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5 Reasons Why ‘Arrival’ Doesn’t

Amy Adams, experiencing something profound

Amy Adams, experiencing something profound

I was really looking forward to it, especially after the Good Doctor™1 enthused so greatly about it. But, during and after seeing it last night, I realised that Arrival is a very poor piece of work indeed, and this is for five reasons, most of which involve spoilers2

  1. It is INERT. There is no dramatic progression. The movie just hangs there, like one of the aliens’ pebble space craft (seemingly carved out of larva). The major conflict, in the first half of the movie at least, is what is Forest Whitaker going to be able to say to his (clinical) supervision team? We are told that Louise and Ian (Adams and Renner) are brilliant people, but as alway in popular films, we never see them being brilliant, other than that beloved trope of Hollywood, the dawning realisation close-up. It is inert because it wants to trumpet that most impossible of sci-fi clichés, the wickedness of a linear understanding of time – and because all time, space, events are present, here and now, there is no engagement with an audience which is, unforgivably, sitting in a theatre and watching the movie spooling out chronologically, linearly.
  2. It is PSYCHOLOGICALLY UNBELIEVABLE. How does a human being deal with the psychological trauma of being able to see the whole of their life laid out before them, expect to be able to make choices, to get out of bed in the morning, to decide on whether to have coffee or pancakes for breakfast? If it has all happened, then nothing matters, and if nothing matters then what is the point of living? The only psychologically convincing response to such an experience is madness or annihilation.
  3. Louise Banks is notSTRONG FEMALE CHARACTER. She is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown right from the moment she arrives in Montana – we can tell this because of her furrowed brow and her stumbling walking. This is a woman in crisis. And she is both the only woman and the only person in crisis. Jeremy Renner is reduced to being concerned, good natured, and aw-shucks in the background. It is Louise who has the intuitive (feminine?) break-through as to the nature of the aliens’ language and thought-processes, and she does that by being semi-hysterical for 3/4 of the movie. And if language rewires brains, why is she the only one given eldritch insight into the future? Dr Ian seems to be as adept in interpreting the logograms as she is, so why doesn’t he have an insight? Oh, that’s right he does: that Louise (as a woman to fall in love with) is more interesting and significant than alien encounters – first contact becomes the background and means to hooking up, the world’s most expensive Match.com encounter.
  4. Unforgivably, it is another example of KILLING OFF A CHILD TO VINDICATE AN ADULT. Louise’s daughter dies in the first five minutes of the film, and then grows, and is cute, and says portentous things, and dies, over and over again through the movies. It is an egregious example of the Plot Moppet trope, the child that only exists to propel the plot (such as it is in this film) and to “grow” the adult protagonists (see also Nic Cage’s execrable film Family Man.). And calling the girl “Hannah” to flag up and justify the time-scheme? Really, why didn’t they just call her “Visual Aid No. 1”?


  1.  (See what I did there?) It tells us that the UNIVERSE IS ALL ABOUT HOW WE FEEL ABOUT OURSELVES. It doesn’t tell us anything new compared with the (not so) great sci-fi films of the past: Solaris (both versions) or  Contact or The Day The Earth Stood Still. Aliens come from out of a clear blue sky, and humanity, forced to work together, overcome all divisions, until, in this instance, the Chairman (?) of the People’s Liberation Army gets to whisper sweet nothings in Amy Adams’s ear. If Contact was the rearrangement of the cosmos to deal with Jodie Foster’s daddy issues, and Interstellar was The Railway Children in space, then Arrival is daughter issues over a static, furrowed and frankly unengaging hour and a half of cruelly chronological time.

Sigh. When will we get another sci-fi film that really does deal with what might be, rather than ways we can feel better about ourselves and our choices?


  1. of the BBC’s Flagship Film Programme []
  2. “He’s a girl, she’s a bloke, it’s a sledge, he’s a ghost” – come on, the spoilers in this film are flagged in the first voice-over narration! []

The Intoxication of the Masses

Victor Klemperer, discussing the plebiscite held in Germany in November 1933:

… I have been mistaken on every occasion so far. I make intellectual judgements, and Herr Goebbels banks on the intoxication of the masses. And, what’s more, on the anxiety of the intellectuals.

