Through a (First) Contact lens Darkly: Arrival, unreal time and the chthulucene



Fleming D & Brown W (2018) Through a (First) Contact lens Darkly: Arrival, unreal time and the chthulucene. Film-Philosophy, 22 (3), pp. 340-363.

Science fiction is often held up as a particularly philosophical genre. For, beyond actualising mind-experiment-like fantasies, science fiction films also commonly toy with speculative ideas, or else engineer encounters with the strange and unknown. Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (2016) is a contemporary science fiction film that does exactly this, by introducing Lovecraft-esque tentacular aliens whose arrival on Earth heralds in a novel, but ultimately paralysing, inhuman perspective on the nature of time and reality. This article shows how this cerebral film invites viewers to confront a counterintuitive model of time that at once recalls and reposes what Gilles Deleuze called a "third-synthesis" of time, and that which J. M. Ellis McTaggart named the a-temporal "C series" of "unreal" time. We finally suggest that Arrival’s a-temporal conception of the future as having already happened can function as a key to understanding the fate of humanity as a whole as we pass from the anthropocene, in which humans have dominated the planet, to the "chthulucene," in which humans no longer exist on the planet at all.

Arrival; science fiction; unreal time; Gilles Deleuze; J.M.E. McTaggart; limits of thought

Film-Philosophy: Volume 22, Issue 3

Publication date31/10/2018
Publication date online30/09/2018
Date accepted by journal07/05/2018

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Dr David Fleming
Dr David Fleming

Senior Lecturer, Communications, Media and Culture