A Matter of Life and Death: Cinematic Necropolitics in ‘Arrival’

James Lawrence Slattery


In Denis Villeneuve’s 2017 film Arrival, twelve alien pods land across the world. In focusing on the experience of linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) as she learns to decode the alien language, the film explores cinematic representations of death in a multitude ways. This paper considers the various ways in which death is signified in the film including the depiction of melancholia and warfare in mise-en-scène, trauma and sublimation in temporal structure, and the expression of language in the film’s unfolding narrative. By considering how other contemporary science-fiction genre films play with time in their narrative structure, this paper argues that Arrival’s linking of language, death and time is particularly sophisticated in how it weaves these three concepts in its overall construction.

This article uses psychoanalytical theory to recognise the ways in which Arrival communicates the interplay between the life/death cycle and language,  with particular reference to the work of Jacques Lacan, and the interpretation of Lacanian theory by Joan Copjec and Todd McGowan.


cinema; death; Lacan; language; science-fiction

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1234/fa.v0i79.350

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