The critically acclaimed sci-fi film “Arrival” is all about how language shapes humanity’s first contact with an alien species, so it has made screenwriter Eric Heisserer more thoughtful about his own words and intentions. We’re “at a time when we have so many tools for communication on a global level right now,” he says, “but we seem to be as a people so terrible at communicating.” Watch our complete video chat with Heisserer above.
The protagonist of the film is Dr. Louise Banks (played by Amy Adams), a linguist who is more patient and open-minded about the aliens than many of the cynical military and government officials around her. But in a real world of such fractured communication, would we as a species really be as thoughtful about first contact as she is, or would the human race have nuked itself by act two? “I guess this was more of a plea than it was an outright declaration of the state of the globe,” says Heisserer. “It’s more optimism that maybe there are more [people like Louise Banks] out there in the world and fewer trigger-happy nihilists.”
“Arrival” is adapted from “Story of Your Life,” a short story by Ted Chiang that inspired Heisserer as soon as he read it. “I was really blown away by how it made me feel,” he remembers. “I was lured into the idea that there was going to be an intellectual story … I didn’t expect to feel as much as I did when I got to the end of the story, and that was really my prime motivation for adapting it.”
His relationship to both science fiction and lingustics stems from his relationship with his parents. “My mom would read to me when I was very young Heinlein and Bradbury and Asimov,” he explains, while his father was a Classics professor who “constantly taught himself new languages … For a moment when I was 12 years old I got in the car with him and asked what was for dinner, and I could see him blinking to try to get back to English to process my question. So when I found this story I think there was a personal connection.”
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