This may be one of the shortest movie reviews you'll ever read. Because to appreciate Arrival, a new movie in the 'first alien contact' sci-fi sub-genre, I think you're better off going in absolutely blind. Don't read reviews, don't watch the trailer, and don't read the short story it is based on. Just go.
Given the recommendation above, this 'review' will expand outwards from the most simple of statements, so if you haven't seen the movie I recommend reading as little as possible from the following. How far you read on should depend on how much encouragement or detail you need before going to see a movie. Obviously, the further you go down, the more spoilers are involved - so be warned.
So to start:
1. Go see it. Stop reading this now, and go see it.
2. Need more introductory detail about the movie? Arrival is directed by Denis Villeneuve - the guy behind the excellent Sicario and Prisoners - and is based on the acclaimed short story by Ted Chiang, Story of Your Life. It stars award-winners Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker. Here's the synopsis, and trailer (there is also a separate international trailer). Note again though, I recommend not watching the trailers:
When multiple mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team is put together to investigate, including language expert Louise Banks (Amy Adams), mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). Humankind teeters on the verge of global war as everyone scrambles for answers – and to find them, Banks, Donnelly and Weber will take a chance that could threaten their lives, and quite possibly humanity.
3. Need a feel for the movie? If you liked Contact, you will ... Read More »
I think we're property.
- Charles Fort
Spoilers for Westworld S01E01 to S01E05 follow.
In an earlier post I mentioned the Gnostic underpinnings of the pilot of HBO's new hit series Westworld. In episodes since, that broad theme has persisted - but perhaps more interestingly, it has also been overlaid with some distinctly Fortean themes.
Perhaps the most obvious came at the end of episode 2, when Maeve (Thandie Newton) - who is only familiar with the 19th century world she believes she inhabits - wakes while on the operating/repair table inside the futuristic, technologically-advanced Westworld HQ, with two figures standing over her and an incision in her stomach. Forteans would have immediately recognised the similarities to the archetypal 'otherworldly journey', a narrative that is present in stories told by everyone from shamans to 'alien abductees'.
For instance, ethnographers have collected testimony from traditional shamans in which they tell of being cut, or dismembered, by spirits during their otherworldly journeys. "I have five spirits in heaven who cut me with forty knives," according to one. Another said there were three 'black devils' who "cut his body to pieces" and threw "bits of his flesh in different directions". Another said the spirits "cut off his head, which they set aside."
One Australian Aboriginal initiate told how, during his trance, an old man...
cut out all of his insides, intestines, liver, heart, lungs - everything in fact - and left him lying all night long on the ground.
In more modern times, so-called 'alien abductees' have reported parallel experiences, but with futuristic aliens doing the 'surgery' rather than trance spirits. One of Harvard psychiatrist John Mack's patients told of seeing a spaceship shortly before blacking out, only to find upon waking that she was lying on a table, being operated on by two beings:
I was in a foetal position, my back to them. They were doing something to my spine. My entire spine was stinging and cold. It was awful! It felt as though they were going inside my body with some very sharp instrument and inserting it between my flesh and my skin.
Another abductee tells of being in a "shiny and metallic-looking" room that "contained what looked like equipment." Multiple beings surrounding him performed tests and inserted needles into his body.
(Given the scene were Maeve discovers the bullet hidden beneath scar-less skin, it's also perhaps worth quickly noting that both shamans and alien abductess often report that objects are left within them during these procedures - 'magic stones' for shamans, 'implants' for abductees. For instance, the Aboriginal initiate mentioned above told of how the 'old man' came back to him and "placed some more antongara stones inside his body and in his arms and legs".)
DMT-induced otherworldly trips appear almost as a mash-up of shamanic and abductee experiences. During his famous study on DMT, Dr Rick Strassman reported that one volunteer, as soon as they had been given the injection of DMT, described what happened immediately after with these words:
WHAM! I felt like I was in an alien laboratory... A sort of landing bay or recovery area. There were beings... They had a space ready for me. There was one main creature, and he seemed to be behind it all, overseeing everything.... I couldn't help but think 'aliens'.
