The Science of ARRIVAL

02 Mar, 2017 · Sascha · Featured,Film,Wissenschaft

Sony Pictures Germany

Arrival ist mein Film des Jahres. Ein Film über die Komplexität von Kommunikation und die Hürden in uns und in dem Zusammenleben mit anderen, die wir für ein bessere Zukunft überkommen müssen. Passt aktuell wie die Faust aufs Auge. Da ich selbst Linguistik studiert habe, war die Darstellung der Professorin als Heldin ein absolutes Highlight. Aber auch ihre Überlegungen zur Didaktik, wie man den Aliens jetzt am besten Englisch beibringt, waren schlüssig und toll. In Ted Chiangs Kurzgeschichte ist das ein wenig detaillierter dargestellt, aber für einen Blockbuster und Oscarkandidaten war die kompetente Darstellung des Sujets in Arrival bereits das höchste der Gefühle.

Ich bin nicht der einzige, der derart begeistert von den Wissenschaftsaspekten von Arrival war, es gibt jede Menge Artikel und Videos zum Thema, die ich hier mal zusammenfassen möchte.

Science vs. Cinema

Direkt zum Beginn das Herzstück des Posts: Science vs. Cinema, eine großartige Videoreihe, die ihr Thema bereits im Titel verrät, hat sich in einer dreißigminütigen Kurzdoku mit Wissenschaftlern und dem Produktionsteam über die Linguistik, Mathematik, aber auch die Biologie der Heptapoden unterhalten. Highlight ist die Beteiligung von Stephen Wolfram, der sicherlich keiner Einführung bedarf. Insgesamt ein wunderschön produziertes Video, das sich tatsächlich mit der Materie auseinandersetzt und nicht nur Altbekanntes aufwärmt.

How To Play A Scientist

Amy Adams und Jeremy Renner reden in ihren längeren Interviews mit Science vs. Cinema über ihren Beruf, nämlich wie man einen Wissenschaftler in Arrival spielt und wie man sich darauf vorbereitet.

Das mit Abstand interessanteste Interview über den Film: Science vs. Cinema spricht mit Eric Heisserer über Aliens, Adaptation und andere Themen, mit denen er sich beim Schreiben des Drehbuchs auseinandersetzte.

How To Make A Perfect Sci-Fi Movie

Das gleiche trifft eigentlich auch für die Interviews von David Polands DP/30 zu, wobei der Fokus hier nicht zu sehr auf der Wissenschaft liegt.

Problems with Arrival

Die Screenjunkies interviewen oft Dr. Clifford V. Johnson zu Filmen mit wissenschaftlichen Themen. Er hat einiges am Film auszusetzen. So findet er die Darstellung der Wissenschaftler nicht wirklich passend und er stört sich daran, dass Kommunikationsversuche durch Mathematik so früh aus dem Fenster geworfen wurden. Interessant ist jedoch sein Kommentar zur vierten Dimension bzw. der Zeitreise des Films.

The Linguistics of Arrival

Das mit Abstand nerdgiste Video setzt sich explizit mit der Arbeit mehrerer Linguisten und der Alien-Sprache auseinander. Leicht genug, dass Noobies folgen können, aber auch mit genug Informationen und Theorien für Fortgeschrittene. Zu Beginn geht es ohnehin erst einmal darüber, wie die Wissenschaftler Besuch von den Setdesignern bekamen und wie man den Film so authentisch hat aussehen lassen.

New Scientist: The science behind the twisting alien linguistics of Arrival

“They use non-linear orthography,” says Banks. “Do they think like that too?”

This is our introduction to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which holds that a language shapes the way we think. In the 1940s, Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf proposed that the structure of a language determines, or at least influences, how we perceive and experience the world. The theory has been controversial, but there is now some support for it. For example, in Russian there are two words for different shades of blue, and Russian speakers are faster at discriminating between the shades than are English speakers (PNAS, It seems that words can prime parts of the brain to work better.

Some supporters of linguistic relativity, which is another name for the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, think that the cognitive benefits of language helped spur its evolution. This is relevant to the movie, as the fate of humanity, and possibly of the aliens, depends on us understanding their language.

