Denis Villeneuve's "Arrival" is a Christmas movie. It has a savior; it has angels; it has Herod; it has God. Best, it doesn't sell religion, patriotism or cynicism.
"Arrival" is based on a short story by Ted Chiang, a humanistic computer scientist obsessed with myth. Without ever naming Jesus, he makes us think about the meaning of the Christmas story.
The savior is a child born to plant the redemptive seed and die. In the Gospel of Luke, the child's arrival is predicted by an angel, a word that means "messenger." In "Arrival," the task of announcing falls to Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), the child's mother and a linguist whose sex and profession qualify her to deliver, physically and verbally, the Word.
What force sets the begetting in motion? In "Arrival," it's the alien Heptapods (the biblically omnipresent number 7 signifies wholeness/holiness), who are able to perceive from a standpoint outside of time. We all know Who does that.
In both "Arrival" and the New Testament, the savior offers a gift the apple-refusing Genesis story holds back: union with God through sharing a divine attribute (timelessness in the movie, the mystical body of Christ in the Book). Significantly, "Arrival"'s child and chief angel are both female, reversing the curse of Eve.
Since every drama must have a villain, "Arrival"'s murderous Herod is the U.S. Army, portrayed per usual as ignorant brutes despite the subtle efforts of Forest Whitaker. Since the movie runs toward psychological myth rather than generic sci-fi spectacle, that's one topos that could've been switched.
But this layered, ingenious, emotional film works on many levels. Angels we have heard on high, and it's good to hear them singing so optimistically.
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