I had the chance to watch “Arrival” this past weekend. It was excellent. I can’t emphasize enough how much good science fiction is steeped in worldview and forces us to reflect upon humanity. “Arrival” is just that: excellent science fiction. Here, I will discuss worldview issues the film brought forward from a Christian perspective. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.
Your Life Matters
Perhaps the most poignant aspect of the film is one that could not be fully appreciated until the end. Once we see that Louise has been having not flashbacks but rather flash-forwards, we come to realize that she is seeing what will happen in the future. But that means the scene at the beginning, in which Louise has a daughter, Hannah, who eventually dies from cancer, will play out as she has seen it. And if that’s the case, then Louise’s decision to marry Ian and have a baby with him is something that leads, directly or indirectly, to her daughter’s death.
The question that arises, then, is whether such a life was worth living? The film presents what is one of the most beautiful ways of looking at such a question I have seen. The answer is yes. Without Hannah’s life, her poetry, joy, song, and dance could not have been part of the world. All of that would have been lost. Even the inevitable pain and tragedy that Louise and Ian will experience is part of that future world Louise saw: one in which love had a chance to play out in Hannah’s all-too-short life. It’s a message that says: Yes, your life matters, even if it is not perfect; even if it goes poorly.
And really, what right would Louise have to cut that life from the world? What right would she have to destroy that future life of Hannah, however painful it would become for herself and for her daughter? Would it really be better to cut off all the joy and beauty that her daughter would bring into the world just because Louise knew it would end badly? Such questions are monumentally important in an age in which choices of life and death are increasingly available.
Linear vs. Non-Linear Time
I found the theme of time to be quite engaging in the film. One may think that it was just a novelty to discuss non-linear time, but a number of major ancient cultures had non-linear views of time. I have much interest in studying Mesoamerica, for example, and basically across the board the Inca, Maya, Aztec, etc. had non-linear, cyclical views of time. Why does that matter? What does it have to do with worldview?
Well, in the film it was used largely as a way to tie the whole plot back together and show that one’s ideas about reality can be shaped by the way one conceptualizes of very basic ideas. But more importantly, one’s view of time impacts how one views reality itself. I have read time and again how a linear view of time helped to spur scientific discovery, among other things. A linear view of time allows for a logical A => B sequence of events in which causation is linked through time. A cyclical, or non-linear view of time would change that. In “Arrival,” it is unclear as to whether the ultimate non-linearity of time is viewed as cyclical (though the emphasis on circular imagery for the language might point in that direction). One wonders whether a non-linear view of time, taken to its conclusions, could actually ground such things as cause and effect. The movie provided a framework to think through such questions, and as someone who’s very interested in philosophy of time, I found that utterly engaging.
Time, Part 2
Another aspect of the discussion of time in the film is the implication that Louise sees the future, but also that she may be able to change it. Indeed, it seems pretty clear that Louise makes a conscious choice to allow the future she saw to play out. Does that mean the future is set in stone, or that her decisions actually will yield the future she saw? This may not seem very important for worldview, but a simple shift to examining divine omniscience might show how such a concept could impact worldview directly. If God knows the future, as I believe God does, what does that mean for human action? What does it mean if God does not comprehensively know the future, as open theists claim?
Such questions are not directly referenced in the film, but a moment’s reflection on how Louise responds to her own knowledge of the future makes these questions loom in the distance. I think it is important to think about how things like one’s view of time and God’s knowledge of the future impact things like human free choice, salvation, and the like.
“Arrival” is the best kind of science fiction: one that raises questions not just about the future but about humanity. I highly recommend readers go see the film. It’s phenomenal. Let me know what worldview questions were raised in your mind from watching the film.
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