There could be some evidence for this selective power of language in putty-nosed monkeys. These are social monkeys that live in Nigeria and have two simple warning calls: a “pyow” means there is a leopard coming, and a “hack” means there is an eagle. But if you put the two together it means “let’s move along”. It’s very simple, to be sure, but language requires different meanings to be constructed from the same syllables, which the monkeys have managed to do.

Science Mag: For linguists, the new sci-fi film Arrival can’t come soon enough

Linguists also questioned Arrival‘s perspective on the age-old dispute: What is the place of linguistics in science? In the film, Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist (played by Jeremy Renner) working with Banks “in the field,” perceives the two to be separate. “The cornerstone of society isn’t language—it’s science,” he says to Banks, shortly after they first meet. Nycz disagrees with the implication. “The linguistics versus science contrast is false,” she says. It reflects a common idea that science deals with physical objects of study like photons, cells, and atoms, rather than a way of acquiring knowledge, she adds. “Not all linguists take a scientific approach to the study of language … but many do, or strive to.” As it turns out (spoiler alert), of the film’s two leads, it’s Banks who makes the breakthrough that leads to mutual understanding.

But what would happen if we were actually visited by aliens and needed to understand them? “Language on earth is both physically and socially embedded. That is, we speak and hear (or sign and see) with the bodies and brains we have, and we use language in the context of our society,” Nycz says. “So I’d have to know something about their physiology, their cognition, and their society to even begin to speculate.”

The QandA Podcast: Interview with Eric Heisserer

Business Insider: ‘Arrival’ nails how humans might actually talk to aliens, a linguist says

Production designer Patrice Vermette and his wife, artist Martine Bertrand, took the lead in visualizing the written language, creating around 100 swirly circular symbols. Stephen Wolfram, founder of Mathematica coding software, and his son, Christopher Wolfram, helped analyze the symbols. And then Coon got involved.

“I worked a lot with the set crew, helping get the visual aspect of being a linguist and doing linguistics right,” Coon said. “They came to the office, they took pictures of everything, they borrowed books off the shelf, they had me go in and write on the white board in Amy Adams’ office. They brought me to the military cryptography tent and wanted to know what’s going to be on the white boards here where they’re deciphering the language, what’s their to-do list look like? How would somebody annotate these logograms? So they sent me a stack of these logogram printouts and said, well, you’re a linguist, figure it out.”

Wired: The science of Arrival: what the film got right (and wrong)

The end goal is to discover the aliens’ purpose on Earth, but before that can be asked, Banks is insistent she must understand their language to prevent any misunderstandings. And, it turns out, this is a pretty good way to begin deciphering an unknown language.

“The insistence that they can’t jump straight to the big question is absolutely right,” Jessica Coon, an Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics at McGill University and a consultant on the film, told WIRED. “You have to really understand some of the smaller pieces of grammar before you work up to the big question, because there’s a lot of potential for misunderstanding.” And that’s exactly what Banks does. With human languages, of which there are several thousand, similar techniques are used in translation. So getting a basic grip is not a bad idea before attempting to hold a meaningful conversation.

The Verge: Arrival director Denis Villeneuve on the politics of the year’s best sci-fi film

What I found particularly moving was the idea that she knows her future will result in heartbreak, pain, and divorce, but she willingly goes along with it.

That, I think, is a big difference between Eric and I. I think Eric was seeing this as she chooses to have the kid, so it gives more dramatic power to the character. The way I see it is just, she doesn’t have the choice to acclimate to what the heptapods are telling us. She doesn’t have the choice. Now it’s “How does she allow herself to have the joy to have the kid, even if she knows that?” That, for me, is a much more powerful idea.

You know you’re going to die. I know I’m going to die. I have three kids. What can happen right now? I need to trust life, I need to embrace life. That, for me, is more important than thinking [we can always have a choice]. That’s the way I see it, personally.

That’s where as a filmmaker I feel like I’m sometimes the best friend of the screenwriter, and sometimes I’m a traitor, because I found my own ways of seeing the movie. Eric and I are different artists. I say that with humility.