Editor’s note: The recent movie, Arrival, provoked many strong reactions from me–and lots of thought! I’m delighted that someone else from the writing center world saw connections to the work that we do. Today’s post comes courtesy of Andrew Rihn, who started working in writing centers as an undergrad at Kent State University – Stark Campus. Today, he works as a professional tutor at Stark State College.
Arrival is a 2016 science-fiction movie about humanity’s first contact with an alien species, so it’s appeal to writing center people may not be immediately obvious. While much science fiction focuses on domination or conflict, Arrival is unique in its focus on the problems and promises of linguistics. The plot hinges on the work of pursuing communication and avoiding miscommunication, familiar work to anyone who has spent time in a writing center.
In Arrival, the aliens simply arrive with no warning or explanation. Twelve large, mysterious ships hover twenty feet about the ground at seemingly random points across the globe, including one in Montana. The Army is mobilized for defense, but cannot make headway when it comes to communication. They enlist the help of two professors, Louise Banks, a linguist (played by Amy Adams), and Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist (played by Jeremy Renner). This interdisciplinary duo sets out to meet the aliens, find a way communicate, and at the behest of the Army, find the answer to the question “What is your purpose on Earth?”
We follow Dr. Banks’ first fumbling attempts to communicate with the aliens, called “heptapods” in the movie (so-named for their seven tentacle-like limbs). The language-learning process is of course very slow. The Army is increasingly frustrated with their progress, so we are treated to several scenes of explanation from Dr. Banks about the hows and whys of language acquisition.