Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

November 15, 2016


Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 4:44 pm

Since “Arrival” opened only last Friday at my local Cineplex, I was rather surprised to see no more than 5 or 6 people in the theater last night for the 10:15 show. Given its 93 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I expected to see hundreds instead. The first thing that entered my mind was that the word-of-mouth on the film was probably not very good.

After settling in with my wife, it was obvious that the common folk were smarter than the critics who fell all over themselves praising the film to the skies. After 20 minutes or so, my wife turned to me and whispered, “Do you like this?” I told her I did even though my main motivation was to stick it out to the bitter end since this was one of those overhyped films I owe it to my readers to avoid paying good money on. I encouraged her to return to our apartment and watch something on the Bravo network that would have been far more intelligent than this metaphysically obscure science fiction yarn.

I was hoping for something approaching “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” or “The Day the Earth Stood Still” but the film had much more in common with Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar”, a film not at all about space aliens but about space-time continuum anomalies—the sort of thing that Star Trek fans adore. You know, like when Captain Kirk goes into the past to advise his younger self. (Yawn.)

Amy Adams stars as Louise Banks, a linguist who has been drafted by the military as part of a mission to communicate with space aliens who have landed in a spaceship that hovers about fifty feet above the ground in Montana, just as eleven others have landed around the world. The space aliens who appear behind what looks like a plate glass window in the spaceship have an uncanny resemblance to those who abducted Homer Simpson but without the eye and the fangs.

Nearly the entire film consists of Banks trying to teach the creatures English while she tries to learn their language in turn, which has vocal and written forms unrelated to each other. The written form does not use fountain pens or IPads. Instead it emanates as smoke rings from their tentacles that finally end up graffiti-like against their side of the plate glass thingy that separates them from the humans. Considering the static nature of these scenes and their lack of conventional dramatic tension, there’s really not much to sink your teeth into. For me, it was a lot less interesting than the documentary “Project Nim” that detailed the attempts to teach a chimpanzee how to use sign language. Plus, chimps are a lot more engaging than CGI-generated space octopuses.

Okay, here’s a spoiler alert. Don’t go any further if you have plans to see this dopey film.

What Banks finally discovers is that the creatures are trying to teach human beings their language that allows you to experience time in a non-linear fashion. In other words, you don’t need a time-machine to go backwards and forwards chronologically—or something like that. By mastering this language, Banks develops the ability to experience the birth and death of her daughter who we first meet in the beginning of the film in what seems to be a flashback. Instead it is a flashforward. They were anxious to teach humans their language because their help would be needed 3,000 years in the future. Don’t ask me why. No reason was given.

By contrast, we care deeply about ET who we hope will be able to return home. We also care deeply about Klaatu, who comes to earth to prevent nuclear catastrophe. But how can you care about 7-legged creatures who speak through smoke rings blown from their tentacles like ink from an octopus (or is that squids–who cares)? That is, unless we had a better idea of what fate awaited them 3,000 years hence. Was their planet doomed like Superman’s Krypton? Of course, none of this was possible to dramatize when the space alien was so remote from us biologically. They might have been even more workable as “characters” if they looked and acted like the ethereal and strangely beautiful creatures in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”.

At least Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” made a lame attempt to ground its time travel in Einsteinian physics. “Arrival” is simply a mish-mosh that puts science to the side in the fashion of some of the more bonkers Star Trek episodes that at least had the merit of being entertaining.

Here, btw, was my satiric take on “Interstellar”. If I find the time, I might do a trailer for “Arrival”.


  1. Thanks for that: I was actually thinking of going to see it today!

    I had some vague reservations,though I liked the idea of the language stuff, but you’ve now made up my mind.

    The Light Between Oceans is on at the Municipal Cinema on Friday and looks a wider choice.

    Comment by Andrew Coates — November 15, 2016 @ 5:05 pm

  2. Just saw it and was similarly disappointed in this ridiculous “high concept” film. And I love science fiction. Total waste of time, except for Amy Adams’ engaging performance.

    Comment by Tony — November 16, 2016 @ 12:31 am

  3. At first I couldn’t understand why someone would give such a harsh review of this mind blowing movie, then I realized that this movie is not for anyone who is clearly not an intellectual…you have to think throughout this movie, if you do not enjoy thinking, then you will not enjoy this movie.

