Swedenborg Writes in His “Spiritual Diary” which tells of his many particular experiences in heaven:
In the world of lower spirits angelic ideas and discourses are wont to be represented by various forms of clouds, and with them perceptions; for when such things are exhibited as exist among the angels, in order that they may come to the knowledge of lower spirits, a certain perception accompanies them, indicating what they signify. An oblong vessel was represented in which there was an appearance of milk; this was turned into a white cloud of similar form, which concentrated itself toward the middle point, having on the front part something obscure, which signified that the angels were coming together, though there was yet to some degree obscurity. (Spiritual Diary, n. 4018)
This is a description of how angels typically communicate to good spirits in the world of spirits who are not yet angels, but are being taught by angels. Amazingly the same images are used in the movie Arrival. The representation of the clouds and the alien ship are intuitively on the money to what Swedenborg describes. The aliens arrive in large oblong-shaped space ships far beyond human technology; the ships have their own orientation of gravity within them and their own atmospheric composition. And in the movie perceptions of higher truth soon come about. Angels are in a state of wisdom many times more than spirits who are in the ‘world of spirits’ below heaven. When the ship appears or disappears it appears in a cloud that surrounds it and then remains after. In the first visual of the oblong ships there is a beautiful scene where very low clouds crawl over and down green rolling hills, slowly moving toward the ship. Clouds represent a holder or container of truth, and at the same time an obscuring of truth; they obscure for sake of gradual reception. This obscuring is necessary so that humans (or spirits, or angels) are not overwhelmed and can receive it. In the movie the two main aliens, Abott and Costello, are always represented as coming out of clouds when they appear and are surrounded by clouds, and the process of understanding between them and Louise is very gradual. When Louis enters into the aliens atmosphere the clouds are brighter which represents greater truth.
I think that in reaching for meaning creative story tellers intuitively create allegories of communication with heaven and the spiritual world more so than actual aliens. Swedenborg tells in his book ‘Earths in the Universe’ that most actual aliens are like spiritual natives on their planets. They don’t have advanced technology and most don’t have writing, but in general they are spiritually closer to God and live close with nature on their planet. It is still possible that some have technology though (and if it is possible, which earth proves, then it is probable given the infinity of space). Swedenborg himself did not encounter any aliens with advanced technology in the stories he tells of aliens. Earth has technology because we are a much more externally oriented people, and so interested in science and material things. Also, it is very important to understand (or at least consider if you have not heard this before) that aliens are all more or less in the human form, with eyes, nose, mouth and limbs. Swedenborg indicates there is a variety of size, shapes and differences in these features. All intelligent life is in the human form because we are created in the image of God, and because God is human the human form is a universal form in the universe. In the movie the enormous aliens are eventually shown to have heads and bodies in addition to 8 legs. How accurate this is is of course impossible to know. All this is to show that the movie as an allegory is much more about heaven than actual aliens.
In the movie it is said that the alien’s writing is not based on sound, and that their writing is written backwards and forwards at the same time, which is unlike human language. Human language is almost always linear, and is based on sound and speech, and includes tense, (but there are exceptions to this linguists point out). That the aliens writing moves from front to back simultaneously implies an incredible wholeness of awareness in the moment. This spiritually enlightened aspect of their writing has some commonalities with the writing of angels, (as Swedenborg describes it, which I will show below). In the movie it is beautiful the way their language is written in circles with many particular accents and small curves that are all meaningful. It is very organic looking, and I think the movie makers did an incredible job depicting this. The circle itself is a symbol of wholeness and completeness. Carl Jung wrote an article on the psychological meaning of UFO’s. His conclusion was that the circular shape of the saucers was a projection by man of the loss of wholeness in his soul; he wrote that humans see aliens in this way because they have an unconscious yearning to regain strength and agency from within. He writes that wholeness was lost by the diminishing and compartmentalization of life in the industrial revolution (externalization). In the movie the aliens are God-like, ‘watching-over’ figures seeking to nurture humanity along, which is similar to the movie ‘Interstellar’. The aliens are in a state of wholeness and wisdom far beyond humanity, which is of course like angels.
The aliens have bodies, but are not as limited in space and time as humans in that they can see the past and the future. This is a God-like quality, not an angelic quality; which is another reason the movie is more an allegory of heaven than aliens. It is a universal principle that angels, like humans on earth, are not allowed to know the future. To know the future would take away freedom, and for all human beings and angels freedom is essential to have a sovereign will, mind and life. The fact that Abbot tells Louise that she knows the future reinforces her place as a prophet since this is a quality of God, and prophets receive divine messages from God to guide humanity.
