Anticipating the Arrival
My daughter was more excited about Arrival than I was. I guess you get blase after so many cinematographic attempts to introduce potential aliens to our atmosphere. Even the presence of Amy Adams did not really have any effect on me (unlike for my daughter), after all she had already met Superman and, well, made out with him, so there.
The trailer had done a great job of introducing the film. In restrospective, it did not sell any lies, it did not confuse the plot and most people enticed by it should not have been disappointed by it. What in addition is quite rare these days, is to find out that the trailer did not contain all the best bits of the movies. This deserves its own merit. The cleverly edited teaser also does a great job of not revealing the full plot or even the main methods, whilst wheting the hungry appetite.
The film started with almost another cliché that demands that there be a hero that we accept as our porte-parole. They thus become almost subsequantially the person through which the full experience and the meeting with the aliens would be happening. That perspective means that if you don’t empathise with her, you don’t get to be so much part of the film. The so d’ewwly*-remarked narration starts upfront. Granted, the experience felt different because it spoke of a beginning and hinted at an end, saying that none of it was as the main character thought. She is nonetheless the hero to sympathise with, as quick as a montage of her giving birth, having fun with her child and witnessing them slipping away through cancer, could ever summarise.
Unlike many painful movies though we don’t have to wait long for the real beginning. That little intro sets her frame of mind, a brief stop at her job situates her in relationship with her world and personal gift and how she uses these. Then the news break and we are thankful for the way everything happens because our need for instant gratification is immediately sated. We are served something new and something to watch.
Most of the film becomes the scenes that alternate between the mass fear, the use of the events to justify particular beliefs and the attempts to understand or rather translate what the aliens are. Funningly, the film quickly made me think about Contact: there is something of Jody Foster in Amy Adams, and their characters have very much in common, especially as they are the main intermediary to experiencing the alien and the film events. Of course, we are grateful that unlike Contact, we get to see the alien. It is almost like the writer saw Contact and rectified everything they did not like about it. In fact, unlike most other alien movies, we don’t have to wait to see them. It is not their appearance that becomes the suspense, it is their message and how humans deal with it.
The magic for me as a linguist, is the importance that is given to words and symbolisation. The central role of communication, the perspectives of interpretation, the link with time make up a fascinating theme. But whether outside of the word lover, the language student, the analyst, the sci-fi viewer would be prepared for less sensationalism but self-reflection remains to be seen. The opportunity to make both an alien and a female-led movie combine to enter a world where there are other ways than muscles, reflexes and instincts to deal with what comes or happens to us. That challenge is beautifully taken. There is a part of me that cannot help but wonder if a male lead would have challenged the cliché actions and gore expected from such a movie and the way we look at ourselves even further.
Where the magic stops is where the science-fiction is stil the same. Aliens look like something we have seen before. This time, it is kind of an (7 ped) octopus, ink and all. I loved the idea that they did not write in time like we did, and still that did not transpire very well when they formed their signs. It is hard for humans to think outside of what they know. It is hard for the industry to embrace a perspective outside of their frontiers, Hollywood still being the border.
The linguistic lessons are great for the linguist in us, so will not be for all or not all the time. What is more transparent beyond the arrival or the search for contact is the human race against time, almost against space, definitely against fear, against loss of power, against death. The way that these relate to our occupation of space is also striking. In addition, there is a whole subtle touch on the drugs to keep us running and searching for answers to protect us, tests to keep us, guarantee to keep us. It is about how we understand ourselves to reflect the almost self-centred message that any new encounter is a mirror to our humanities.
The tension is amazingly built not on what do they look like but how we get to them. It is extremely encouraging to encounter an original type of hero, whose learnt talent and sensitivity play as big a role as an innate ability. This is of course without even mentioning that the hero is a heroin, the very well casted Amy Adms as Dr Banks. Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker play their role well but the script, maybe intentionally make them clear secondary roles. The linguistic ideas are very good but would have benefitted from more introduction or more context to the Lehman viewers (most people really). The movie keeps you interested in spite of a couple of subtle cliches that introduce themselves here and there. Yet, the satisfaction at the end of watching it still wanders wondering whether it was time well spent, no matter the eternal pleasure of watching Ms Adams. A good film with an original approach and great acting and yet that feel of “not quite as great as it is clear it could have been”.
* I know what I wrote. It is pronounced exactly as you would expect, replacing duly though to introduce, d’ewwly. D’ewwly or de Ewwly, means from Eww. Eww or Everything Wrong With is a series by Cinemasins. They literally look at everything wrong with industry formulae, from music videos to movies. They have a typical set of sarcastic remarks about the undibitably repetitive, unoriginal and unsinspirational set of clichés that Hollywood feeds the viewers, in an attempt, I would like to think, to stimulate their imagination. Or not. Their humour noir might not be for everyone but one cannot deny the points they make, such as the growing lazy habit to start every film with narration.