**WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS TO FOLLOW!!**
If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?
This is the main question of Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi masterpiece, Arrival. It asks far more questions about what it means to be human than why the Heptapods are here—how we react, or would react, to ominous unknowns. The effect, the depth, of this question is still just as strong my second time watching this movie. It’s a very human story that the director and his team have put to screen, wondering at the possibility of interstellar visitors coming to Earth in peace, and why we’re so hasty to shake our unyielding fists at those who come bearing gifts. But there’s much more to it than that…
The score of the film, I’ve grown a greater appreciation for, after this second viewing. It’s the added, nine-minute featurette following the screening that convinced me of the intent of every note. This is a film about discovery, about language, about extraterrestrials. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score was all hand-crafted—made entirely of human voices, with very little instrumental accompaniment. Very artful, lending to the alien nature of the theme. Cinematography by Bradford Young is carefully-planned and consistent throughout, offering up a monochrome color palette, but still retaining a vivid and captivating visual presence on-screen. It represents the dim, unknown future of humanity, with these creatures sitting ominously on our doorstep, the only hope being our heroine: the fire-haired femme, Dr. Louise Banks.
Amy Adams (Banks) and Jeremy Renner (Dr. Ian Donnelly) continue to amaze, even though I knew what I was getting into, this second time around. Their on-screen chemistry is brilliant, and makes the ending realization that they’re the ones to get together and make this “mystery girl” possible even more moving. Despite knowing that she will die, they go forth and have her anyway, to share the experience of having a daughter—of creating life, even though it is a terminal one.
That’s where the real magic of this film comes from: its humanity. Not only does its wonderment reside in the question of, “What if they came tomorrow?” (see my initial review from November, 2016, for more on that), but what it means to be, truly, human. In the end, once everything else falls away, all we’ll have are our memories of the lives we lived. After everything else dies, when we die, what we’ve created and what memories and experiences shaped us is how we will live on.
This movie can be construed as the “cynic’s movie”—where one can roll eyes at the deadly instincts that guide human self-preservation—but it is much more than that. It is a testament to the human condition: we are not a species to go quietly unto any new horizon—whether it be one of discovery or destruction.
Louise’s realization—the twist of the movie, learning that this child has yet to exist, but will inevitably get sick and die—is not a sad one, but one of triumph. Despite what lays ahead, her and Ian making the decision to have this child is a statement: we will endure, we will experience, we will live. That, alone, is inspiration enough to welcome—with arms wide-open—any new chance at life that is extended us.
It has certainly inspired me…
My ‘Risk Assessment stands. *****/.
Next review: The Comedian (Feb. 3rd)