    Comment by Nini — November 16, 2016 @ 3:28 am

  4. I liked it as it stirred the thought as to how we will actually communicate when they arrive for real.

    Comment by Gary — November 16, 2016 @ 3:36 am

  5. Spurred on by all the glowing reviews, I went to see this movie today, fully prepared to be enthralled and deeply moved. Meh! I was put off by just about every aspect of this dull and pretentious piece of melodrama dressed up as pseudo sci-fi. The fine actors involved were wasted on the script. The dialogue, especially the banter between Renner’s and Adam’s characters, was often cringe-inducing. I truly hated the oppressive, omnipresent sound track. And, yes, it really didn’t help that the aliens resembled Kang and Kodos from The Simpsons. (If this film had any wit, Renner’s character would have suggested those names for the leggy pair instead of Abbott and Costello.)

    Comment by M Tusa — November 16, 2016 @ 6:19 am

  6. If your standard for good science fiction is E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, it’s no surprise you didn’t like this movie. Enjoy your Bravo TV!

    Comment by D — November 16, 2016 @ 3:02 pm

  7. I love the Kang and Kodos comparison! I decided to read ZERO reviews before seeing this movie. I liked it overall, finding it to have effective acting and special effects, and a reasonably cerebral plot. However, for my taste, it all moved way too slowly. It’s like they “crammed a one-hour movie into two hours.” Also, for my taste, there were way too many prolonged close-ups of Adams’ dramatic facial expressions – those close-ups alone probably comprise the largest fraction of screen time. She’s angst-ridden, apprehensive & puzzled – WE GET IT! Finally, what was the deal with Whittaker’s accent? I guess I wasn’t sophisticated enough to place it – or, perhaps, is was exactly as weird & inconsistent (and thus as annoying) as I perceived.

    Comment by MTE — November 17, 2016 @ 11:24 pm

  8. You know, there really isn’t a need to insult people who find this movie boring by saying they aren’t intellectuals. Hell, I’ve got a masters degree…so what? The movie was incredibly boring regardless. I love good SciFi but this movie isn’t it. As to the “thinking” requirement, well anyone who gives it much thought can probably identify about a dozen plot holes without much trouble. All that would be forgiven if the movie actually was engaging but instead it is just dull. Renner is wasted, Adams is very good, and no one else has much of a role.

    Comment by JR — November 18, 2016 @ 4:21 am

  9. People calling this a cerebral film only appreciated and understood by intellectuals… what? This played out like an Asimov draft copied by the kid sitting at the desk next to him in grade school. Only the kid didn’t have a clear view, and didn’t have time to read the end. There isn’t a single idea in this movie that hasn’t been covered in better fashion over the past fifty years. The Day the Earth Stood Still is going to be the obvious blunt stick used to beat this sorry pretentious piece of overwrought twaddle. Just one of the many logic lapses (SPOILER ALERT)… please explain why you would grieve the loss of your child right from the offset – when you haven’t had the child yet, and you can’t see the future yet? The writer/director actually use three or four time travel tropes, when they were meant to be making a precognition movie. This is a film that can only be appreciated by people who haven’t read or watched many works ( or even any works) tackling the First Contact question. Or for that matter, any works dealing with any classic “hard sci-fi” theme.

    Comment by Jeff Tribe — November 21, 2016 @ 11:24 am

  10. I did go and see this today, after seeing all those glowing reviews. What a turkey! Your review is one of few that really nails it. I’ll now be reading your reviews before trying rotten tomatoes again.

    Comment by Mal Smith — December 2, 2016 @ 7:08 pm

  11. I still can not believe that I must depend on my DVD library of 1950’s Classic Sci Fi, Every Year I hope that something will come along that I would love to own on BlueRay and would play each year to relive the magic. This movie was so disappointing. The thought of every watching it again is terrifying.

