Research Paper Topics: Arrival’s Science Spin on First Contact

In the 2016 film Arrival, Amy Adams acts as a linguistics professor who is summoned by the government to translate an alien language (and find out if the aliens are planning to destroy the world), and tackles more cerebral aspects of actually doing science before taking a shortcut in the final act.

Take a look into first contact with aliens as your science research paper. (Credit: Inquirer)

Take a look into first contact with aliens as your science research paper. (Credit: Inquirer)

This philosophical look at the first contact movie trope in a film that has garnered several nominations in the Academy Awards, could provide a number of research paper topics on language, science, or film depictions of science.


Based on the 1998 short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, the film was directed by Dennis Villeneuve, who was attracted to the piece because it was so intellectual, but that also made adapting it difficult. “I didn’t know how to crack that short story because it’s very intellectual, in a strong and beautiful way,” he told Brylle B. Tabora of the Philippine Daily Inquirer in “’Arrival’: Different take on ‘we are not alone’ theme,” February 13, 2017. “The intellectual exploration of language can be mesmerizing in the short story, in a novel, on paper, but in a movie I needed something to create tension.” Thus, the aliens became a more dominant force. He continued, “I wish I could have had more space to explore language in the movie, but the movie didn’t allow it.”

Interesting research paper topics on this theme could involve the difficulties in translating a cerebral work, or a work that is dominantly about language, into a different medium.

Science as a process

In her January 25, 2017, Thrillist article, “I’m a scientist, and ‘Arrival’ is the greatest science movie of all time,” Lauren Sherman explained how frustrating it can be for science to be depicted as finite and splashy, rather than ongoing and typically quiet. For her, Arrival showed a more realistic view of what science—through the lens of the social scientist and linguist played by Amy Adams—is like. “Louise never flips from professorship to sci-minded MacGyver. Like many other social scientists, she studies. She classifies. She translates,” Sherman described. She also noted that dealing with the hard-to-understand answer from the aliens is how science typically works as well: “The more you know, the more you realize you are just scratching the surface. It’s never done and finished, especially when it comes to the stuff that keeps evolving, like people and brains and language.”

Though Amy Adams was not herself nominated for the role in the Academy Awards, the film garnered several other nominations, showing that the story resonated with the Academy and audiences. Adams herself commented on how delighted she was to be portraying Banks. In an interview with the News Sentinel,Emotional Core of ‘Arrival’ Attracted Amy Adams to Film,” published November 11, 2016, Adams explained, “Anytime you get a character that is as well developed and emotionally vulnerable and yet intellectual with the strength of character, that’s a real gift as an actress. It’s a gift because it’s a reflection of what women are to me.”

Research paper topics on depictions of science, scientists or women in film could all draw on Arrival as a starting point, or as a marker of how Hollywood is performing in those areas.

For more on science fiction movies and women in film, visit Questia.

Do you think Arrival showed good science before its third act twist? Tell us in the comments.

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