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I’ve been doing more than a little thinking about Oscar movies this year. It turns out I’ve seen quite a number of them and had something to say. Well, today the thing I want to talk about is Arrival, both shockingly and remarkably a feminist movie. It made nearly $100 million in America, so it’s made a splash, and then it was nominated in eight categories, only to leave with one measly technical award. Maybe it’s a complete bust and will soon be forgotten as most things are. I’m told it lacked the deep concern with human individuality of the big winners. But there is something to respect in its feminist outlook and so I’ll talk to you about that if you have the time.
These days, it seems like women are protagonists in science fiction stories. That’s a sign of the future, at least in the sense that men have been the protagonists up to now and there has to be some change for there to be a future. Arrival is the rare science-fiction story in which the woman protagonist is actually important because she is a woman. There are both obvious and subtle effects of this new-found womanhood: in the story on which the movie is based, the protagonist is male. Movies may be more progressive than books, I suppose.
The story is this: one day, aliens arrive unannounced in weird-looking ships suspended over various parts of the world, twelve in number, like the Apostles of Christ or the months of the year, depending on how you think about it. They are incommunicado. Men must make the effort to overcome their shock and reach out of their silent awareness that they are not, after all, alone. That’s what really scares us, I suppose, loneliness. The two protagonists are both quite lonely and, being man and woman, eventually learn to put two together. Don’t credit the aliens with teaching people how to make children too soon, however, because this story has a twist.