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There’s a secret Catholic message hidden in ‘Arrival’

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Stop. If you haven’t seen the latest sci-fi thriller, Arrival and you plan to do so, read no further. This story contains spoilers. If you’ve already seen the movie, let’s talk about the hidden Catholic message contained in the movie.

Second warning, this story contains spoilers.

Arrival is a sci fi movie based on a book by author Ted Chaing. In the story, alien spacecraft appear in a dozen places around Earth, causing the world’s governments to implement plans to make first contact at the same time they prepare for a possible invasion.

The film’s heroine, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who is an expert linguist, is tapped by the military to learn how to communicate with the aliens with the aim of discerning their purpose. In the course of getting to know the aliens, Dr. Banks experiences memories of her daughter, who we meet in the very first scene of the movie. In these opening scenes, we share a tragedy with Dr. Banks as her daughter grows, then dies of a rare disease. We learn that Dr. Banks was divorced, and faced her daughter’s illness and death alone.

With these painful memories flashing through her mind, Dr. Banks learns to communicate with the aliens only to discover they are offering a “weapon” as a gift. Other nations are being given the same offer, and several conclude the aliens want to initiate global warfare to make the planet easier to conquer. World powers prepare to attack the aliens, a plan that could backfire and risk the annihilation of humanity. It is Dr. Banks who realizes the word “weapon” may be mistranslated and means tool.

Eventually, this understanding along with her rather distressing memories empowers her to save the world.

It is at the end of the movie we encounter a twist that would make Arthur C. Clarke proud. Dr. Banks’ memories are not memories at all, but visions of the future. The aliens have come to teach humans that time is not linear as we experience it, but much more fluid with the possibility to know the future.

This is where the Catholic question –and answer comes into the movie.

Dr. Banks falls in love with her partner on the mission, Dr. Ian Donnelly, an astrophysicist. As they fall in love, Dr. Banks realizes he will be the father of their child and that child will eventually become sick and die.

In one scene, perhaps one of the more roughly executed scenes in the otherwise well-polished movie, her future husband asks crudely, “Do you want to make a baby?” Her answer is yes.

This is a Catholic moment if there ever was one. In a moment of decision, Dr. Banks is asked if she will be open to the creative will of God, despite the knowledge that life will be short and end tragically.

This is strikingly similar to the story of the Virgin Mary when she spoke the words, “Let it be done according to thy will.”

All life is sacred and precious. All life is a gift from God. As such, our purpose is to be open to the possibility of this new life. This is where choice comes in. This is where men and women are offered a choice. For those who choose yes, a life may be created. That life is precious, even if it is not the life you want it to be.

In Arrival, Bank’s husband disagrees with her choice, when he finds out that she knew what would happen to their daughter. Their marriage ends in divorce.

Sometimes it is extremely difficult to follow the will of God. Sometimes even our spouses may disagree. But the right choice is always God’s will. The right choice is always life, even if those around us disagree.

It is unclear if Chiang or the screenwriters for Arrival intended to communicate a Catholic message. The movie is not overtly Christian or even religious. However, the Church teaches that natural law is discernible no matter if a person is Catholic or not. In this case, the Catholic message resonates anyway.

Whether or not Arrival intended the message is irrelevant, the fact they got it right is what matters.

By Marshall Connolly


1 comment

  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    That’s quite a stretch. However we can set up an interesting comparison. In this case, the humans – or one of them – knew the child would suffer and die and the parent chose the suffering. I would have sided with the father and spared the child the suffering.
    In the case of Yahweh/Jesus, these all knowing gods know before we are born whether we will be saved or cast into the lake of fire for all eternity – though we live here but a handful of decades.
    At least the child in the story suffers for but a short time (I haven’t seen the movie). Yahweh/Jesus permit us to be born knowing in advance that those of us who fail to believe, say and do the right things as dictated by the Church will suffer for billions and trillions of endless years, and yet they permit this to happen. We are then supposed to worship them for being so despicably evil. Go figure.

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