Were the Westworld writers explicitly modelling Maeve's experience on alien abduction reports? It seems a distinct possibility when we consider the scene in which a doll is dropped by a Native American child, which appears to depict a Westworld employee as they often appear to remove Host's bodies from the park: dressed in a hazmat suit. This appears to be a reference to the (real-world) Hopi kachina doll tradition, which are said to represent "the immortal beings that bring rain, control other aspects of the natural world and society, and act as messengers between humans and the spirit world."
But 'ancient aliens' theorists have seized upon the strange representations of these 'kachinas' (and other odd-looking statues and sculptures around the world) as possible evidence that they were 'astronauts' that have visited our planet in the past. And the Westworld 'kachina' reinforces this aspect, given the similarities between a hazmat suit and an astronaut's space-suit (hey, if it worked for Marty McFly...). So it seems likely that the writers of Westworld are intentionally referencing tales of alien visitation and abduction - at least in part - in the storyline.
And this certainly fits within that Gnostic framework I mentioned previously, as well as the seminal Charles Fort quote at the top of this piece.
[T]here are some who can see them. It's a blessing from god, to see the masters who pull your strings.
Hector, in Westworld
I thought I was crazy...and *this* [pointing at sketched image of Westworld employee in Hazmat suit] was standing over me. And then it was as if it never happened.
- Maeve, in Westworld
The following is just one of many fascinating articles in Darklore Volume 9 (available from Amazon US and Amazon UK). More information about all of the articles in Darklore Volume 9 can be found here.
by Robert M. Schoch, PhD
In the Biblical book of Daniel it is recounted that God humbled the mighty Babylonian king and conqueror of Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar (reigned circa 605–562 BCE), in the following manner. Nebuchadnezzar was “transformed” into a wild beast living in the fields for seven years, away from humanity, eating grass as cattle do. Was this a bout of insanity, the earliest recorded case of the clinical psychiatric delusion now commonly referred to as lycanthropy?
The term lycanthropy, derived from the Greek lykos = wolf and anthropos = human, specifically refers to the supposed transformation of a human into a wolf – that is, a werewolf (also “werwolf”, from the Old English were or wer = adult male human and wulf = wolf) or lycanthrope. In the modern psychiatric literature lycanthropy generically refers to the delusion that one can undergo metamorphosis into an animal, be it a wolf or some other beast (also referred to as therianthropy or zoanthropy). In the psychiatric literature various patients have thought themselves transformed not only into a wolf or werewolf, but also into a dog, cat, tiger, cow, horse, rabbit, gerbil, bird, frog, bee, and various unspecified animals. In the classical, medieval, anthropological, and folkloric literature some of the animals most frequently encountered – depending on the geographic region – are wolves (around the world in the Northern Hemisphere), leopards (Africa and Asia), jackals (Africa and Asia), hyenas (Africa and Asia), tigers (Asia), bears (Americas, Europe, and Asia), cougars or pumas (Americas), and other large carnivores.
As commonly construed, however, the concept of lycanthropy includes much more than a simple clinical condition of delusions and/or hallucinations. Traditionally, in folklore and mythology, some humans are said to have been physically transformed into animals. Certainly this strains modern credulity and is open to serious question. According to one version of an ancient Greek myth (for there are many contradictory versions), mentioned by Hesiod (circa 8th–7th century BCE) and retold by later writers, Lycaon (king of Arcadia) killed and cooked one of his own sons, serving the resulting dish to Zeus in order to test the god’s true divinity. As punishment for such impiety, and the horrific deed carried out, Zeus turned Lycaon into a wolf. Of course this is only a myth, and not to be taken literally, but many modern stories of lycanthropy from Africa have, at least by some, been taken quite seriously. Here is a typical example, which took place in