Through a (First) Contact Lens Darkly: Arrival, Unreal Time and Chthulucinema

William Brown, David H. Fleming

Research output: Contribution to journalBook/Film/Article reviewpeer-review

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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. E. 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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)340
Number of pages363
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018


  • Arrival
  • science fiction
  • unreal time
  • Gilles Deleuze
  • JME McTaggart
  • limits of thought

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