One thing that I believe that the movie is incorrect about is that the aliens written language is explicitly said to not be connected to its speech or to sound. This works well in the movie, but Swedenborg writes that in heaven it is a universal truth that language, speech, and writing are inherently connected. The reason for this is that breath, sound, speech and writing correspond on a continuum to the affections of the soul. Sound comes from the breath, and the human voice arises from the breath and affections; writing in turn is a reflection of these sounds and affections. A corollary of this principle is that all thought is proceeded by affection. Love and affections are of the will and the will is the base line of the soul; the thoughts are of the mind and give articulation to the affections. Swedenborg writes in Heaven and Hell how it is that writing inherently arises from speech and the affections in heaven and on earth:
These characters (in the writings of angels) express the affections, from which thoughts flow and follow in order in accordance with the subject treated of. Consequently these writings, which I have also been permitted to see, involve arcana which thought cannot exhaust…The writings there resemble the writings in the world, having like characters, and yet they are not intelligible to man, because they are in angelic language. (Heaven and Hell, n. 261)
The very telling result of this is that everyone who comes into the spiritual world can speak with everyone else there, no matter what part of earth they are from, or if they are from another planet. There is common language in the spiritual world because of this principle that the mind is inherently founded in the affections. The mind is the articulator of what is in the soul, and so affections are the base of language there and the language is common to all. In spite of missing the point that speech, sound, and writing are connected, Arrival still expresses an allegory for the universal language of heaven. In the end after speaking with the alien in its own atmosphere Louise comes back to the station and exclaims to Ian, “I know how to speak their language”. It is later shown that she writes a book called “The Universal Language” – a great allegory for the universal language in heaven.
The movie does not really show in detail how Louise makes her breakthrough in understanding the language, but as it progresses it implies that it is not received by intellectual means only, but by intuitive means. It is represented that she makes her breakthrough in communication through affection. The knowledge is gained by her intense desire to understand why she foresees the death of her child, and to know the alien’s purpose on earth. This brings us to another very profound principle of life and the spiritual world which is this: contained in love is all the knowledge to manifest loves end purpose. This principle is inherent to life in thousands of ways; it is why when we have love and enthusiasm for any subject we learn it deeply and things happen to help us. (This principle is also the underlying principle in the movie ‘Interstellar’, which I wrote about on my blog). When the words on the tablet only take Louise so far she moves up to the window and puts her hand on it, and Abbot does the same with its starfish-like ped, and Louise is shown to feel deeply as if receiving a connection and ecstatic information. Later, when everyone is arguing about what to do Louis is given the impulse to walk out alone to the alien ship even though it has risen above access; the ship sends down a pod for her to enter by herself. She is the one to enter because she has the quality of love to know. She doesn’t understand these things until they are happening then the memory comes back to her as she is doing it. For example when she is shown talking to the emperor of China he tells her that he came to see her, but she doesn’t know what she did to impress him, (which was to tell him what his wife’s last words before she died), and as he is telling her she receives the information she needs in the present to do what she needed to save the world.
There are some interesting parallels between the Alien language and the language of heaven. This mostly has to do with the Old Hebrew language as Swedenborg points out below:
“In the inmost heaven the writing consists of various inflected and circumflected forms, and the inflections and circumflections are in accordance with the forms of heaven. By means of these angels express the arcana of their wisdom, and also many things that they are unable to express in spoken words; and what is wonderful, the angels know this writing without training or a teacher, it being implanted in them like their speech; therefore this writing is heavenly writing. It is implanted because all extension of thoughts and affections and consequent communication of intelligence and wisdom of the angels proceeds in accordance with the form of heaven; and for the same reason their writing flows into that form. I have been told that the most ancient people on this earth, before letters were invented, had such writing; and that it was transferred into the letters of the Hebrew language, and these letters in ancient times were all inflected, and none of them, as at present, were bounded by straight lines. Thus it is that in the Word Divine things and arcana of heaven are contained even in its iotas, points and tittles”. (Heaven and Hell, n. 260)
One can see from this that the language of heaven is one with the thoughts of angels. He says that all the ‘inflected and ‘circumflected’, and the ‘iotas, points, and tittles’ are in accordance with the form of heaven, and these contain great meaning. The Hebrew language, particularly the very old Hebrew that Swedenborg is talking about, is characterized by lots of inflections and accents, ‘jots and tittles’ as the Bible says that come from the heavenly language. Jots and tittles, iotas and ‘keraia’s’ (without going into too much detail) all have to do with the little letters and accents which add varied meanings to the words.
