With the Oscars only a few days away it seemed like a good time to offer up some thoughts on one of 2016’s films, that’s nominated for Best Picture, Arrival. Now a lot of people seemed to have mixed (and some confused) feelings after watching Arrival, but I’m definitely in the minority of viewers who thoroughly enjoyed it. Warning, spoilers below.
Now I typically try and leave my posts spoiler free, but considering the level of confusion some viewers had, and the level of layers to the plot, I just don’t know a way of doing this without explaining more than I’d rather. Some may say that I’ve made the wrong choice by giving away unwanted information, but after watching the movie it’s clear that sometimes the “wrong choice” by someone else’s definition is still the best, or right choice to make. Additionally, the following is in no particular order, I’ll just refer to it as non-linear blogging.
Alright, if you’re reading past this point, spoilers are essentially in your predestined future.
In Arrival the setting is modern day, or so we think. But in reality it’s all a flashback with flashforwards (clearly the LOST fan in me is what loved this movie so much), and they’re interspersed in ways that by the end of the film, it really doesn’t matter if we’re looking at the past, present or future. And it didn’t really matter that there were aliens, or time travel, or a character with the ability to see bits of the future. What mattered is how well the story was told.
Amy Addams’ character was one that I immediately related to, despite not being a communication expert, or a mother. It was probably because watching her explain how challenging it can be to break down a simple message like “What is your purpose?” felt fantastically similar to how I’ve explained to others how teaching is not just about giving information, it’s making sure that information is understood, and now that I teach children with communication challenges it felt like she was speaking my language when she described needing not just verbal communication, but pictures, words and examples.
Communication was at the heart of the film. It seems like such an easy concept, especially when the main characters (unless you count the aliens) all speak the same language. And yet, natural misunderstanding and conflicting objectives all move the plot forward (or backward… considering the focus on non-linear time)
Speaking of non-linear time, it’s impossible to talk about Arrival without talking about Dr. Banks’ daughter Hannah. It’s beautiful to think about all the ways that people can come together and become parents (even without you know… temporary alien invasions). Now, what was “the wrong choice” that she refers to when speaking with her daughter Hannah?
For me, it was clear that because she was responding to her daughter’s question about why her father (Ian) left, that the “wrong choice” was telling Ian that their daughter would die of incurable disease, and he would have rather been left in the dark. Others have speculated that the “wrong choice” was to have Hannah at all, knowing that she would die. Either way, the film was far more about the human condition than about aliens.
In terms of overall plot, the disappointing or “wrong” choices that we observe the government officials making (such as refusing to communicate, or automatically assuming that an earth-ending attack was inevitable) serve to make viewers think about not only our current geopolitical climate, but our own assumptions and knee-jerk reactions to things. After all, there are actually few choices that are made (such as ceasing communication when you think a competitor has un-shared and dangerous knowledge) that I would consider unreasonable, even if I disagreed with them.
In terms of character development, viewers are asked to question not only what constitutes as a wrong choice, but the reasons why they’re made. If we would make the same choices, even if we know the outcome. Personally, I don’t know the answer, but I love movies that make people think, rather than just watch.
Finally, a lot of viewers drew comparisons to 2014’s Interstellar (another movie I loved), and the obvious connections would be that they’re both high stakes sci-fi with non-linear or paradoxical timelines. But I think what both of them had, that matters even more, is the human side of things.
Arrival had it all. Whether that “all” is enough for a Best Picture win this weekend remains to be seen… unless you can see the future. If you can, don’t tell me who wins I’d rather be surprised.
What were your thoughts about the movie?
Let us know in the comments.