Sunday, November 20, 2016

Would you have still done it?


When my wife was pregnant with our first child, the question everyone would ask was, "Do you want a boy or a girl?".  That's the question everyone asks, I know, and my wife and I generally gave the same answer everyone gives; "We don't care as long as they're healthy."  Recently a friend, who's daughter was born with a very serious heart condition, expressed his irritation with that common response.  "Should we throw her away if she's not?" was his question, and it was one that struck a chord with me.  Still, no parent in their right mind would not WANT their child to be healthy, because there is no greater gift in this world than that of life, and every (good) parent wants the best of those to go to their children.

When the credits began to roll after a late night Friday showing of Arrival, I thought of my friend's words.  As I wiped my face, soaked with tears, I looked at my friend's two teenage sons (whom I had taken to the movies with me) and saw the concern on their face and then one of them literally asked me, "Would you have still done it?" and I couldn't talk.

Most of the ride home I couldn't talk.

Thinking about it now, I'm still not sure I know the answer.

Arrival has been lavished with praise by many critics and movie goers as the best sci-fi film in recent memory.  Cerebral sci-fi is what it is being called, but despite all the praise and inevitable accolades, I was skeptical.  Denis Villeneuve's name isn't one the elicits excitement from me.  I rather enjoyed Enemy, but Sicario was clumsy and somewhat empty, Incendiaries was ridiculous and Prisoners was one of the dumbest movies I've ever seen.  I was prepared to find this film overrated and silly, to be honest, but there is nothing overrated or silly about Villeneuve's first true masterpiece.

It's damn-near perfect.




Reviewing this film is a difficult one, because there is no way to talk about the power of this film without getting into very spoilerish specifics, so be forewarned.

Formalities out of the way; Arrival's basic plot and technical aspects are very, very well done.  This not NOT an action film and shouldn't be seen with that notion.  It's a brooding study of human behavior above all else, and while it contains moments of intensity befitting the genre, if you're looking for another Independence Day stay away.  The atmosphere is brilliantly captured, though, in every fragment of the film's construction.  Bradford Young flawlessly lenses this film in a way to capture the dreamy, otherworldly components while honing in on faces to keep our attention on the key details, and Johann Johannsson's score is possibly the best use of atmospheric embellishments I've ever heard laced over film.

Chills.

But as great as everything around this story is, the weight of this film rests on the shoulders of Amy Adams and her tour-de-force performance.  No hysterics, no dramatics, no plate smashing, Oscar baiting antics or anything in-between.  Adams delivers a performance stripped of 'performing' at all but one that is refreshingly honest and raw.  Down to the tips of her fingers, Adams breathes so much life into Louise and her grappling of the situation at hand.


And that life so richly comes to a head within the fabric of the film's final five minutes; five minutes that alters the entirety of the film and leaves one with so much to ponder, discuss and understand.

So let's talk about it.

Arrival appears to place a lot of importance on language and communication throughout most of its run-time, and the film's finale certainly seems to highlight the idea that proper understanding of others will lead to an almost prophetic understanding of our future, but  it is the omnipresent themes of time and memory that play that biggest part in the film's emotional climax and serve as the basis for practically everything I took away from this film.  For me it is the weight of what is communicated within the film's climax that left the largest impression.  As Louise begins to fully comprehend the language spoken by these intergalactic beings her world adapts to their concept of time and the fragments of what we assume to be memories become all the more clearer to us as Louise's past, present and future are languidly woven together.

It is in this moment that we realize that all the pain Louise felt in the crushing loss of her child was not a memory of times past but a premonition of her future.

"Would you have still done it?"

By this question my friend's son was asking me if I would have still had my children knowing that they would die young.  The question seems immediately obvious.  No, I would not.  If I knew that I could not have a child without them suffering from a rare disease and dying at a young age I would have actively chosen NOT to have children.  But it wasn't that easy for Louise.  With her premonitions so strong they were like memories of life already lived, she not only remembered the pain but she remembered the love, and once you love that deeply you can't unlove it.  The question no longer becomes, "Would you still have done it?" but, "Would you do it all over again?" and that answer is not so affirmative.

"Would you do it all over again?"

I ask myself that a lot, especially lately.  As many of you know, my life took a surprising turn earlier this year.  While I haven't addressed the situation frankly here, know that it is one that weighs heavy on me every day, and most likely will for the rest of my days.  I've had a lot of time to question a lot of things, and when I look at my kids and I think of the stress and anxiety this year has brought them and the uncertainty and the heartbreak I have asked myself, "Would I do it all over again, knowing that this is how it would end?" and the answer is always the same.

Yes.

It is in this moral conundrum Arrival makes it's biggest observation about the human psyche.  If one can see their future and know it, truly know it, and yet still can't justify erasing the pain because it means erasing the joy, then do we really have a choice at all?  So many times we think to ourselves, "If only I knew how this would end up" and yet, would it really matter, and if we knew the end result would it really be worth altering our plans to avoid an inevitability that, while difficult, possibly came at the end of something great?  By giving up the end, we are giving up the middle as well, and is that kind of responsibility worth having?  My thoughts go back to my friend and the statement he made regarding an unhealthy child and I wonder had he known beforehand, would he have chosen a different outcome and would that choice have haunted him?