Victor Klemperer, The Language of the Third Reich: LTI, Lingua Tertii Imperii, a Philologist’s Notebook (London: Athlone Press, 2000), p. 37

The power of books in hostile environments

(c) Scott Polar Research Institute, Image P48/16/216

Chapman in Greenland

Chapman in Greenland Freddie Spencer Chapman, explorer, author, and war hero, published a volume of radio talks under the title Living Dangerously1 In the final chapter, ‘Living and Reading’, he talks about the importance of books for the explorer:

…my first encounter with a polar bear will always be connected in my mind with that wonderful incident in Handley Cross when James Pigg is asked by Jorrocks to find out what sort of a night it is; he accidentally opens a cupboard door instead of the window and exclaims: ‘Hellish dark, and smells of cheese’. At that time four of us, during the course ofsmall boat survey, were camping out on a sandy spit between two fjords. I had just read this passage aloud to the others and we were convulsed with laughter when all at once one of them said, ‘Ssh, there’s a bear outside’. And sure enough, in the sudden silence, we could hear a bear snuffling and growling just outside. Next morning we found tracks within a few yards of the tent, and had a wonderful view of a mother bear and her cub swimming past our camp. I still cannot re-read these two passages without being transported back to Greenland, and hearing the bear growling and the rending noise of the ice.

He goes on to say that the choice of books, although down to the individual’s interests and the conditions of the expedition, should never do away with “the necessity for reading material”. Otherwise you will be left with

nothing to read except the descriptions and advertisements on your food tins.

  1. F. Spencer Chapman, Living Dangerously (London: Chatto & Windus, 1953). []

What to read in five month’s isolation

August Courtauld, after being relieved, May 1931

August Courtauld, after being relieved, May 1931

If you ever find yourself isolated on the Greenland Ice Cap for five months, with no one else to speak to, or be with, and no knowledge of when you will be relieved, then follow August Courtauld’s advice:


Purchas His Pilgrimes.
Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens.
A Tarpaulin Muster, Masefield.
The Brassbounder, Bone.
The Ghost Ship and Other Tales, Middleton (Benn).
Two Years Before the Mast, Dana.
The Golden Key, Van Dyke (Scribner).
Under Sail, Riesenburg (Cape).
Fenceless Meadows, Adams (Hutchinson).
Great Waters, Hutchinson
Almanach des Gourmands, M. Florence.
Life of C. M. Doughty, Hogarth.
Peter the Great, Graham.
My Brother Jonathan, Young.
Joseph and his Brethren, Freeman.
Portrait in a Mirror, Morgan.
The Legion of the Damned, Doty.
Cambridge History of Empire, Vols. I-IV .
The Star Spangled Manner, Nichols.
The Art of Forgetting, Shepard.
Essays and Fantasies, Lucas.
The Aftermath, Churchill.
The Nature of the Physical World, Eddington.
The Universe Around Us, Jeans.
The Compleat Angler, Walton.
Great Poems of the English Language, Harrap.
The Red Rover, Fenimore Cooper.

Quoted in J. M. Scott, Portrait of an Ice Cap: With Human Figures (London: Chatto & Windus, 1953), pp. 120-121.

I am ashamed to say that I have read none of those.

Silence: the barking of dogs

There was, of course, no necessity to write at all, but in all animals abnormal experience urges communication. The more stupid the dog the more it barks, and nothing makes for more chatter than ignorance.

Christopher Burney, ‘Preface (to the Second Edition, 1960)’, in Solitary Confinement; the Dungeon Democracy (London: Macmillan, 1984), p 2.

The medicalization of morality

The medicalization of what have previously been considered moral issues is a broader cultural phenomenon. This trajectory is irresistible—who wants to be the last asshole standing, issuing condemnations rather than solicitude? But here we see the sly logic by which democratic nonjudgmentalness gets turned to advantage in unregulated capitalism, with the aid of an expansionary psychiatric establishment. To capital, our moral squeamishness about being “judgmental” smells like opportunity.

Matthew Crawford The World Beyond Your Head, (2015), p. 107

Crawford is speaking specifically of gambling and the thanatos principle which is built into corporate controlled gambling in the U.S.  But his insight applies more widely. 

