MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner.
Dr. Louise Banks (Adams) is a linguistic professor who has been asked to assist the military at a critical time. Twelve UFOs are hovering just a bit above ground over the earth’s continents. No weapons have been fired although (not surprisingly) the cultural divide has amped up the tension for possible engagement. She is assisted by Ian Donnely (Renner) and an investigative team of scientists. Their goal is to enter the spacecraft (which is opened at regular times by the aliens) and try to figure out a way of communication that will lead to peace instead of global war.
At the time she is called to help out, Louise is living alone and dealing with grief over the loss of her 12-year-old daughter to a terminal illness. Once on the job, her steady work with the team of scientists is countered by the impatience and intractability of world leaders. Arrival reminds us about how often daily life is a mixture of wonder, discovery, obstacles and challenges.
If the film were just about the scientific encounter it would be more than enough; those scenes are great. The design of the spaceship and the visitors from outer space is spare and effective. The special effects in Arrival do not need to hit us with bombast. The haunting musical score by Jóhann Jóhannsson creates an ethereal and haunting undertone to the adventure.
But Arrival is not just a science fiction film about interstellar dialogue. It is a meditation about what defines our humanity and the ways in which our lives are shaped by what we remember and hold on to. This film is similar to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey in which humanity is offered a portal into a new way of life following a space exploration. Audiences were baffled fifty years ago by the ending of that film. Arrival is no less thought provoking as its final chapters twist everything that has gone before.
It took me literally 12 hours to figure out this movie. I left the theater at 5:00 p.m. and woke up at 5:00 a.m. with a reasonable explanation for what I had seen. Your mileage may vary.
It’s encouraging to see filmmakers create a mainstream movie that is philosophical, theological, and wise. If you do go to see Arrival, you need to know two things: 1) It is not kid-friendly; children will become bored and fidgety; and 2) Take time to talk about it afterwards and then give yourself permission to revisit the conversation the next day.
In the midst of our information age of viral videos and quick judgments, Arrival reminds us that real understanding of new ideas takes time. This film serves as a parable to that effect.
Five halos: A challenging film about mortality, grief, and hope.
One pitchfork: Brief swearing.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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