I love a film that both entertains and speaks a truth, stripping away the layer of mundaneness that covers the magical reality we live in.
Last night I was lucky enough to see a movie that did just that: Arrival. I was struck by the profound ideas it portrays. I then started to ponder the similarity between the movie and the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. (Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen the movie, and do not want any of the plot revealed, please do not read on… yet.)
In Arrival we witness the arrival of an advanced alien species with a completely unknown way of communicating, using ink-like circular designs rather than letters and words. After the difficult process of deciphering their language, Louise Banks, a professor of linguistics, discovers the aliens’ purpose for coming to earth: to unite humanity; and to ask in return for humanity’s help in three thousand years’ time.
After seeing the movie I felt very inspired by its message, and pondered how profound it would be if in fact an alien species did come to Earth to unite us all!
But then I pondered a little more and remembered: someone has come to Earth and transmitted this very message. More than a century and a half has passed since Baha’u’llah delivered the Baha’i message of peace and unity to humanity:
Ye are the fruits of one tree, and the leaves of one branch. Deal ye one with another with the utmost love and harmony, with friendliness and fellowship. He Who is the Day Star of Truth beareth Me witness! So powerful is the light of unity that it can illuminate the whole earth. – Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 288.
That which the Lord hath ordained as the sovereign remedy and mightiest instrument for the healing of all the world is the union of all its peoples in one universal Cause, one common Faith. – Ibid., p. 255.
I find it truly unfortunate to think that we would need such a dramatic cosmic occurrence to turn our attention to this message. It has, in fact, already been delivered—but as the Bible says, the messenger who delivered it came as a thief in the night.
Baha’u’llah announced the Baha’i message of peace in the 18th century. He even formally addressed it to some of the most prominent leaders of the world: Emperor Napoleon III of France, Queen Victoria in England, Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany, Tsar Alexander II of Russia, Austria’s Emperor Franz Joseph, Pope Pius IX, the Ottoman Empire’s Sultan Abdul-Aziz, and Nasiri’d-Din Shah from Persia. Yet the world’s political and religious leaders largely ignored Baha’u’llah’s promise of peace and warning of future conflicts.
As I reflected on its message, Arrival also reminded me of the way the messengers of God have been treated throughout history. Even though the aliens in the movie do not pose an obvious threat, much of humanity treats them with suspicion and aggression. Likewise, across the ages, the prophets of God who have delivered God’s word to the world have been mistreated and even put to death. Jesus was crucified, the Bab was executed and Baha’u’llah imprisoned–despite the fact that they all brought a message of love.
Think, for a moment, of such a prophet arriving from outer space to deliver a message to us—would we pay attention?
It is equally incredible to think of the fact that the mysterious act of revelation has occurred throughout history right here on Earth. To think that the invisible and unknowable God communicates to humanity through a chosen messenger from age to age! That is stranger than fiction!
Another common element between film and Faith is a universal language. In Arrival the aliens bring us the great bounty of their language—not only a new way of communicating, but also a completely new way of conceiving of reality. The film presents that alien language as a gift for all of us to use. Baha’u’llah said that a universal language should be established throughout the world as a means of enabling cross-cultural communication. He instructed the future leaders:
…either to choose one of the existing tongues, or to originate a new one, and in like manner to adopt a common script, teaching these to the children in all the schools of the world, that the world may become even as one land and one home. – quoted by J. E. Esselmont in Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 163.
Another concept in common between the film and the Baha’i teachings is the idea of seeing the end in the beginning. Since the aliens’ language enables the individual to perceive time in a circular, non-linear way, they can envision the future. This in turn effects the way they approach the present. The Baha’i teachings, too, speak about this mystical idea:
The similarities are striking!
Arrival reminded me that the unity of humankind is of paramount importance. It is great to see filmmakers who have a positive vision of the future! Hopefully though, we do not need to wait for the arrival of an alien species to unite us all. We are all witnessing the signs of disunity around us, and likewise, the incredibly pressing need to overcome our differences and unite.