by on November 13, 2016 at 5:17 pm in Film, Philosophy, Religion, Uncategorized | Permalink

I’ve never seen a movie before where I wanted to yell at the screen “It’s called the Coase theorem!”, and furthermore with complete justification.  There is plenty of social science in this film, including insights from Thomas Schelling and the construction and solution of some non-cooperative games, mostly by introducing a more dynamic method of equilibrium selection.  There are homages to Childhood’s End, 2001, Close Encounters, Interstellar, Buddhism, Himalayan Nagas, Eastern Orthodox, the theology of the number 12, and more.  It’s hard to explain without spoiling the plot, but definitely recommended and maybe the best Hollywood movie so far this year.  Nice sonics too.

1 Doug Schoemer November 13, 2016 at 5:24 pm

I too loved this. Found myself especially wanting to discuss the ending, as many interpretations exist. And Max Richter, whose music for The Leftovers I find extraordinary, has another haunting score here.

2 harryh November 13, 2016 at 6:00 pm

I thought the ending was pretty clear? She goes on to have the baby exactly as she saw in her future. What other interpretations are there? Curious!

3 Doug Schoemer November 13, 2016 at 6:28 pm

Ok to have spoilers here, I guess. My question concerned the motivation of Louise to not tell Ian that she knew their child was going to die. It obviously (I think) led to their split and paints both characters in potentially negative light, after showing them so positively throughout the movie. Why would she not tell him for years, and then tell him (I assume when the official diagnosis is made?). In one late flash-forward scene Hannah says that her dad doesn’t look at her the same way and Louise responds that the dad heard news from her (Louise) and tells her that she has made the “wrong decision.” Is the decision referred to regarding having the child, or not telling Ian she knew of the girl’s fate? I assume the latter, but this off-screen conflict adds interestingly to the two main characters.

Hope tat makes sense.

4 harryh November 13, 2016 at 7:35 pm

Ya, that makes sense.

FWIW I assumed that she actually told him pre-diagnosis as the daughter was still pretty young in that scene compared to the scenes that showed her sick.

My interpretation of her motivation was that she accepted her fate for what it was and decided that all of the joyfull days with her daughter would be worth the pain at the end. As someone with a 16 month old son who is loving being a 1st time father it made me think about whether I would do the same thing. I think that I would though it’s hard to say.

5 firingline November 13, 2016 at 8:50 pm

“My interpretation of her motivation was that she accepted her fate for what it was and decided that all of the joyfull days with her daughter would be worth the pain at the end.”

It’s the child that dies. Isn’t it a little narcissistic to be making the calculation based on her worth to you? Presumably if the child was a difficult little brat, it wouldn’t be worth it? Moral “depth” like this is the type of lazy bourgeois melodrama I’d expect to see feature on the Oprah bookclub.

6 Jim November 14, 2016 at 2:47 pm

I got a sense that, as she learns to think like the heptapods, she becomes a determinist. She sees the whole timeline at once, all laid out, and it’s not some uncertain future or some branching path.

This seems to be the way the heptapods see. They know what will happen in three thousand years, which would be hard to know if any of the zillions of decisions between now and then could change it.

This is also foreshadowed in the whiteboard “What is your purpose on Earth?” scene, where she points out that maybe the heptapods think of intentionally differently than we do, and maybe they wouldn’t understand our “why” questions.

So it’s not that she decides to have the kid. It’s just that she lives through that moment on the timeline because it’s there.

7 Gareth Wilson November 13, 2016 at 8:36 pm

If you want the saddest possibility, she had decided not to tell him but it slipped out in the middle of a huge fight about Hannah’s education. He said something like “she’ll never get into college…”

8 Jury November 14, 2016 at 6:38 am

The score is by Jóhann Jóhannsson, not by Max Richter (although there’s one piece by him used in the film).

9 Alan November 13, 2016 at 6:07 pm

Had you read Ted Chiang’s original short story?

If not, you should check out his other work. He’s produced quite a spectacular series of short fiction.

10 Strick November 13, 2016 at 7:18 pm

I consider Chiang an heir to Heinlein. His best short stories are like Heinlein’s best, optimistic, clever twists of “if this goes on”, populated by bright but otherwise ordinary people doing the best they can in extraordinary circumstances. No super humans, no fates of empires at stake, just stories about people dealing with the implications of the future.

My one disappointment with film, btw, is that it broke my promise to my wife that there would be no explosions.

11 Luke November 15, 2016 at 2:10 am

I literally thought “Hell Is The Absence of God” could be a great movie after finishing it.

Anyone has any idea how much Chiang would have made off this movie? IIRC he doesn’t really make much off his stories, not enough to quit his day job anyway.