    Comment by Carl R Overmyer — December 4, 2016 @ 7:03 am

  12. wow this retard reviewer is a fucking retard

    Comment by sfd — December 4, 2016 @ 7:14 am

  13. Banks tries to communicate with the aliens by presenting them with words with English letters, which is idiotic. Why not use the the various mathematical and scientific universal images that have already been worked out for this purpose. After relying upon her advice the army chooses to ignore it just when she has a breakthrough. Countries, including the US, decide to get hostile, for no reason, even though the aliens have been non-aggressive, sincerely trying to communicate, and have superior technology. The ending is nice, but there is little logic in a story that could have been told in half the time.

    Comment by Jack — December 6, 2016 @ 7:08 am

  14. Yes, this movie was a letdown, especially after having it recommended by a family member that usually doesn’t let me down on their film recommendations.

    The film was way to slow. Actors would just sit there or stand there and think, think, think. No words, no movement, just thinking. Sorry, but I’m not fond of plopping down good money just to stare at someone staring at a desk or a wall or off into la-la land. I want frequent and assertive dialogue, I want the plot to move. I want information. I only have a couple of hours, so give me something….anything. If it was Harrison Ford as the film’s main actor, I would have gone into it expecting Ford, as he usually does in his films, to not say a word, just staring off into the ether for fifteen minutes straight.

    As for the plot, I’m not into time and infinity movies unless the writer and producer know what the hell they’re doing. The alien writing was borderline Galifreyan plagiarism, and all of this infinity, back and forth in time concept does nothing but create paradoxes that only a Doctor Who or experienced time lord would know how to deal with.

    Humans rewriting time for themselves is very dangerous because of the unknown paradoxes that it can create. It’s like an auto mechanic thinking that they can perform brain surgery. Leave time up to the personal guidance of a time lord, not a squid with a box of randomly assorted chocolates with a bow and ribbon on it.

    Comment by morete — December 24, 2016 @ 5:27 am

  15. The part that killed me is the fact that these aliens had to be incredibly more advanced than us, yet we’re trying to teach them our language like they’re a bunch of two year-olds. They come from God knows what part of the universe to reach us, don’t you think they would have done a little homework first? They park their ships all over the globe (55 feet off the ground so that we have to use scissor lifts to get inside) and we’re walking around inside for weeks with whiteboards and words like “H-U-M-A-N”. For creatures this advanced, that should have been a huge insult, but not in this movie. The lack of imagination that went into the creation of the aliens (octopi) and their ship (a giant contact lens) was mind-boggling.

    Comment by Larry Eglinton — December 30, 2016 @ 1:03 pm

  16. I disagree.

    This film isn’t a sci-fi film. No, it is a social commentary on us: on our society, on us as individuals. It describes how we react to ‘the unknown,’ to power, to loss of control, to ‘the other’.

    I went into this film expecting just another typical Hollywood sci-fi action film about the military and how it is so great for defeating these terrible aliens/enemies who tried to take over their land. To me, this is a genre which is overrated, replicable and definitely not new or exciting; a genre representing the glorification of war, just with slightly different enemies.

    To say the least, I was pleasantly suprised, I would say this is one of the best films to hit box office of 2016. The overarching commentary and analysis of who we are as individuals and as a society are realistic: not a projection of who we wished we were. The arrival of the aliens represent the arrival of any change or something new and unknown. This could be a rising competitor (corporate/country/person life); a new person in our lives; climate change. Whatever it is, it is change from the status quo, the film using two routes to comment on how humans deal with change. At an individual level, we relate to this in Louise Banks. In terms of society, this is represented through the conflict between the military and the public. One of the main themes in this film is communication, more so how poorly we communicate, particularly in times of change. We see this in Louise’s lack of ability to communicate her feelings, and in the military’s poor communication with other. Fear is the primary driver, the alien’s ‘gift’ is a way to break fear through communication, to come together in times of need rather than remain separated.

    The reason why I think people haven’t been too keen on this film is that they don’t want to question the status quo. That is far too depressing, and ironically, people fear the inadequacy of their own lives, accepting that we all have flaws and we cant be that super strong flawless hero projected onto us by most films seen today. I enjoyed this film because of that, because it made it so much more real and progressive. I want to be moved, to be inspired, to question every day because that is how we progress as a society and achieve great things.

    Comment by J.smith.9000 — November 1, 2017 @ 8:52 am

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