John Seven | Viewer's Discretion: Sci-fi film, suspense TV worth streaming



Science fiction, at least in its visual form, has become too often linked with action than intellect and empathy when it comes to the depiction of spectacle. But there are awesome wonders to be born from the quieter pursuits and on occasion, a movie comes along that takes advantage of this. "Moon" comes to mind, "Another Earth," "Melancholy," even "Sunshine," and now, "Arrival."

The science fiction part of the story is that aliens have landed on Earth in 12 locations and various governments are attempting to deal with it in their own way. Thrown into this tense situation is linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), charged with deciphering the aliens' language so humans can get the answer to the question they've deemed most important: What is your purpose here?

You might as well ask any person that same question and expect a clear explanation. Who could possibly give one?

It's only partially the answer that matters here. The journey to figuring out how to even ask the question is what's important, and the story of the person charged with uncovering that information. As a film about figuring out language goes, it's unique, and as one that exists as a meditation on communication, it's profound. Meticulously laying out the considerations that need to be taken into account to achieve communication, the film posits that the amount of empathy required for clarity, and the work needed to reach that empathy, is more than the consensus of groups is likely to condone. There is little patience for real communication.

It's a slow precise film, sad, touching, and it's not something that you should enter into as a fan of science fiction, but rather, as a lover of human stories and philosophical drama. Its pace will be too slow if you are part of the problem the film itself addresses.

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One of the primary rules of television suspense shows is that if you live in a gated community designed to keep crime out, something horrible will happen that will make you feel far less safe in your gated community and will also probably reveal secrets that prove that the real dangers lurk within. And none of this should be a surprise to you.

Given that, it's always good if the television suspense show with the gated community features an unexpected secret and some good characters along the way. "Safe" succeeds with that for the most part.

Dr. Thomas Delaney (Michael C. Hall) has already been through the death of his wife by cancer, but that passing has caused tension between him and his oldest daughter, Jenny (Amy James-Kelly). Following the murder of her boyfriend at a party, Jenny goes missing and Delaney works on his own to find her and to discover her connection with the murder.

Doing so, of course, unearths all sorts of local drama since secrets are like dominoes tumbling down in a line. If Hall makes a rather unlikable hero in this scenario — really, you just don't like him and don't really blame Jenny for wanting some distance from him — it also plays well into the exasperation other characters feel about the intensity of his investigation, which adds to the agreeable needles-and-pins quality of the whole thing, and the unexpected solution that eventually transpires.

Hall is joined by good performers, including the always-reliable Mark Warren as Delaney's best friend, struggling with secrets and dangers of his own, and Audrey Fleurot as a local teacher who finds herself thrown into the scandals in several ways.

John Seven is a writer in North Adams who has never been satisfied by movies and television that are easy to come by. He likes to do some digging. Find him online at


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