Movie Review: The Perception of Threat in Arrival

Another movie review. Because I like to link everything and movies can be used as analogies to explain everything, especially in for international relations, like a lecturer taught me to.

Arrival (2016). Is a sci-fi that reimagines how aliens or extraterrestrial beings are perceived by Hollywood movies. Normally sci-fi movies would show aliens or extraterrestrials as a villain. They’ve come to conquer us, and we need to fight to survive. Alien movies, such Aliens (pun intended), Predator, Independence Day, usually using the foreign unknown beings as of the antagonist that needs to be destroyed. Some movies would provide the good aliens, but still, the majority of the villain role would go to the aliens. But in Arrival, the scenario is changed. The aliens, in the movie referred as Heptapodese, did not show any kinds of aggression that would fall into the antagonist role. Even when the major buildup to the conflict resulted in the harm of their own, they still did not show any kind of violence whatsoever. In the movie, the antagonist role falls into the humans, with their sense of insecurity and assumption of everything to be against them, following the usual sci-fi trope used in movies in the same genre.

The movie follows the story of  Louise Banks (Amy Adams) a Linguistics professor who is tasked with leading an investigative team to identify the intention of aliens landing on earth at 12 different points worldwide. Her mission is to learn and understand the language of those Aliens, or Heptapodese, and to determine their relationship, that would decide the future of humanity. In the end, the heptapodese’s only reason to come to Earth was to present a gift, that is their own language (spoilers), which was supposedly able to view time at a non-linear method, in hoping that mankind would use it and provide the help that they would require from the humans in the distant future.

So, what was the point of the movie? Mainly, how the perception of others affects human behaviour, especially when it affects their sense of survival and security. I study international relations, and perception is a key issue often used for analysing how states identify their interest and make a decision. Whether if it’s the individual leadership or the state as a unity. The point is, states are more likely to make aggressive decisions when issues of security and survival are under threat.

But in the movie Arrival, that sense of insecurity was the trigger for the conflict. The humans were always on their feet for any potential threats that the Heptapodese could potentially show. The purpose of the movie along the way was to confirm the intention of the aliens, and whether they presented a threat or not. Granted, that is the logical assumption that should be taken when any type of uncertainty is presented, but the climax of the movie was caused by the rash assumptions of certain human groups without confirmation, and disregarding the consequences of the decisions. That bounded rationale is a show of how threat perception can lead to the assumption of how error-prone humanity is still is.

Mankind is still at a phase that we can confirm nor deny that aliens do exist. And if they really do, the issue of language and perception would definitely be a problem that humanity should consider properly and rationally.