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Arrival

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SISTER HELENA BURNS, F.S.P.

The Oscar-nominated sci-fi film "Arrival" is a vacuous, insipid waste of time, in my humble opinion.

I can't stand alien movies, but everyone assured me this wasn't an alien movie, or not your typical alien movie.

It is.

"E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" are so much better than "Arrival," even though they may not totally stand the test of time. Speaking of time, the theme of "Arrival" is majorly about time –  but in a really bad, stupid, fictional way that doesn't translate into anything in science, physics or reality that might be even slightly helpful and useful to us human beings.

I began watching this slow-moving, boring movie with a grating, irritating, looping "other worldly" soundtrack – and waited for it to get good. But that never happened.

Amy Adams does her earnest best to play a language expert who is called on by the U.S. government/military to decipher the aliens' language. Jeremy Renner might as well not have had a part at all (except for the weak, confusing ending). He is less ornamental than space debris.

The story unimaginatively commences like a sequence from a low-budget TV show: We find out what's happening through various news broadcasts: scenes of hysteria, panic and states of emergency. Twelve huge pods suddenly appear on earth, hovering in disparate locations around the world (Montana, USA – where we spend most of our time – Russia, Pakistan, China, Sudan, Greenland, etc.). No one knows what these vessels are, what they mean or why these locations were chosen.

The military of each country is, of course, assessing the threat level, veering toward extreme caution, suspicion, taking no chances and assuming hostility. Communications with the beings in the pod are difficult because they use a very unusual form of language (both sounds and script). Do they come in peace? Do they come with a message? Are they offering technology? Do they know something we don't know? How much time are they giving us before they attack? Are we angering them by our miscommunication? Are we misunderstanding them completely?

There is a thin, thin A story, and no B or C story – except for continuous flashbacks involving Amy Adams’ character's daughter, whom she lost to cancer. The love story is Disney princess overly romanticized. The grandiose idea/choice of war vs. peace is simplistically trotted out and simplistically dealt with. The U.S. military forces are stereotypically impatient, trigger-happy and ready to declare war, putting a time lock on the language-scientists to accurately decipher the aliens' intentions. But nothing feels urgent because the story, acting, tropes and visuals are so trite and tired and unengaging – and we've seen it all before on the small screen. There is nothing fresh and new here. There is abundant use of voiceover (a big no-no at my film school, UCLA), but it comes across (in Amy Adams' ethereal voice) as desperately trying to be profound and spiritual and contemplative and say something IMPORTANT.

So here's what got me totally irked. What was presented, in the end, was a totally non-Judaeo-Christian worldview. That’s fine because there are other worldviews out there! However, I guess what really irks me is not just a poorly-made film with a strong non-Judaeo-Christian worldview, but that Jews and Christians do not even realize how "alien" (pun intended!) films like this are to their worldview. They embrace these films as though they contain some amazing meta-wisdom for us when they do not. (Not that we can't learn some truth, beauty and goodness contained in other worldviews; but overall? Nope.)

In "Arrival," Amy Adams' character (who has "secret knowledge" because she has "been here before," and "lived this already") clearly states: "I don't know if I believe in beginnings and endings anymore." This is a classic pagan worldview: matter is eternal, everything just repeats itself over and over again in a never-ending cyclical pattern. Reincarnation. Time and history are non-linear. This is not the Judaeo-Christian understanding at all, and also not what cosmology and the Big Bang Theory tell us. Time, history, salvation history and each of our lives are linear. There is a beginning and an end to the story of Creation, of the world, and each of our precious life-stories.

Jesus Christ is the Alpha and the Omega.