At the moment I write to you I’ve just watched Villeneuve’s ARRIVAL for the second time. It’s a brilliant movie, based on an inspired novella by Ted Chiang. In my view, along with MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, it’s one of two movies that were actually worthy of the Best Picture Award this year. Now that I’ve watched it once more, not being bothered by my own eagerness and excitement for the next plot-point, I could focus on more technical/philosophical aspects. Please be careful with SPOILERS, those of you unfortunate enough not to have seen it yet.
First, let’s state the obvious. The way the movie ‘manages’ time is non-linear, close to the way the aliens themselves feel time. I know that this is interesting per se: it’s also very difficult to achieve when you write it and it works a lot like THE SIXTH SENSE, as in: the final revelation informs you on the whole movie and it’s impossible to understand the movie the same way once you know the secret code revealed at the end. I dare you to create this kind of effect. It’s not impossible, obviously, but it’s not easy either. And it’s certainly admirable and satisfying.
However, there’s also the message of the movie: code/language creates reality.
It’s been many years since I’ve read Lacan but his writings have fascinated me ever since. And he says, if I recall correctly: that each of us creates his/her own reality that is somewhat related to, but not identical to, a potential objective reality out there. Just think of your dreams: when you are dreaming, sometimes you think you’re awake and that dream is the reality. What if everything is a dream? Or, as in the MATRIX: how do we know that chicken tastes the same to everybody? Maybe each of us tastes it completely different. In fact, we can almost be sure of that. Some people feel something as salty, but other people feel it is not. Or smooth, or dry… We all have different senses and different ways to perceive the reality around us, so in a matter of speaking, we are creating it. Or co-creating it. And so there are as many human realities as there are human beings.
Wow, slow down, Bruno. Say that again. Ok, just read the following: all of us perceive reality to be different and so, in truth, there is a different reality for each of us.
And if that is so, then the Symbolic reality, the product of both dreams and language, is the closest we can get to an objective reality. Why? Well, forget about dreams, just focus on language. Language is only effective if the meanings of things can be shared. A line on the ground is only effective if the drivers understand that it divides the road into the lane that’s going and the lane that’s coming. If the meaning was not there, if it wasn’t shared, then we would have innumerable traffic accidents. That meaning conveyed by language and signs, the Symbolic reality, is the part of reality that belongs to more than one person and so it belongs to more than one single reality. It’s the realm of relationships. And so, it’s closer to an objective reality of some sort. Relationships, in the end, are the most objective realities we can have.
Ok, Bruno, now you’ve done it. Say it again. Very well, let me sum it up: 1) each of us has his/her own reality; 2) Languages are meanings we can share, thus; 3) Languages are the closest thing we have to share a common reality, so; 4) Only in relationships do we come closer to a potential objective truth. Ok, so far?
This cannot be confused with some ‘post-fact reality’. As if knowledge was inexistent and the truth was never known, remaining in the minuscule corner of each person’s reality. I believe, and I feel ARRIVAL is confirming this same message, that the most effective language we have, the one that gets us closest to the truth, is the language of Science. No language we know brings us closest to an objective reality than this language that adapts itself to what can’t be refused. If you cannot refuse something because evidence systematically indicates it, then it becomes ‘scientifically accepted’, and we can call it ‘fact’. And so, it brings us closer to the truth and, of course, to each other.
Language is a fascinating thing. And Language and Science, Louise and Ian, are a beautiful couple.
From another perspective, as I also like Hannah Arendt, I would have to say that Evil is ignorant and stupid. You cannot remain violent and brute if you are profound, for when you can understand something or someone, when you can comprehend their reasons, you can develop alternatives. Violence is the failure of reason. Just as in the movie. When understanding seemed to be more dangerous than war itself, Louise and Ian had to step up to avoid catastrophe. Language and Science seem to be, in some way, the antidote to Violence. Only when Louise can touch the Chinese General do the alternatives to violence become apparent and a different reality becomes possible. One even stranger than could be imagined until then by a stupid and ignorant mankind.
Well… Food for thought. Sorry if this post was too dense. Good stories make you think. Thank you Villeneuve and thank you Ted Chiang.
4 thoughts on “Villeneuve’s Arrival Reality Check”
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