(One can see examples of accents and inflections in modern Hebrew Here: http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Grammar/Unit_Five/Adjective_Inflections/adjective_inflections.html). Wikipedia says of these terms:
“In the Greek original translated as English “jot and tittle” are found the words iota and keraia (Greek: κεραία). Iota is the smallest letter of the Greek alphabet (ι). Alternatively, it may represent yodh (י), the smallest letter of the Hebrew and Aramaic alphabets. “Keraia” is a hook or serif, possibly referring to other Greek diacritics, or possibly to the hooks on Hebrew letters (ב) versus (כ) or cursive scripts for languages derived from Aramaic, such as Syriac, written in Serṭā ( ‘short line’), or for adding explicit vowel marks such as crowns (e.g. the Vulgate apex) known as Niqqud that developed with later scribal practices in the Torah. A keraia is also used in printing modern Greek numerals. In many abjads only consonants such as yodh in Hebrew have character forms; a word’s phonetic pronunciation depends on unwritten or indistinct vowel markings such that many meanings can be rendered ambiguous or corrupted via oral transmission over time.”
We can see parallels in a general way from this. A big one is that ancient Hebrew, the alien language, and the heavenly language are all non-linear. We don’t know exactly what the heavenly language looks like, but in description there seems to be a lot of similarities with all the accents, curves, crowns, and inflections spoken of. The difference in the alien language in the movie is that it is based on circles, but it does have many expressive ‘curves, inflections, points, accents, and crowns’ all along its circumference. The quote also implies that there are many important meanings in the written ancient Hebrew language that become lost in spoken language; and this resonates with the statement Swedenborg makes that written language can express great truths that the spoken language of heaven can’t. Elsewhere Swedenborg also writes that numbers are prominently used in heavenly writing to hold the meaning of great general truths; and the quote above mentions Keraia’s are used with the Hebrew numerals to distinguish and give meanings. Also in Kabbalah numbers have sacred or mystical meanings. These few examples are from modern Hebrew so one can imagine the ancient Hebrew would have more pronounced parallels to the language of heaven; the modern language being remnants of the ancient, and crossed over with Greek and Aramaic influences.
In addition ‘Arrival’ gives a great depiction of the spiritual value of memory. To remember deeply is a meditative and spiritual act that can evoke an internal feeling of the divine presence. This arises from innocence in our soul, which is the means of receiving God, thus it is felt and remembered. (This has to do with the spiritual principle of ‘Remains’ which comes from the Bible.) Louise felt the memory (of the future) of the great grief of losing her young child to illness during her adult life, but this grief is lifted in seeing that her child also receives heavenly awareness, as evidenced by her creating clay models of the aliens in her child’s play, and in the memory of her daughter reminding her of the idea of ‘unity in diversity’ that helps to save the world. Louise is profoundly engaged in interpreting these feelings, memories and visions (and her daughter too in her own childlike way). In the end Louise sees the whole meaning of her life and with this awareness has no need to change anything. This also is an allegory of heaven in that Swedenborg tells we are given a review of our whole life after death, and if heavenly we are able to let go of earth life and enter a much greater one. Ian, Louise’s partner in studying the aliens and future husband, feels great love in spite of his scientific nature and they come together as a conjugal pair meant for each other from the beginning. When she asks him, “if you knew the future would you change anything”, he says, “I would express my feelings more often”; showing that he also has come into a more internal place where their mind and feelings are in harmony. Swedenborg tells that there is marriage in heaven and that conjugal pairs who have not met each other on earth meet in heaven as if by accident; on seeing each other both have an inward awareness of ‘he is mine, and I am his’, and they know each other with a great love.
The end of the movie gives us a sense of salvation; it gives the message that life in heaven is blessed happiness, in spite of, and because of the trials we go through here. The tragedy that Louise suffers in the death of her child is contained and understood in the love of God. Everything that happened was by the providence of God and in the end she learned to trust in God. The movie itself never mentions God but He is implicit in these principles. Of great importance, it further shows at the end that the highest happiness of life and heaven comes from ‘true marriage love’, and that this love comes from the divine and requires the development of inner skills and inner innocence. It is little known that there is marriage love in heaven, but Swedenborg tells that this is the highest love in heaven and the very basis of heaven, and movies very often uphold this theme. The family unit and marriage love is the basis of society on earth and correspondingly, in a higher way, in heaven also. The end of the movie eulogizes marriage love as the epitome of happiness. Between marriage partners the experience of love in any given moment is spontaneously filled with the feeling of their destiny together; which magnifies the feeling of peace and blessed happiness. And it is the nature of heaven that this state of happiness is ever increasing for eternity.