This past Thursday a couple of my friends and I drove down to Laguna Niguel to watch a screening of Arrival and Moonlight. Watching those films back to back was the worst/best mistake because it was probably the most emotionally drenching 3 hours and 49 minutes I have ever witnessed. Arrival and Moonlight are two completely different films of two different genres however, both are visually astounding films in their own ways. This week’s blog post will be mainly focused on Arrival. [WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD]
Arrival centers around Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist, who is contacted by the US Military after 12 alien ships land across the world. Louise is tasked to translate the heptapod’s circular language to uncover their true intentions on Earth are friendly or hostile. Tensions between the 12 countries rise when China decodes, “use weapon.” However, Louise later translates the same language to “offer technology.”
In another scene, Colonel Weber questions Louise’s method of deciphering the language. Louise assures him that while her method may take longer, she is more concerned about translating it accurately. She then proceeds to tell the story about the etymology of the word kangaroo:
Louise: Kangaroo. [In 1770, Capt. James Cook’s ship ran aground off the coast of Australia and he led the party into the country and he met the aboriginal people. One of the sailors pointed at one of the animals that hopped around and put the babies in their pouch and he asked what they were and the aborigines said, “kangaroo.” It was until later that they learned kangaroo means, “I don’t understand”]
Colonel Weber: Now remember what happened to the aborigines. A more advanced race nearly wiped them out.
While watching these two specific scenes in the theater, I couldn’t help but think of Professor Jayne Lewis’s hypothesis during lecture: “language is the partner to empire.” While the background story about the kangaroo isn’t true, it does prove the significance of understanding a language.I think this quote by Louise perfectly sums up Lewis’ argument:
“Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict”
Language is an important form of communication. To understand a language is to understand a person and their needs. Language used properly can strengthen the interactions between different people. Language used improperly can divide a nation. The phrase that stuck out to me in the kangaroo scene is Colonel Weber’s last remark, “A more advanced race nearly wiped them out.” Weber, a military official and a player of empire, is aware of his country’s history of colonization. He fears that, like the aborigines, the world will fall prey to the heptapods. I found this quote to be particularly interesting because it sets up the power binary placing the world in the viewpoint of the would-be “colonized” and the aliens as the “colonizers.” Our only way to avoid being enslaved by the aliens is to understand their language. This puts other colonized countries into perspective. The problem does not arise from their “inferiority” to the colonizer but rather, their ability to effectively communicate.