MDR 10: A brief bibliography

All links were valid in April 2012. Some, and especially the diocesan ones, may no longer be functioning.

Archbishops’ Council. “Capability Procedure: Code of Practice Made under Section 8 Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure 2009,” April 27, 2010. <www.churchofengland.org/media/56741/10%204%2027%20Capability%20Code%20of%20Practice%20-%20FINAL.pdf>.

———. “Ministerial Development Review Guidance.” Ministry Division of the Archbishops’ Council, January 2010. <www.churchofengland.org/media/56739/MDR%20updated%20120209.pdf>.

———. Ordination Services: Study Guide. Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England. London: Church House Publishing, 2007.

———. Review of Clergy Terms of Service?: Part One (GS 1527). London: Church House Publishing for the Ministry Division of the Archbishops’ Council, 2004.

———. Review of Clergy Terms of Service?: Part Two (GS 1564). London: Church House Publishing for the Ministry Division of the Archbishops’ Council, 2005.

Bazerman, Max H., Rafik I. Beekun, and F. David Schoorman. “Performance Evaluation in a Dynamic Context: A Laboratory Study of the Impact of a Prior Commitment to the Ratee.” Journal of Applied Psychology 67, no. 6 (December 1982): 873–76. doi:10.1037/0021-9010.67.6.873.

Bristol Diocese. “MDR: Ministry Development Review, More about the Questionnaire.” Diocese of Bristol?: Ministry Resources, 2011. <www.bristol.anglican.org/ministry/mdr/questionnaire.html>.

———. “MDR: Self-Assessment Questionnaire,” 2011. <www.bristol.anglican.org/ministry/mdr/sample_questions.pdf>.

Culbert, Samuel A. “Get Rid of the Performance Review!” The Wall Street Journal, October 20, 2008.

———. “Why Your Boss Is Wrong About You.” The New York Times, March 2, 2011, NYC edition.

Culbert, Samuel A., and Larry Rout. Get Rid of the Performance Review: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing—and Focus on What Really Matters. New York: Business Plus, 2010.

Department of Trade and Industry. “Discussion Document on Employment Status in Relation to Statutory Employment Rights,” July 2002. <www.delni.gov.uk/employment_status_consultation_document.pdf>.

Diocese of Canterbury. “Ministerial Development Review Pack: Growing Forward Together.” Diocese of Canterbury, January 2010.

———. “The Bishop’s Ministerial Development Review,” October 2010.

Employment Relations Act. C. 26, 1999. <www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1999/26/contents>.

Freedman, David H. “Lies, Damned Lies, and Medical Science.” Atlantic Monthly, November 2010.

Friedman, Edwin H. A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. 2nd ed. New York: Seabury Books, 2007.

General Synod of the Church of England. “Draft Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Regulations,” February 2007.

———. Ecclesiastical Offices (Terms of Service) Measure. 2009 No. 1, 2009. <www.legislation.gov.uk/ukcm/2009/1/contents/enacted>.

Grint, Keith. “What’s Wrong With Performance Appraisals? A Critique and a Suggestion.” Human Resource Management Journal 3, no. 3 (1993): 61–77. doi:10.1111/j.1748-8583.1993.tb00316.x.

Ioannidis, John P. A. “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False.” PLoS Med 2, no. 8 (2005): e124. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0020124.

Kiechel, Walter. “When Subordinates Evaluate the Boss.” Fortune 13 (June 19, 1989): 201–3.

Longenecker, Clinton O., and Dennis A. Gioia. “Neglected at the Top: Executives Talk about Executive Appraisal.” Sloan Management Review 29, no. 2 (1988): 41–47.

McGregor, Douglas. “An Uneasy Look at Performance Appraisal.” Harvard Business Review 35, no. 3 (June 1957): 89–94. doi:Article.

Nickols, Fred. “Don’t Redesign Your Company’s Performance Appraisal System, Scrap It!” Corporate University Review 5, no. 3 (June 1997): 54–59.

Petrini, Catherine M. “Upside-Down Performance Appraisals.” Training & Development 45, no. 7 (July 1991): 15–22. doi:Article.

