Tonight I saw the 2016 movie, Arrival, and I was impressed in many ways by the film. I’ll first say that if you have not seen it, I struggle to see how this exposition will not serve as a classic spoiler to the work—but even with this danger, I also struggle to see how that will hardly matter, because a large part of the brilliance of this movie lies in the way the story is unfolded, and how the film presents this very challenging/impossible plot with mastery.
However, I will attempt to refrain from spoiling your experience, and cut to the chase in presenting a particular reading of one concept that was presented in the story, while attempting to withhold how it comes into play in relation to the film. Hopefully this will still leave open the option for you to see it for yourself, and venture your own readings with mine and others.
At one point in the film, a meditation on time, in itself, becomes central to the story, and with how the major climax of the film is resolved within it. The movie walks into this mediation in stages, beginning with the struggle of linguistics, and how our temporal state is expressed throughout its terrain. At a certain point the main character receives an understanding of time that goes beyond our natural experience, and into an atemporal one that proves very beneficial to her and humanity.
I’ll stop here with this vague description, but this aspect of the film reminded me very much of what is known as the aeviternal state of the cosmos. Aeviternity is a theological term that describes a state of existence that is not quite eternity (timeless), but definitely not the temporal plane that we inhabit here on earth.
Without getting too involved in details, we experience a temporal reality largely due to the presence of matter in our existence, and time of course is a measurement of how this matter changes. Without this material aspect, the calculation becomes less relevant. For those other than God (the only eternal), it is still somewhat pertinent though, because everything else that exists, at a minimum, has at least an existential change, a start of existence, a single point ‘before’.
This is especially true of the angels, who are most closely associated with the aeviternal state, because they as incorporeal beings (no bodies) only have this one point of temporal measurement in their existence– their creation. They then live in the aeviternal state, in participation with God’s eternity, and interact with our temporality in our lower temporal nature. Gabriel doesn’t sit and reminisce about the great day Jesus’ birth was proclaimed to Mary. That moment is an everlasting one in the aeviternity of an angel’s personal experience, and didn’t seem to happen 2000 years ago, like it did for us as humans today. What is called 33 B.C, 2017 or 3000 A.D. is irrelevant for Gabriel, who is outside of the temporal strain.
This aeviternal state is inhabited by other intellectual beings as well; those of us who have died and are not yet reunited with their bodies have this same experience, regardless of (and I won’t expound) their heavenly or hellish final destination.
To return to the movie, this state was very closely realized in the films conclusion. In a rather clever way, it was described throughout as “a weapon” for the world to use, and one which would ultimately save humanity. To both the viewer of the film and the characters within the film’s world (the diagesis), this stood to be very confusing and frightening. How could a weapon have an absolutely good effect, and ultimately, a world saving one? This weapon though, wouldn’t be one that would be used against humanity, but rather one that would be used against the distortions within our human nature, the distortions that divide us. It would be used as a tool, or instrument, to unite the warring world.
The thing about aeviternity is, that it isn’t just for the dead and the angels. While these inhabitants are naturally present to this reality, we as temporal beings can (and should) access this atemporal state as well. For the Catholic, this is what is being offered at Mass, in the liturgy of the Word and in the Eucharistic celebration. Here we are present to the eternal presence of God, as we hear the Scriptures read, and the Last Supper reenacted at the altar. This is not a play, where we are remembering the work done by Christ 2000 years ago today, but rather we are experiencing this aeviternal reality as we participate in the Mass, where time is not relevant– it is always now.
There is one last thing, that I may have unintentionally misled you on before in my explanation of the metaphysics of time. While incorporeal beings (no bodies; angels, the dead) live in this state naturally, we must also consider one person who has risen from the dead, fully in His body. We must also consider that this person, Jesus, is also God, and lastly we must also consider that it is He who is offered to us at Mass in the Eucharist (body, blood, soul, and divinity). In receiving this divine gift, we receive something that goes beyond even the very nifty incorporeal aeviternal state. A glorified state where we, by virtue of Christ’s resurrection, are given this reality in form, matter, and divinity, and where humanity and divinity unite in Jesus. This is a taste of a state afforded to us by God where the world (and its matter) is raised to God’s eternal one. An eventual permanent “world to come”, the likes of which is hard to imagine, and who’s attributes are likely impossible to explain.
One more, one last note on the movie, and this is a definite (but non-plot relevant) spoiler. The visitors who ‘Arrived’ around the world in the film, and bore the gift called weapon, were twelve in number— I can’t help but think this movie is a Catholic one, symbolizing the Apostolic nature of this gift’s delivery. Here is a member of that apostolic lineage now, with his reading of the film.