At Arrival's end, we are told that Louise's actions saved mankind, but saved us from what, and at what cost?  Was knowing how it would end beneficial for Louise?  Did knowing the pain before she was supposed to know it make it easier to cope?  She acknowledges that she now lives every day fuller, but that doesn't mean that the weight of the reason she lives so fully isn't constantly crushing out her 'living'.  My friend lives every day of his life alongside his beautiful daughter as fully as he can, but I know that the awareness of her future is crippling to him.

It makes you think; maybe there's a reason we can't see the future, and maybe it wasn't a mistake to misinterpret their 'gift' as a 'weapon'.

30 comments:

  1. If only this and Nocturnal Animals were a double feature, I'd gladly watch both! (and for the record, I adore Prisoners xd) I stopped reading when you mentioned spoilers, but your intro certainly wetted my apatite heh. This also reminds of a... Let's call it a show, on YouTube that you may like to see ;)

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    1. Hmmm, which show?

      Also, I hope you see this...can't wait to hear (read) your thoughts.

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    2. Well it kinda goes back to what I said about watching a game as a movie... this is The Last Of Us, https://youtu.be/gRqnZzmAg4w It's kinda like The Walking Dead, but imho is much more investing as well as devastating, and deals with themes and issues that you seem to be pretty passionate about. Someone basically played the game and filmed and edited parts of it to act like an episodic series, and each one is about a half hour or so, and if you have the time I really suggest watching it, it's so good!

      I'm definitely gonna try to see Arrival, but in the meantime I'm gonna watch A Bigger Splash, cos I hear that's also amazing. c:

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    3. I've heard mixed things on A Bigger Splash, but I hope to see it soon.

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  2. I'm finally going to see this (and Dr. Strange) later this week (hopefully) as the time has come to end this fucking movie-theater drought that I've been enduring.

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  3. Great piece, buddy! Man, I loved this movie! It didn't hit me emotionally to the level of fully crying, but I definitely teared up and certainly felt it. My wife and I are trying to get pregnant, and this thing really got me thinking... My answer...Yes. I would. And I thank this movie for giving me that.

    I hung on every second of this thing. I am in total agreement on Bradford Young's camera work. Good God, that dude is good! His in-camera abilities will become legendary. I totally left out the Johansson's score in my review, but I hope you'll check it out. It will be up first thing tomorrow morning.

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    1. First, you wrote a wonderful review.

      Second, SO glad this resonated with you and I'm so happy for you and your wife and look forward to saying congratulations! There is no greater gift than a child. Just from what I know of you in the blogosphere, I know you'll make an awesome dad.

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  4. This sounds like an intelligent film about aliens coming to earth. I am sick and tired of the typical movie where aliens are evil and just want to destroy us. The film really resonated with you because of what sounds like a death. It may not be a literal death but the death of something and, no matter what, whatever one has to go through, there is something that we need to learn from that. The death of a child??. I have no idea and it sounds downright trite to say one can learn from it because, I just don't know what but I do believe in that philosophy. A good friend of mine is dealing with the death of her marriage and it is ...not good.

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    1. I'll say this, it wasn't a death, so thank the lord above that I still have my children with me...but I understand more and more your friend's pain.

      But each day is a different day, at this point.

      Back to the movie...this is a tremendously 'intelligent' film, and I hope you see it and that we can discuss it.

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  5. As much as I would like to read the rest of the post, I stopped when you said it would be spoiler-y. Based on the first parts though this seems like a thought-provoking sci-fi film and I am very excited to watch this. Amy Adams always gives a fantastic performance, and it seems like she's great here as well.

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    1. I hope you get to see the film and that you come back to weigh in!

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  6. Personally, I would never want to know my future as I will allow it to detect my life. I don't see that as a gift but a curse as I would always allow it to dictate my life.

    If I ever had a daughter and I knew what would happen to her in the future, it would always linger at the back of my mind. I'd rather not know and enjoy my moments with her, unaware of what was about to happen.

    I think I would answer no. I just would not want to put someone else through the pain as well.

    Wonderful post. A thought provoking one

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    1. This is why I love this film because this discussion is so poignant.

      And I totally get why you'd say no, but like I said, it wasn't as easy as that for Louise because she saw and FELT her future WITH her daughter, and so that will play heavily in your decision knowing that if you decide not to, you'll lose all that you know you would have had.

      It's quite the conundrum.

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  7. THANK YOU for this spoiler-filled review of one of the best movies of the year.

    That final sequence didn't quite land for me the way I assumed it would for others, but that's because I "figured it out" quite a while before it was officially revealed and couldn't believe that Louise wasn't figuring it out (although it probably makes sense that she would be too overwhelmed to think clearly). And it went on for such a long time that I could tell it was meant to have a big emotional impact, but I was kinda like "Yeah, I get it. The past is the future is the present, she can see everything because that's how the aliens see things and she's finally fully absorbed their language." It just overplayed its hand a bit for me.