Pfeffer, Jeffrey. “The Trouble with Performance Reviews.” BusinessWeek: Managing, June 30, 2009. <www.businessweek.com/managing/content/jun2009/ca20090630_570973.htm>.

Thiselton, Anthony C. “Some Thoughts on Theological Principles Relating to the Employment Relations Act.” In Review of Clergy Terms of Service?: Part One (GS 1527), by Archbishops’ Council, 57–64. London: Church House Publishing for the Ministry Division of the Archbishops’ Council, 2004.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by G. E. M. Anscombe. 2nd ed. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1958.

MDR 9: A Conclusion

In brief, the secular iterations of MDR, according to their secular critics, have been over-sold and under-delivered. Furthermore, secular appraisal schemes have added to the (justifiable?) sense of political and economic manipulation of subordinates by superordinates. If we take the secular critics seriously, then MDR, implemented thoughtlessly or carelessly, could become an exercise in evidence-gathering for capability procedures, a medium for expressing unacknowledged and unjust power relationships, or, at best, a three-yearly cycle of presentation and re-presentation of ministerial needs. All these outcomes have the danger to be a perfect breeding ground for tokenistic participation and cynical disengagement.

The fact that the nationally mandated guidelines for MDR allows a measure of lee-way for each bishop and diocese to structure MDR appropriately for their needs, may allow an escape from such dire consequences. MDR, as it will be worked out, needs to be modest in both its aspirations and, more importantly, in the way in which it is described through official discourse. Part of this modesty will be an honesty about the contingent and subjective nature of the process. It needs to encourage the quality of the relationship between reviewers and reviewed, rather than any necessity to ‘get through the questions and write up the report’. It will be very important for dioceses planning a triennial episcopal meeting that the bishop truly is situated at the ‘heart of the process’, and that the reviewees feel that their concerns are heard, and acted upon.

Until now, according to Respondent E, MDR has been ‘mostly harmless’. Whether it continues to be so benign remains to be discovered.

Ayn Randed (nearly branded…)


There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs.

Original Page: Ephemera 2009 (7), http://kfmonkey.blogspot.com/2009/03/ephemera-2009-7.html?m=1, 19 March, 2009

MDR 8: Three Concerns (iii)

3. Peer-review

Some dioceses wish to implement 360° review (of a sort) by providing for ‘confidential feedback from those who experience [the reviewee’s] ministry first-hand.’[i] This is a high-risk procedure. Peer review systems, beginning once more with the best intentions, very quickly break down into opportunities for professional and personal revenge. The US Army’s peer review process quickly became known as the ‘SYB system’— Screw Your Buddy[ii]. This tendency is particularly acute if peer review is allowed to be anonymous in a misplaced drive for ‘objectivity’. As Culbert puts it: ‘Hate mail, I suppose, is similarly “objective.”’[iii] The choice in truth-telling is often an exercise in a moral choice between preferring Y, ‘your best friend’, and X, ‘who regularly beats you at squash’[iv]. Anonymous peer review is, in the end, ‘just a slicker way for people to push what’s in their political interests to establish, without having their biases and motives scored and their viewpoints discounted’[v].

Furthermore, there appears to be no provision made for a similar process in the MDR of ‘senior staff’ in the diocese: will the Bishop and Archdeacons subject themselves to ‘confidential feedback’ from ‘a range of people who have direct knowledge of [their] ministry’?[vi] If not, why not? Perhaps they are familiar with the study of Walter Kiechel which described the dangers of ‘subordinate review’:

Don’t try it, for instance, in a primitively authoritarian organization, one being downsized, or anyplace with minimal communication up and down: it will only feed the general paranoia.[vii]



[i] Diocese of Canterbury, “DoCMDR,” 2.3.

[ii] Catherine M. Petrini, “Upside-Down Performance Appraisals,” Training & Development 45, no. 7 (July 1991): 15. Cited in Grint, “What’s Wrong,” 75.

[iii] Culbert, “Get Rid (WSJ).”

[iv] Grint, “What’s Wrong,” 62.

[v] Culbert and Rout, Get Rid of the Performance Review, 54.

[vi] Diocese of Canterbury, “DoCMDR,” 5.3.

[vii] Kiechel, “Subordinates evaluate.”

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