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Aliens in Telluride

Arrival aired this past weekend at the Telluride Film Festival.  

arrival telluride film festival

Amy Adams as Louise Banks in Arrival by Paramount Pictures. Photo by Jan Thijs

By Sage Marshall

On my second evening at the Telluride Film Festival, I sat in the Galaxy Theater—a temporarily converted elementary school—to watch my fourth film of the day. The mountains and box canyon of my hometown were in shadows. The screen emanated light.

Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve, begins with a two-minute compilation of shots. First, Louise (Amy Adams) raises a beautiful teenage girl who loses her hair and dies. Then the aliens come.

Twelve vast, hollow, egg-shaped ships hover over random parts of the earth. Predictably, the world panics. The military brings in Louise, a noted linguist, to enter a ship over the rolling, green prairie of eastern Montana and communicate with the “heptapods” inside—they resemble hand-like spiders. The aliens live amidst CGI clouds, behind an invisible barrier. Using a whiteboard, Louise shares words, starting with “human.” The heptapods project circular blotches of ink in response. The ellipses aren’t words so much as stories.

The storyline and tension builds, but in the end, it is not understanding the unknown that brings resolution. It is the act of communicating pain, loss, and struggle that frees the world from a stranglehold of ignorant fear.

This metaphor applies to a host of problems the world is dealing with (refugees, terrorism, immigration), but I kept thinking of global warming as the alien ship loomed over the wide-open Montana range. Part of the problem with global warming is that communicating linear scientific knowledge doesn’t seem to persuade the skeptics or motivate the apathetic.

I walk home under the stars thinking about ignorance, empathy, and elliptical storytelling. In theaters November 11; arrivalmovie.com

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