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Culture/Reviews > Movies
Movie reviews from Proletarian Internationalist Notes—news, reviews and analysis from a global perspective
David Bohm meets E.T.: “Arrival” and the struggle for world peace in reality
Dir. Denis Villeneuve
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
PG-13, 116 minutes, 2016
reviewed December 17, 2016
This is a beautiful sci-fi movie in terms of technique. It has an emotionally powerful message of world unity in which China is presented positively.
The aliens look nothing like humyns, mammals, or demons as commonly depicted. “Arrival’s” plot revolves around trying to understand the language of the “heptapods” and their purpose; they aren’t explictly threatening. Much about the extraterrestrials – their history, technology, society, and culture – remains a mystery though the humyns arrive at an understanding with them. This is a standalone movie that leaves much unanswered but where a sequel seems unlikely.
Though both China and the United States figure prominently, the movie doesn’t make religion an issue as some other alien/first-contact movies do and is thus more sensitive globally. Also, sexuality is toned-down in comparison with other Western movies that come to mind such as “Contact” (1997).
Pakistan, Sudan and Venezuela are memorably mentioned as alien landing sites. Pakistan and Sudan are majority-Muslim at around 95%, and most Venezuelans are affiliated with an organization in Vatican City that has global interests and recognizes the State of Palestine – a fact of relevance to conflicts in reality in addition to Venezuela’s and China’s own Palestine policy and interests, for example. Movies don’t exist in a vacuum.
This reviewer thought of other movies released recently, such as “Independence Day: Resurgence,”(1) that seem to be sympathetic or humynizing, less racist about China than other movies, or acknowledge in some way that Chinese are one fifth of the world. No doubt some will talk cynically about the economic aspect of this in film distribution, but inside and outside China the political effect of “Arrival” if it has one could be complex.
It seems that making movies mainly for amerikans or Westerners isn’t as profitable as it used to be. This raises the possibility of some future movies with big budgets being more progressive with Westerner viewers than many of the smaller-budget echo-chamber videos they watch through social media or streaming products. Unfortunately, more Chinese may end up watching Hollywood movies that aren’t really better than movies from other countries.
In “Arrival,” Americans have an equal role in overcoming a misunderstanding and reaching a point of cooperation. In reality at this time, the world’s countries are uniting by struggling against U.S. hegemony.
Regrettably, many in the world view the United $tates more favorably than they view China. An idea of equality is attractive in that context. But, too many people in countries including China view the united $tates positively. Nobody in the world should view the united $tates as other than the #1 threat to the environment or peace in the world. Nobody should treat the united $tates as a #2 or #3 threat just to make it more equal in their heads with China or u.$. rival imperialist country Russia.
Two main characters in this movie are a linguist and a physicist. The linguist played by Amy Adams once worked with the u.$. military and seems to regret the work ey did impacting Farsi-speaking “insurgents.” Dr. Louise Banks, though teaching at a university, still has a security clearance. An army colonel (Forest Whitaker) asks for advice on a guttural-sounding recording of aliens who have landed on Earth recently at many locations throughout the world.
Many females of humanities or non-science background have held prominent positions in the u.$. government obviously involving access to top secret information and Western pseudo-feminist chauvinism about Islam. Despite that, the fact that there are young female physically attractive professors, of any culture/ethnicity, who aren’t so science-y (a word used in the movie) in their specialty and yet are cleared for top secret info would come as a shock to the completely naive. Some might think army grunts and other mostly male people in the military are especially backward or complicit in wars, particularly now that many amerikans claim to be concerned about how President-elect Donald Trump’s four-star cabinet picks threaten civilian oversight. This is one way “Arrival” may shed light on reality for some viewers. Urban polyglots with graduate degrees could be just as reactionary as hillbilly hicks.
