When the silent universe speaks. Testing Camus’ notion of the absurd in the alien encounters of "Contact" and "Arrival"

  • Shai Tubali University of Leeds
Keywords: Albert Camus, Robert Zemeckis, Denis Villenuve, Contact Film, Arrival Film, Absurd, Carl Sagan, Film Philosophy, Thomas Nagel, The Myth of Sisyphus, First-contact Films


Albert Camus' concept of absurdity - as articulated in his works The Stranger, The Myth of Sisyphus, and The Rebel - outlines a metaphysics of inherent struggle between the human mind that strives for unity and clarity and an inhumanly silent universe. When an absurd mind realizes its own inescapable frontiers of knowing, meaning, separation and mortality, Camus argues, it has the Sisyphean choice to embrace such a universe nevertheless, while forever retaining the spirit of revolt that defies it.

In this essay I analyse, side by side, two first-contact films - Robert Zemeckis' Contact (1997) and Denis Villeneuve's Arrival (2016) - to test the validity of Camus' metaphysics in a universe where human estrangement seems to be disrupted by cosmic visitors. The films' thought experiments support Camus' universal vision, indirectly suggesting that even aliens are prone to absurdity. On the other hand, both films offer an approach of intimate communion with the cosmos, in light of which Camus' description of the universe as a stranger seems to demonstrate a limited perspective.


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Philosophy of film without theory