How Do You Communicate When None of Your Words Is the Same?

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

You don’t share a language or an alphabet. You have never encountered anyone quite like this before. They seem so different from you. But it is imperative that you communicate. How do you do it?

This is the premise of Paramount’s upcoming Arrival, a Denis Villeneuve-directed film in which linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) must decode the intentions of an alien race that just dropped through Earth’s atmosphere and anchored their spherical ships around the planet.

We see glimpses of Adams scratching English words on a whiteboard and frantically decoding the aliens’ scrawled symbols as the world tilts frantically toward violent repulsion of the spacecraft. It is clear that some kind of fuse has been lit, and it may run out before Adams can accomplish this seemingly impossible task.

But Adams’ encounter may not be so alien after all. Human cultures are tremendously diverse, with enormous and complex languages dropping huge barriers to mutual understanding.

Those barriers, it turns out, are not insurmountable. In this touching video from Paramount, we can witness how two people, seemingly irreconcilably split by differences in language and culture, establish common ground by trying all the modes of communication that transcend language and speech. An understanding of how they are similar is established with surprising speed and emotional resonance.

Whether this will give us any hints as to how and if Adams’ character will succeed in establishing a dialogue with our mystery visitors is uncertain. We’ll find out on Nov. 11, when the movie touches down in theaters.

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