Friday, 18 November 2016

The river and the sea are one

"Let us know the happiness time brings, not count the years." - Ausonius

A joke has been doing the rounds since last week's calamitous events in the US: extra-terrestrials land on Earth and demand to be taken to our leader, but humanity declines their request on the basis that we're too embarrassed. It is interesting therefore that the film 'Arrival' deals not just with aliens visiting, but with the problems that arise from the fact that we have no common leader. When I told the big bouncy woman that I was going to see it she asked why, given my well known antipathy to science fiction. The only reason I could give was one not terribly likely to elicit much sympathy; my cleaners were coming, it was snowing heavily outside and it was what was showing.

However, I must say that I enjoyed it. I make an exception to my dislike of science fiction where ideas about the nature of time are discussed, and that's where this film ends up going. Indeed that's where it starts as well, although - in a meta twist - our own view of time prevents us from realising what we are seeing. One has to persevere though, because the whole first hour or so is a lowest common denominator meld of Jurassic Park and Close Encounters with a dash of Indiana Jones thrown in for good measure. I have seen the director quoted as to his many and varied sources of inspiration in the animal kingdom for the design of the aliens; anyone who has seen the Simpsons may think they know better. And of course on top of that not only is the global phenomenon only viewed through the eyes of Americans, but it follows the classic Hollywood trope of disciplined and ordered process failing, but the situation being rescued by the maverick who breaks the rules. In other words, much of it is bollocks.

And yet; and yet. There is more than enough substance in the question posed by the sub-plot to engage the audience; indeed the main story is in many ways just a framework to enable the central character to ask: "If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?". Knowledge of not just our own mortality, but also that of those whom we bring into the world, is central to the human condition. All of us who give life, also give death.

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