Welcome to our next digital content series, Faith in Film! It's easy to find the message and moral of movies like The Passion of the Christ or Paul, Apostle of Christ. But to be perfectly honest, there's not a ton of great Christian movies or TV shows out there. A lot of them tend to be poorly written, poorly acted, and kind of hokey in the end.
The "easy way out" would be to only watch Christian media and tune everything else out, but we're not called to take the easy way out! The Next Generation of Disciples high school youth group has a Faith in Film movie night every other month, and we're very intentional about what we watch. We watch secular, non-Christian movies on purpose!
This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the quality is generally higher. Secondly, it is vitally important for Catholics to be able to engage in discussions about pop culture and the cultural zeitgeist. Rather than avoiding these conversations, we should jump in head first and proudly proclaim our Catholic faith therein! By viewing secular media through a Catholic lens, we can both enjoy ourselves more AND evangelize while doing it. This is the idea behind Faith in Film, and I hope you'll join us for it.
The first film we'll be talking about is Arrival, Denis Villeneuve's 2016 sci-fi epic. If you haven't seen it, fair warning: this post contains major spoilers. The central plot of the film revolves around the classic "first contact" premise. Twelve alien vessels show up all over the world (we mostly focus on the one in Montana), and nobody has any idea why they've come or what they want.
Our main character, Amy Adams' Dr. Louise Banks, is a language expert who's called away from teaching college courses by the US military to help translate the aliens' language and attempt to communicate with them. There's a lot of mystery and wonder the first time she enters the alien ship, as she and her fellow humans wear bright orange hazmat suits and tread carefully in the ship's altered gravity.
Dr. Banks spends a large chunk of the movie working to communicate with 2 aliens, or Heptapods as she calls them, whom she nicknames Abbott and Costello. Their language is conveyed solely through writing, and she's able to establish some rudimentary communication with them. However, that's not all that's going on with Dr. Banks.
The first 10 minutes of the movie follow Dr. Banks as she gives birth to a girl, raises her, and sadly watches her die from cancer at the age of 11. It's a sorrowful, sad beginning to the film, but it doesn't seem to have much bearing on the plot...at first. Throughout the film, Banks experiences flashbacks to conversations and memories with her young daughter. They're peppered throughout, and we get to see what triggers those memories for her.
We realize that things aren't as they seem in the film's third act, when the other countries that the alien ships landed in cut off all communication, and it appears that war is imminent. As Banks is being (forcefully) evacuated from the military encampment along with the rest of the personnel, she has another flashback of her daughter...except it's not a flashback. She says, out loud, "I don't understand...whose memories are this...who is this child?"
To make a long story short, Banks is seeing not the past, but the future in these visions. The aliens in this movie experience time in a nonlinear fashion (much like God in real life), and learning to speak their language imparts that same temporal dissociation upon the speaker. Once she realizes this, Banks uses her new knowledge to talk down the warmongering generals from other countries and bring peace to the world.
In the movie's epilogue, we see Banks given a choice. She knows the future, and she knows that her child will become sick with cancer and die. We see her and her new husband discussing whether or not to try for a baby, and we see all of that knowledge and discernment wash over her face. The very last line line of the movie is Dr. Banks saying, "Yes...yeah."
There are two main lessons here. The first, and the most obvious one, is that we need to get better at working together. The aliens purposefully split their language into 12 distinct parts and spread them across the world, hoping to force humanity to work together. It almost backfired, but the point is absolutely there! There is far too much division in our world today, both internationally and within our own country. We need to learn to respectfully disagree, find some common ground, and work together towards our shared goals!
Secondly, the movie has a strong (and perhaps even unintentional) pro-life message. A common pro-abortion argument is that babies with health conditions that will make their lives and those of their parents much more difficult are suitable candidates for abortion. Dr. Banks knew for a fact that her daughter would contract Cancer and not live past 11. If we follow the logic of this argument, then why did she still choose to have her?
The answer is simple: her daughter's life (and suffering, for that matter) had value. Her daughter was worthy of the respect and dignity that human life affords us all. Her daughter left a mark on the world despite how brief her time in it was. And her daughter deserved those 11 years of life.
I have no idea whether or not the filmmakers meant to include this message, but it rings true for those of us who pay attention to the film's ending! Even in massive, blockbuster science fiction movies, God finds ways to speak to us and share His Word with us. So the next time you're watching a movie, keep your eyes and ears open! You never know what He might be trying to show you.
We'll see you on Friday morning at 10:00am for our next edition of Faith in Film!