On the other hand, seemingly almost every other scene in this movie has someone wearing a crisp “U.S.” military uniform, such as a young white female private in what looks like an intelligence/science environment. So “Arrival” could be a military recruiting movie for some u.$. viewers. This reviewer doesn’t remember seeing a single drop of blood up close in this movie though there are gunshots and commotion. The absence of gore reflects the reality of military service for the vast majority of amerikans in the military today. Unfortunately, i can imagine some young Chican@s, New Afrikans and Asians watching this movie, not wanting to join infantry but seeing the white people wearing army uniforms and Forest Whitaker as a colonel who isn’t a “bad guy,” seeing soldiers do non-combat work, and thinking there is career advancement opportunity there. Though taking a risk by being near the aliens as Louise does, people spy and do counterintelligence work by clicking and tapping at a computer etc. Some u.$. soldiers lying around with nothing else to do start getting ideas.
Physics expertise doesn’t actually seem to play much of a role with the character played by Jeremy Renner, but “Arrival” reminded me of David Bohm, known for eir work on Bohm diffusion, the pilot-wave theory, the EPR paradox, the Aharonov–Bohm effect, and other topics in plasma or quantum physics. A one-time Communist, David Bohm was a theoretical physicist who contributed to amerika’s nuclear weapons research despite being denied a security clearance. Among physics and history of science/technology students, less known than Bohm’s contributions to physics and bomb research perhaps is Bohm’s interest in communication overlapping in some aspects with linguistics. The present writer was studying Bohm’s interpretation of quantum mechanics many years ago and came across Bohm’s Wholeness and the Implicate Order. This was shortly after the book was published, and even for a book dealing with quantum theory i remember feeling the cognitive and philosophical content was out of place in the natural sciences library shelf i found the book on. Bohm is someone who was both involved in military applications of physics and interested in the relationship between language and how people think, the relationship between thought process and conflict, consciousness, and reality. “Arrival” has a theme of learning an alien language facilitating understanding between cultures and species – and awareness across time, both forward and backward. This reviewer thought of dialogue, the rheomode, implicate orders and the holomovement (and the ink-drop-in-glycerine analogy), and other concepts appearing or developed in Bohm’s published work toward the end of eir life.
Bohm worked with Albert Einstein extensively and built on Einstein’s concerns about certain prevailing theories. Much of Bohm’s early work particularly, despite some ad hominem criticism and preference for other theories, was taken seriously by contemporaries and is highly respected today even by many of those who don’t accept some parts as being the best explanation. Wilhelm Reich, who crossed paths with Einstein at one point, was an alleged Marxist, psychoanalyst and pseudo- scientist/biophysicist sometimes viewed as having a trajectory similar to Bohm’s. Reich’s “orgone” research was plagued by scandal and legal problems, discredited as an alleged product of mental illness, and is a subject of ridicule even in today’s Reich-influenced Western sexual culture. By contrast, while some have managed to compartmentalize parts of Bohm’s work, David Bohm ended up meeting with and being taken seriously by people such as the 14th Dalai Lama – the former feudal ruler and slaveholder still involved in Western anti-China propaganda and chauvinism, but who has critiqued the CIA’s work in China and changed eir public view on Tibetan autonomy matters in the 1980s. The Dalai Lama claims to have a particular interest in cultivating a sense of oneness.
As they have with ideas and practices inspired by Asian philosophy/religion, corporations ended up using some of Bohm’s ideas about communication though Bohm was also concerned about larger conflicts in society. Elements of both Bohm’s thinking and “Arrival” are reflective of petty-bourgeois thought and will appeal to the lazy or self-centered despite Bohm’s intentions and attributes and the full content of eir proposals. “Arrival” is of course just an entertaining, fictional, average-length feature film with comparatively little substance to begin with though some have called it a cerebral film. Nowadays many can’t be bothered to even read a popularization of science, philosophy or mysticism so a movie like “Arrival” could seem extraordinarily profound.
At the time of this writing, u.$. president-elect Trump has just picked David Friedman to be ambassador to Israel. Trump has made the united $tates’ unofficial policy of opposing the two-state solution and obstructing Middle East peace efforts more official. That is what is going on in reality right now in terms of conflict, in addition to provocative signs making more clear amerika’s policy of undermining cross-Strait relations in China.
