer was their language with everything it makes possible.
  12. Feb 24, 2017 #11
    Why would that matter? She's "unstuck in time".
  13. Feb 24, 2017 #12
    If they had learned earth's languages first - something I assume they could have done in less time than us learning theirs - then they could have more efficiently transferred their language to us. As it was, global war almost broke out until at the last minute their language was finally understood. But I guess they already knew that would happen. o0)

    I did enjoy the movie and may appear to be nick-picking, but I just like to understand the logic of how and why things were done.
  14. Feb 24, 2017 #13
    There was liberal use of handwavium, I think.
  15. Feb 24, 2017 #14
    That part is also a thing which is hard to deduct from the film since it was just lightly touched in a few sentences. The novel is more centered on the opposition of the 'know the future' and 'losing the free will'.
    They did know what will happen, but after getting that knowledge they had no free will to change the future...

    I personally think that this should have been displayed more clearly in the movie. It's a big missing part.
  16. Feb 24, 2017 #15

    jim mcnamara

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    FWIW - There is an older NPR Nova show on the subject of brain development and language. In one segment an experiment was reviewed on the results of MRI scans of the active brains of native speakers of various languages doing things like reading and listening to music. Example: native Japanese speakers use an entirely different part of the brain for music than native English speakers do. @jim hardy put up the link some thread in discussion I think.

    There are languages with phonemes that non-native speakers never become able to "hear". Apparently, we all start out able to interpret any phoneme. If we do not hear that phoneme regularly as an infant and small child, the ability is completely lost. Forever. This fact is noticeable when foreign speakers learn your language. They may not pronounce some language sounds quite right, but you still understand what is being said.
  17. Feb 24, 2017 #16

    jim hardy

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    I first read of that in Richard Restak's 1984 book "The Brain", companion to a PBS series by same name. I caught a re-run of the series around 1990 i think and remember those scans vividly.

    Now i can only find links to a newer video, "The Secret Life of the Brain" , also featuring Restak's work..
    I think i remember seeing that one but the memories are way less vivid.

    This might be the old link

    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
  18. Oct 5, 2017 #17
    This movie made me think....
  19. Oct 5, 2017 #18
    The source story made my brain hurt. In a good way.
  20. Oct 17, 2017 #19
    I finally got round to buying the film in Blu-ray a couple of weeks ago and I've really enjoyed it. Nevertheless, I've learned far more about the plot from reading up about it in this forum than on the two occasions I've watched the film thus far. . . why? Well, according to my ears at least - and this may come across as faintly ironic/dispiriting given the film's linguistic theme - Arrival suffers every now and then from the 'mumbles'. Yes, I did whack up the volume whenever I sensed the narration and my listening abilities on the verge of parting company for good. All the same the audio contrast between the film's occasional action scenes (e.g. those thwumping choppers) and the dialogue had me diving for the remote more times than I care to remember (I do have neighbours). It's great film, all the same, one of the best SF films I've seen in a long while. . . well, since Gravity. The next time I watch Arrival, though, I'll flick on the subtitles and pretend it's a foreign language film. It might even add to the mystique. Who knows? I don't. . . at least not yet.
  21. Oct 17, 2017 #20
    How exciting could it be if they only needed one Avenger and Superman's girlfriend?
  22. Oct 17, 2017 #21


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    I know this was old, but I just saw this movie and now this thread, so...

    I liked the movie and am generally the type to let a movie wash over me without thinking about it, but both of these did bother me too:
    Agree that they should have and there is no good reason not to (more on that later...).
    The explanation was that language affects how you think...which is true, but doesn't enable one to violate the laws of physics!
    I assume by that you mean problem solving via collaboration (or perhaps collaboration resulting from problem solving). This is not an uncommon theme in alien first contact stories (like... Contact), but to me it is arrogantly human-centric. Because 'cmon: if an obvious alien spaceship lands on the White House lawn, we're all going to sit passively glued to our TVs and our government will do pretty much whatever they ask of us. Because any alien race capable of traveling here is also capable of crushing us like the bugs that we are. We'd be at their mercy, would know it and would act accordingly.

    So there's no need for the game to trick us into cooperating. They would just need to land and hand over a note that says "stop fighting for a minute; we need a hand with something" and we'd say "yep, whatever you need, we'll give you!'
  23. Oct 17, 2017 #22
    You know, you and I might feel that way, but I can't help thinking that a certain minority of people who took the movie 'Independence Day' to heart would go charging down Pennsylvania Avenue with their AR-15's to chase those buggers back to Mars.
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