I don’t watch a lot of television but when I do I tend to choose it specifically rather than channel flick randomly wasting time.
So I specifically chose Arrival but my expectations were pre-set at a little above the formulaic level of Independence day or the like; Aliens invade, Jeff Goldblum has been warning everyone about it in advance with his home-made invasion detector. Everyone scoffs. The aliens invade and their intentions aren’t good from the get go. Jeff and co run around a green screen devastation set before a few heroes step up to the plate, a ragged mixed bag each with their own particular proclivities and skill sets. Fox force 5 to the rescue.
The movie ends with salutes, chest thumping, hooyahs, a tattered American flag and the delivery of a moral, real world message.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, Arrival had none of that.
The only common denominators were aliens arriving and an understated and limited smattering of CGI. Arrival is an alien invasion movie for grown-ups, it makes you think about things you wouldn’t ordinarily think about. It makes you consider your own life, the world and your own mortality.
In short it’s movie making of the best sort and off the top of my head very few fall into my own personal top ten list of this type of movie. Don’t misunderstand me here, I’m not a film snob, I have a long list of movies which I have really enjoyed for their sheer entertainment value but not many hit the same sweet spot Arrival did. My few ‘thin air’ movie list includes the likes of Moon, Open Your Eyes, La Haine, Reservoir Dogs, Before Sunrise, Before Sunset and now I’m carrying Arrival up there.
But these movies come as a double edged sword in that they really make you think about things.
The only moment you are really alive is right now.
At this very moment you are alive and even as you think about what you have just read the moment is gone, replaced with another. And then another.
Yesterday is gone and tomorrow doesn’t exist, yet. The only thing which really exists is your current breath.
I started writing this ten miles up on an airplane sipping Air France tea, that was my alive moment then. I tried to write some more on the metro but failed. It sat for a day or two and now I’ve picked it back up again after the kids are asleep.
Where or when I finish it, who knows? Its ongoing but when I do eventually finish it I will post it and move on. Each time I touch it I am alive and by extension it is also alive, outside of these times it’s just a lifeless pile of static kilobytes. And when its complete this is exactly what it will become.
Time is a linear but abstract concept, it’s the most used measurement in the world and of the most commonly used ones the only one which has no beginning and no end. For me it’s a bit like the concept of infinite space, something I struggle to grasp. I understand the basics, of course, what I cannot grasp is the profound nature of it.
My favourite museum is the British Museum and my favourite part of the British Museum is the Assyrian reliefs depicting in particular the lion hunting escapades of King Ashurbanipal.
If you have never been just keep going past the hordes of selfie taking tourists gathering around the Rosetta stone and keep looking left until you see two colossal bearded man-horse thingy statues and you’re there, trust me you won’t be disappointed.
Anyway, just behind the reliefs is another artefact, a very important but aesthetically dull one, it’s a small clay cylinder called the Cyrus cylinder.
The Cyrus cylinder dates from 539BC and is inscribed amongst other things with a description of the king Cyrus the Great’s conquest of Babylon. Cyrus the Great, as his name would suggest, was an important king who lived 2,500 years ago and he himself was fascinated with history. Apparently he would go on archaeological expeditions to discover artefacts which were at the time thousands of years old.
And this is where I start losing the link between myself right now and the relative nature of time.
As I stand there and marvel at the beautiful stone works just beyond the ‘do not touch’ barrier I can see a very thin link between myself and the artist(s) who created them.
Its there but barely, then its gone, like that Belgium radio station which sometimes barges onto my MW radio at night then fades away to static as if it didn’t happen at all. If I let my mind wander a bit to think about the king immortalised in stone being alive and staring in awe at other artefacts as old as these ones are when he was alive I struggle.
The problem is, I don’t think of the brave lion hunting king as a real person, really being alive that is. I don’t think of him doing what he did and being alive in the moment, having air in his lungs. I don’t.
Rationally I know it is true but it’s a truth I would rather walk away from than confront. What about the person who created the 5,000-year-old artefact?
So I watched Arrival and it presented this unpleasant reality to me in the guise of a high definition Dolby surround sound digital sci-fi movie. I was conned.
The Assyrian kings chiselled their stories into stone and some survived. Cyrus was so great his story comes down to us through many mediums, not least a small clay cylinder in London. Today we are all recording and writing our own stories in various electronic forms.
I don’t know what the future for this vast amount of data will be but given explosive speed of change we are witnessing I can’t imagine it’s a positive one.
But somehow I hope this isn’t the case.
I hope in 2,500 years from now someone is able to read something about now. I hope this person reads it and is in awe thinking about us looking at the reliefs. I hope this person feels the same confusion I feel when he or she thinks about it.
Because at the end of the day, all the data from ever to now and from now to ever only represents one thing.
A breath that once was.