By Shiyao (Sia) Peng ‘20
The intersection of time and space has long been one of most beloved themes in a sci-fi director’s arsenal. Denis Villeneuve, four-time winner of the Genie Award for best direction of a Canadian film, also experiments with time in his newest work Arrival, playing Friday, January 20, 7 pm, in the Hop’s Spaulding Auditorium. To prepare you for this upcoming screening of Villeneuve’s newest work, here are some notable science fiction flicks that deal with questions about time, space or both.
Protagonist Ellie Arroway has been interested in radio communication since childhood. When she grows up, Arroway becomes an astronomer, hoping to find extraterrestrial life. After years of studying, she receives a message from alien forms and builds a mysterious machine in search of this faraway intelligence. With this machine, Arroway embarks upon her unusual journey in time and space.
Another notable film in which Inception’s Christopher Nolan twists timelines with his ever-masterful storytelling. Interstellar depicts a bleak future in which Earth is plagued by drought, disease and famine. As the human race is on the verge of distinction, NASA pilot Cooper and his team daringly adventure into a wormhole in hope of finding another habitable planet. Heeding the Law invoked by the name of Cooper’s daughter, Murph, anything that can go wrong, will. Exploration, time, space and fate take center stage in the many existential questions posed in the film.
As a result of an atmospheric phenomenon, John Sullivan is able to use a ham radio to connect with his father who died 30 years ago. Seizing this unique opportunity to prevent his father’s untimely death in a warehouse fire, Sullivan triggers an unfolding of the butterfly effect. The small change John Sullivan has made in history triggers an unexpected tragedy. The father and the son communicate across time without seeing each other in an attempt to prevent a murder that changed their destiny. The link of past and present not only manages to create compelling suspense but also somehow extrapolate profound human meaning from a profoundly impossible communication mishap.
Before you go to the theater and watch Arrival, I highly recommend you read Ted Chiang’s Nebula award-winning masterpiece Story of Your Life. Arrival is, in fact, an adaptation of this short story. Beautifully narrated from the perspective of the protagonist, this short tale explores language, personal transformation, and the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which asserts that a language’s structure informs the way in which its speakers view the world. Meditating on the very language in which it is told, Chiang’s clever meditation is quite an interesting companion piece to the cinematic adaptation.
Extra time on your hands? These films also deal with time in challenging and innovative ways: The Butterfly Effect (2004), The Time Traveler’s Wife (2009), Source Code (2011), Triangle (2009) and Slaughterhouse-Five (1972).
About the contributor
Shiyao (Sia) Peng ‘20 is a member of the Dartmouth Film Society.