Denis Villeneuve's latest film, Arrival, at first seems to pose as a traditional "aliens-from-outer-space/what-are-their-intentions?" sci-fi flick. But, at its core it challenges us with deep, provocative meditations on the nature of language, the (apparent) linearity of time, and the (current) limits of our subjective experience as finite creatures, who might be scratching only the thin surface or shell of the complex, multi-dimensional fabric of spacetime.
If all this sounds trippy and disorienting, it is, and after watching the film you will likely feel a bit unsettled. The plot does not resolve in any conventional, predictable way, and I suspect that is exactly Villeneuve's intention. And yet, I was mesmerized, in solemn awe of everything I had seen. The implications of Arrivals events (or, more accurately, event), are at once frightening, beautiful, sad, and compelling, if they were to ever transpire in (our) spacetime. I will say no more, in case you're reading this and have yet to see the movie.
To close, Arrival dared to ask some of the most profound philosophical questions about reality and our relationship to it, and I think it did so successfully. It also is reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar, which contemplated multi-dimensional existence with more overt but still poignant gestures. At the very least, these films push us to scrutinize the limits of scientific knowledge at any point in humanity's arc of progress, insight, and innovation, and this should result in humble appreciation of the glorious unknowns of nature herself. Indeed, as the Bard himself spoke through Hamlet: