Arrival, Three Body Problem and Dark Forest

The refuge from a depressing present (Roch Marc Christian Kaboré since winning the election last year has done almost nothing, and Burkina Faso’s prospects for a vibrant economy and polity seem to fade with each passing week ) is in science fiction.  Early November I was mesmerized by Cixin Liu’s The Three Body Problem and The Dark Forest.  At one level they are both fairly conventional Vernor Vinge-style big space opera novels (the two are part of a trilogy).  At another level the two novels wallow in an enduring theme of human art, the loneliness of being human.  The Dark Forest in particular ends with its spectacular image, as the crews of the ship start to appreciate their (and our) condition.

Arrival, like Solaris, Silent Running, 2001: A Space Odyssey likewise tightly focuses on emotion.  You could be crying through the whole film if you had already read Ted Chaing’s novella and knew of essence of the story.  Director Denis Villeneuve relentlessly pushes back against science fiction conventions: It feels like 30 percent of the running time is devoted to the shots of Amy Adams and her daughter.  Music, too, is incredibly important for the movie, which is all about that mood of loneliness.  Not only are the aliens other humans, but even our selves are alien to us.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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