Monday, November 14, 2016

"Arrival": the strong Sapir–Whorf hypothesis is back!

"Arrival" at Wikipedia (spoilers)

Tyler Cowen
"I’ve never seen a movie before where I wanted to yell at the screen “It’s called the Coase theorem!”, and furthermore with complete justification.

"There is plenty of social science in this film, including insights from Thomas Schelling and the construction and solution of some non-cooperative games, mostly by introducing a more dynamic method of equilibrium selection.

"There are homages to Childhood’s End, 2001, Close Encounters, Interstellar, Buddhism, Himalayan Nagas, Eastern Orthodox, the theology of the number 12, and more.  It’s hard to explain without spoiling the plot, but definitely recommended and maybe the best Hollywood movie so far this year.  Nice sonics too."
And Steve Sailer:
"Arrival is a girl sci-fi movie in the tradition of Jody Foster’s Contact. Amy Adams plays a linguist (or some other kind of language-related academic) with a sad back story much like Sandra Bullock’s in Gravity. She is hired by the US Army to try to communicate with the aliens inside the giant flying saucer hovering a few feet above Montana. The plot is aimed at a female audience: the titanic history-changing events are really just a cover for a story about the loss of loved ones.
"Arrival takes place mostly in a northern valley of clouds, rain, green grass, and dim light. There is almost no action in Arrival and what does happen is shown obliquely, often with the camera pointing at a person reacting to whatever it is we really want to see. Dialogue is not on the on the nose and can be a little hard to hear. Amy Adams’ disoriented scientist is plagued by insomnia and in much of the movie is either on the verge of nodding off or is just waking up. The style of the movie is similarly blurry.

"Overall, I’d say: good, not great. But the movie is different enough that I’ll leave open the possibility that it may eventually become the consensus that it’s very good."
The dialogue is pretty mumbly and for the first half of the movie the homages to standard tropes are so linear and stacked-up that one simply sits there, ticking them off. The film conceptually comes to life only at the end where the revelations kick in, leaving you scratching your head as you leave the cinema - and that's assuming you're up to speed with the strong Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.

I refrained from looking at my watch and Clare confirmed she was not bored, although she found Amy Adams' character, Louise Banks, maddeningly over-controlled.

I think this one might grow on you.


Stephen Wolfram writes about how he 'did the science' on Arrival: "Quick, How Might the Alien Spacecraft Work?" (no spoilers there).

Via Centauri Dreams.


Three things the film got right.

  1. Once the aliens arrived, there would be months of utter tedium as smart people tried to engage them with very little progress.
  2. Across the world, people would project their most malign fantasies onto the new arrivals, leading to riots, looting, violence and mayhem combined with insane political and religious activism.
  3. No matter how benign or passive the aliens appeared, some individuals and/or states would want to blow them up.

A reviewer mournfully confided that he promised his wife there would be no explosions: (there's one).


Abigail Nussbaum's excellent review.

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