    HOWEVER, it was easily the most elegant exploration of the dimension of time I've seen on film. And actually the whole screenplay is just so elegant that I'm kind of in awe of it (even though I kinda wish we had gotten a bit more of an explanation of how they figured out the language - it was glossed over a BIT too much for me, even though I totally understand why). Amy Adams was ideally cast and just the perfect lead, the cinematography was out of this world, the editing sublime perfection, and the score. THE SCORE. GAH. LOVE.

    This is sitting JUST outside my Top Ten as of now, but on the level of pure craft, it's probably at the top.

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    1. Thank you, Daniel, for always being so kind to me and my blog.

      I think the ending hit me hardest because I didn't see it coming. I knew there was this 'twist' and I kept trying to figure it out and it just took it in a direction I was not expecting at all. It's also such a brilliant way to tie it all up because it is NOT an easy ending. It isn't a traditional 'happy' ending and so it bares all this discussion as to whether or not it was all worth it in the end.

      And Adams...and that score...DAYAM!

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  8. Hopefully, I'll get to see it this week. If so, I'll be back to join this conversation.

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    1. Dell, I truly hope you get to and that you come back because this is a film I love to discuss.

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  9. Why you gotta shit on Prisoners again?! lmao

    Amazing review, it's so good to read one of these from you again . <3

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    1. Anything worth shitting on is worth shitting on twice.

      And thank you, it was nice to write another review again. It's been quite the year, but like I said, I wouldn't do anything different.

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  10. What a beautiful review Drew. I love that your reviews are so deeply personal and that you're able to convey that in your writing. I don't have kids but despite that the film still resonated with me, and when that Amy Adams spoke that line I was sobbing… well I sobbed quite a bit watching this. I LOVE sci-fi films that connect with our humanity, and ARRIVAL certainly is a great example of that. Bless you Drew!

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    1. There are some films that just reach the core of me. This was one of them.

      Thank you.

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  11. Ugh, your review is just as perfect as the movie itself. I was a little scared for a minute when you started hating on Prisoners, but I'm so happy for all the love Arrival is getting. It's been playing on my mind ever since.
    By the way - it's awesome to see you posting more regularly! I don't always leave a comment but I'm always here, reading.
    That sounds creepier than I intended.
    - Allie

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    1. Awww, you're too kind, Allie (not creepy at all).

      So glad you loved this film, and my review. I'm happy that I'm finally at a place where blogging more feels...right.

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  12. Everyone seems to be writing long think pieces about this movie and it looks incredible as hell. Meanwhile it was here for 2 weeks and played at impossible times so I'm gonna need to wait both for the film and to read all of those reviews :(

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    1. I can't wait for you to see this and weigh in!

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    2. As I thought you liked it because you found something to relate to in it, obviously, since half the post is about it. For me the film had nothing new to say and what it did say was not in any way unique, profound or affecting. We need to talk to each other. Yes, we do. I don't know how is that horrendously slow paced, forgettable and underwritten film enforcing this message. I'm deeply shocked by the praise for this movie everywhere especially for Adams. There's a difference between a subtle performance, like what Knightley did in Imitation Game and not doing anything which is Adams here. I am rooting against another nomination for her, she is the most overrated actress in the business.

      What this movie did though is made me appreciate Interstellar a bit more and especially McConaughey's work there.

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  13. An emotional, intelligent review of an emotional, intelligent film. Easily one of the best I've seen this year. And Adams gives arguably her best work yet. Ugh, I dread the Oscar snubs! (But YAY for any Fisti love!)

    I'm still with Brittani, though. Prisoners is great! :P

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  14. I'm back, and only a month late, lol.

    I actually watched this weeks ago, but wanted to wait until I had written my own review before getting into what others had to say. I did that, but it took me quite a while to get my feelings down on it. There was a lot to sort through. That question of would you or wouldn't you has been heavy on my mind, as well. At this point, I am sitting solidly on "I dunno." So many pros and cons to both answers. As a person with (thankfully) healthy kids, it's impossible for me to say definitively what I would do. If I say I would then I'm signing up for my own heartache and who knows how much suffering for my child. If I say I wouldn't then I'm depriving them of life and myself the type of love only known between a parent and child. Your closing paragraph speaks directly to this dilemma:

    "It makes you think; maybe there's a reason we can't see the future, and maybe it wasn't a mistake to misinterpret their 'gift' as a 'weapon'."

    Damn you. I was finally getting to the point where I felt comfortable in my analysis of this film when I came back here and read that. Hadn't really thought too much about the whole 'weapons' idea beyond it being a misinterpretation by us humans in the film. However, what you say makes tons of sense. Now I'll be thinking about this aspect of the film all day. There are just so many layers to this film. So far, it's the best movie I've seen this year.

    And I love Prisoners.

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