Arrival – a film review in Centre Edge terms:
Last night I saw the new sci-fi film Arrival which I loved – one of the best films I have seen for a very long time. There is much I could explore about it, and why I thought it worked so well. Aspects of it seemed to me to resonate very strongly with the Centre Edge principles, so I am going to focus on those here.
SPOILER ALERT – if you have not seen Arrival, and I suggest you do, you probably don’t want to read this until you have. Go see it, and then read this, and tell me what you think
The powerful charge of the Boundary:
A central principle of Centre Edge work is that Boundaries – between one thing and another are inherently and necessarily emotional. The movement toward and away from a boundary as well as the experience of stepping over a boundary – whether physical or emotional / psychological, always carries an emotional charge.
Centre Edge work suggests that within any system or situation there are usually multiple, sequential boundaries – inner, outer, and everything in between – imagine concentric circles if you like, or ripples spreading from a single drop of water. Each surrounds the same centre, and each represents its own sub boundary, a gateway or threshold to be crossed in order to go further in or further out.
The entire film makes use of this in beautiful and highly evocative ways. Much of the incredible tension and emotional power of the film is based entirely around the movement across Boundaries and towards Centre:
Boundary 1: Visitors from Outer Space:
Something that does not belong here has come here. Something that is ‘out of this world’ (sic) has come into this world. This is of course an age old motif for countless films. The drama, confusion, anxiety, fear, excitement created by this primal outer / inner motif is clear early on in the film. It is basic Boundary principle at work.
Boundary 2: Fleeing from and moving toward the alien space ship:
Early on in the movie our heroine, Louise, is flown by army helicopter to the army base established near to one of the alien ‘ships’. We see what she sees below. We know many folk have fled the area, but we also see what seems to be folk moving toward the area. Fear has led many to flee, while curiosity and excitement has led many to move toward the Centre of whatever is unfolding.
From above we see that those moving toward are held at bay by the army – so we see thousands of cars and vans on a circular Boundary, as Louise flies, across this boundary and over them.
Boundary movements in and out are inherently emotive and we see the mass population expressing both movements – fear and attraction if you like. And of course as we fly with Louise over the boundary, we are entering something particularly special, rare, protected – and like her, our own apprehension and emotion heightens, as we move closer.
Boundary 3: Many boundaries within the Army Camp:
The army camp contains one boundary after another, with, as you would expect, security checks and clearance at each stage (what in Centre Edge we call Guardians). With our heroine Louise we move from outside the camp, inwards, and gradually into the inner sanctum of the camp. From there we then move out of the camp toward, gulp, the huge spaceship hovering a short distance away.
Our journey, our pilgrimage toward the unknown continues – through multiple Gates, past multiple Guardians as we approach what seems to be the very Centre of the story.
The whole thing is like a pilgrimage, a powerful journey from outside to inside, towards something profoundly meaningful. We still don’t know if the meaning is destruction or creation of something new. So emotionally we remain on a Boundary. Perhaps it is both?
And as we approach the Centre – represented by the space ship, we realise we are entering another world. Throughout Louise’s journey here, the sense gradually changes from something other entering our world (when she first sees news reports of UFO landings) to us entering into the world of other (when the army jeep drives her right to the foot of the huge spacecraft.
Louise’s Journey Continues: Centres with Centres:
Moving to Centre 1:
Centre and Edge always define one another. The Boundary or Edge holds in place whatever qualities, rules, atmospheres and behaviours the Centre radiates. As we approach the spacecraft we realise we have no idea at all what this alien System is truly about. Are we entering into war or peace, harmony or destruction? We are in another world, and we have no true sense beyond our own fantasies and projections of its nature.
Moving to Centre 2:
Not knowing what is at Centre, and understandably anxious (we remain on a conceptual Boundary – are these aliens goodies or baddies?) we project. This is one of the key themes of the film. It’s played out by individuals – Louise, her colleagues, her army superior and a hawkish paranoid soldier at camp. But it is also played out in the wider geopolitics taking place as different countries seem to project their own hostility, threat, or peaceful possibility onto precisely the same neutral (as far as we know at this point) object.
So too as we enter into a new world – a new experience, a new situation, even a new idea, we can reflect that few of us take the space and time to relax and feel the ground, really sense the nature of the ‘otherness’ that this situation, group or person is radiating. Typically at individual and cultural levels – as the film beautifully shows us – we tend to project our own core beliefs and assumptions onto one other. Thus our encounters with other are most often a projection / radiation of our own centrally held (if unconscious) notions and beliefs. This is the difference between living encounter and dead projection. This gesture represents the shift from war to peace in the film and perhaps when we stop to consider, in our day-to-day lives too.
An example is when Louise expresses concerns that the Chinese may be using Mah Jong as a basis for attempting communication with the aliens in China. Her reasoning being that if the thought patterns underlying the encounter are based on a game of strategy, war, attack and defeat, the entire Centre Edge system of the encounter and the resulting relationship, is likely to express that central (unconsciously held in this case) notion. Where we have ‘war’ at our own centre, we will experience the radiation of qualities from the System of Other as aggressive. Where we have peace or curiosity, that is what we are open to in the communication of other across the boundaries of their own world.
Moving to Centre 3:
And of course the vast, hovering spacecraft is the centre, but it is also not the centre.
It too has deeper levels and its own internal boundaries. First there is the door that opens up at the bottom – this takes us further in. Within this centre within a centre, the rules of gravity stop applying – so we are even more encountering the world of Other, as we move closer to a deeper centre. What rules of our own construction no longer apply when we move truly toward the centre of an Other? Another idea, another being? Do we, like the characters in the movie, experience the same almost overwhelming sense of confusion and panic when we experience what has not been considered in our worn world.
The powerful change of Boundaries again. Inner boundaries: The invisible wall:
And finally, one of the most exquisite and sustained moments of tension as, inside the inner core of the spacecraft, we move toward the invisible, but very real boundary that separates Louise and her colleague Ian from the two aliens.
I could write a whole essay just about the play around this boundary – it is a beautifully and skilfully repeated theme throughout the movie. The boundary is real and yet not real – physical objects cannot move beyond it, and yet communication, understanding and profound connection become possible. Is a boundary in our own life real or imaginary? Is it both?
Even within this boundary there are micro movements – as Louise steps closer (notice the heightened emotion of her army colleagues as she does this, disturbs the boundary just a little, heightening uncertainty and anxiety). She removes her helmet (another boundary) to reveal more of her face and thus more of her humanity. Do we take the risk to remove our own armour and masks that (so we believe at least) keep us protected and secure and less vulnerable to the impacts of a true exchange with ‘Other’.
And then, further still, contact – hand to hepta-tentacle. Closer and closer connection but with boundary still in place.
And finally, in inner space, the Centre Edge System that represents consciousness and subjective experience itself, boundaries of space, time and reality start to dissolve as Louise enters into (sic) the way of perceiving the world of these alien others.
On one level, this is the story of a pilgrimage toward true surrender to other, working at every step with the fear, doubt, uncertainty and hesitation that would be necessary to remove the boundaries of our own thinking, self protection and reality in order to encounter fully who and what is actually there.
It is beautiful, it is moving, it is fascinating, it is in each movement profoundly uncertain.
And in the film, as in life, for Louise and for the planet, it is the difference literally between life and death.
You can probably tell I rather liked this movie!