If the amerikans continue to support annexation or settlement of the West Bank, whether they claim to support the two-state solution or not, their relations with NATO allies will come under strain. The united $tates may end up being attacked for what it has done under Obama and will do under Trump (and would have done under Hillary Clinton), obligating NATO allies who don’t want another war in the Middle East to cooperate as they did after 9/11. So there could be specific ways in which there must be a disunity among some countries, or opposition, so peace can be maintained or come into being. Military pacts centered around the united $tates were never a cornerstone of global unity. NATO offers nothing in terms of European unity that the EU doesn’t or can’t, though the EU has its own problems.
Though it also has its own problems and is dominated by the united $tates in reality at present, the UN appears in “Arrival.” Also, many different countries are shown communicating with each other by video during the slow meeting with the aliens.
Louise ends up mastering the heptapods’ language as ey would any Earth language. It is conceivable that one day something like a constructed language (more developed than Esperanto) understood by everyone could be useful for further development of humynity and worthwhile pursuing. Diplomacy plays an important role in international class struggle at this time so i don’t want to speak too critically of communication/cultural proposals here. It is evident that many with an interest in Middle East peace still collaborate with the amerikans counterproductively or against their own interest, or could benefit from another way of finessing a new arrangement.
It’s not that professional Israeli and Palestinian diplomats, working within constraints set by superiors, don’t already know a lot about language, culture and communication issues. And more non-amerikan countries need to be involved multilaterally for the Palestinians to negotiate with the Israelis without losing too much. There needs to be much more than more of the same people-to-people diplomacy that has taken place between Israelis and Palestinians. But maybe there is more use for advances in communication in relations between two states, or conversation between private individuals from two states, neither of which is the united $tates. Though ways of communicating or thinking aren’t the essence of most international conflicts, maybe even some diplomats carrying our their government’s instructions in a large multilateral meeting could think more metacognitively, introspectively, perceptively, and creatively, without outsized influence of some country. The key thing is to struggle with each other to oppose the united $tates. At the same time, the united $tates has material, strategic interests in the Middle East that won’t go away just through talking with it in some setting.
Even within the last few years, there have been major changes in more people’s ability to use mobile devices and the Internet for translation of speech. There are still wars and war threats of so-called developed countries. Like other media, new technologies and practices exploited by the amerikans have actually played a role in conflict.
There are no aliens or asteroids threatening the species now, but there is climate change as a supposed global unifier, and the world still has thousands of nuclear weapons and has had thousands since the 1950s. Neither of those are external to the solar system, but there is a way even a fictional movie such as “Arrival” could set the bar too high for what counts as a global unifier. No doubt some see the united $tates’ US$600 billion military budget dwarfing even China’s and get discouraged instead of seeing a basis for global anti-amerikan unity leading to an outcome good for the species.
Thankfully, the united $tates as a country doesn’t have a particularly heroic role in the movie though the u.$. army’s Rolodex plays a role in selecting Louise from among other experts who could have done the same things. China also has linguists, translators, computer programmers, and other capable individuals, who can work together. There is a questionable line in the movie about the game mahjong, but China is the first to act on an assumption that the aliens’ “weapon” offer threatens to get Earth to defeat itself. Instead of trying to take advantage in a shortsighted way, China plays a leadership role at different points. Not surprising for a country with more than a billion people and a plurality of the world’s population. India’s population is close to China’s in size.
The name “People’s Liberation Army” is said in the movie, part of the legacy of revolution in China from before China became a neocolonial capitalist country producing exploitively priced goods for amerikans’ benefit. China isn’t a socialist country today, but neither is any other country rich or poor. The idea of Chinese or Russian leadership with proletarian pressure makes more sense today than at some other points in time. ◊
1. “Maoist movie review: Resurgence,” 2016 June. https://www.prisoncensorship.info/article/maoist-movie-review-resurgence/