12 firingline November 13, 2016 at 6:15 pm

I didn’t see much in it. Some new age pablum about time being a consequence of the way we use language in the service of some more pablum about us all working together for the greater good. This kind of stuff is so stale by now I wonder how much more of it even comfortable liberals who like to pat themselves on the back for being good thinkers can take.

13 Alan November 13, 2016 at 6:31 pm

Man, all that work just to hurt a straw man’s feelings…

14 Ray Lopez November 13, 2016 at 7:46 pm

Seems it’s a remake of an earlier film that’s a film adaptation of a book. Pass. I rather watch classical chess live, with the Berlin opening.

The Arrival (2016) delivers a must-see experience for fans of thinking person’s sci-fi that anchors its heady themes with genuinely affecting emotion and a terrific performance from Amy Adams.

The Arrival (1996) Critics Consensus: Stylish and inventive, The Arrival offers a surprisingly smart spin on the alien invasion genre.

15 Brendan Dolan-Gavitt November 13, 2016 at 8:28 pm

The Arrival (1996) is completely unrelated.

The short story that Arrival (2016) is based on won the Nebula and Sturgeon awards. The short story is heavier on the physics but I was genuinely impressed at how well it translated to the big screen.

16 Matthew W. Tievsky November 21, 2016 at 4:31 pm

Completely unrelated and significantly inferior.

17 dearieme November 13, 2016 at 6:42 pm

Cowen: “Nice sonics too.”

Sailer: “Dialogue … can be a little hard to hear.”

My money is on Sailer: he probably watched the whole thing.

18 Sam Haysom November 13, 2016 at 7:26 pm

Tyler is also vain enough to pretend his hearing isn’t diminishing with age.

19 Thor November 14, 2016 at 11:38 am

You don’t have to have the equivalent of 20/20 vision, in hearing, to hear ebonics. Wait, did you say sonics?

20 Jan November 13, 2016 at 6:49 pm

Nothing is not Coasean these days, apparently.

21 Ray Lopez November 13, 2016 at 7:47 pm

That can be negotiated away…

22 Careless November 13, 2016 at 7:50 pm

That or Straussian.

23 Thor November 14, 2016 at 11:42 am

What do you get when you cross a Coasean with a Straussian?

24 leppa November 13, 2016 at 7:47 pm

TC : ” It’s hard to explain without spoiling the plot”
Commenters : Nah……..

25 Bookreader November 14, 2016 at 2:11 am

Read the short written by Ted Chiang. Hopefully “Story of Your Life” shows up in your book pile and maybe “The Lifecycle of Software Objects”, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate”, and “Hell is the Absence of God”. All great. At the rate you read, Tyler, you could probably finish his entire oeuvre in a couple days, although I wouldn’t recommend it.

26 Thor November 14, 2016 at 12:07 pm


27 Pensans November 14, 2016 at 8:10 am

The available nouns forms would be Eastern OrthodoxY or the Eastern Orthodox Church or Eastern Orthodox Theology but not Eastern Orthodox, which is an adjective.

28 Joseph Biel November 14, 2016 at 12:11 pm

I may be misinterpreting things, but I think there is a strong connection with Slaughterhouse Five in that the main character in Arrival had become unstuck in time.

29 Grant November 17, 2016 at 11:38 am

I think you are spot on.

30 robert November 14, 2016 at 2:02 pm

I wanted to yell at the screen “It’s called the Coase theorem!” Would you also have yelled out “‘Rosebud’ is a sled!”?

31 mkt42 November 14, 2016 at 7:52 pm

I wanted to yell “That’s not what a Nash equilibrium is about!” while I was watching _A Beautiul Mind_.

32 Xmas November 14, 2016 at 3:25 pm

Spoiler comments:

I’m calling it “a better version of ‘Contact'”. I thought it was a very good movie, though I figured out the plot twist pretty quickly.

Though, I’m not sure if this is a non-paradoxical/deterministic time movie. The aliens refer to it as the “weapon”. I’m thinking she and the Heptapods are working through possible futures through their current actions. I think there is a choice of possible futures, and the one where her daughter dies is the one where she unites all of mankind and they are able to save the Heptapods in 3000 years.

33 Enrique November 17, 2016 at 7:08 am

Tyler’s review made me want to see the movie, which I did, as I am fascinated by the Coase theorem: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2129315

But the Coase theorem doesn’t really apply here because there are no property rights in language. Instead, I was shouting out: “it’s called a positive sum game”

34 Joy November 27, 2016 at 10:43 pm

Hollywood would like us Americans to think that we don’t have any real enemies. If we just take a year out of our lives to learn ___ language, then ___ people will have nothing but good intentions toward us. Most of us don’t have a year, and even if we did… well, I guess you don’t know until you try.
(Nice movie overall, but I don’t think they added much to Interstellar.)

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