As one character says to another, “Language is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.” He’s talking about the aliens, obviously. If Banks says the wrong thing, or interprets an alien word or phrase the wrong way, that could be it for our planet. We know that because of thousands of years of human history, in which language—spoken, written, or otherwise—has played a key role in determining whether civilizations fight or become friends.

Words matter, Arrival shows us. Words must be used carefully, thoughtfully, reliably. And they must be used in the first place. When the nations in Arrival stop using their words to share ideas, they start using their weapons.

It takes an alien invasion to remind humanity that words are weapons—the most powerful ones of all, in fact.

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