Arrival (2016)

arrival2016.89: Arrival (Cinema)

Film of the year.

Yes, its that good. Everything you may have heard from reviews/word of mouth since those September previews is true. Good grief this film is something special. I actually think it is also one of, perhaps the most intense emotional cinematic experiences of my life. I almost staggered out of the cinema, fighting back tears, feeling like my heart had been pulled out of my chest. Just thinking about it now, hours later, almost breaks me up. I feel like an emotional punchbag, a wreck. Its been such a long time since a film connected with me so profoundly.

To be fair, this film clearly can’t and won’t have this effect on everyone. Its just one of those rare cinematic experiences that came at just the right moment, just when I have been personally going through such a rough time these past few months, in order for it to connect with me in such a profound way. Its almost like Denis Villeneuve made this film just for me, as if it was speaking just to me, striking me right between the eyes. Its a beautiful film.

With it being a new release just out at the cinema, I won’t go into spoilers, I’ll leave that for the disc release next year. This is really a film that needs to be seen with as little foreknowledge as possible. I’m certain everyone knows the premise of alien ships arriving on Earth and the attempts at First Contact that follow. Its the story behind that story that is so profound and which I will not go into here. I’d read the short story Ted Chiang ‘Story of Your Life‘on which the film is based, so I knew it would be a heady brew of cerebral science fiction, but good lord, Villeneuve nailed the emotional heart of that story too. Its so rare for such an intelligent piece of serious, adult science fiction to be put on screen as it is, but to nail the emotional side, to make it so achingly sad and tragic and beautiful, its… well, words fail me. This film is everything Interstellar wanted to be.

I could understand the title change to Arrival making the film an easier sell, but its clear that ‘Story of Your Life’ would indeed have been a more fitting title. Its the story of all our lives, of how we live them, experience the joy and pain. Its powerful film-making, its a work of art. This guy is making Blade Runner 2049 even as I type this. My God my expectations for that film are going to be going through the roof now.

And Amy Adams? If this film doesn’t reward her with an Oscar nomination, there is no justice. She manages such a powerful, understated performance it will likely be under the Oscar radar (Oscar loves the big loud and melodramatic ‘Look At Me I’m Acting’stuff). There is so much going on in just her eyes, its breathtaking really. The rest of the cast is sublime, the cinematography is beautiful while also rather subtle, and the music score is such an alien-sounding, other-worldly and intense experience its like another character in the film, quite extraordinary.

I’m afraid I may be hyping this film too much, that it can never hope to live up to this praise for most other people. It just connected with me, I won’t apologise for that. Sadly the cinema screening I attended had only a dozen people in there other than my wife and I. I do hope this manages to find its audience. I urge anyone reading this to go see it big and loud on the big screen.

Maybe come back and talk about it in the comments. We can do spoilers in the comments, yes? Cool.



7 thoughts on “Arrival (2016)

  1. Matthew McKinnon

    Ah, I’m so glad you went to see it!

    We watched it at the weekend. It was terrific.
    My Facebook post about it was just that it was sometimes like a glimpse into a parallel universe where Nolan was still making good films, from scripts that played to his strengths. Not to take away from Villeneuve’s individuality.

    And it even nailed the thing that – as you well know – I had such a problem with in The Abyss: first encounters, even with benign aliens, would be TERRIFYING! And here, it is.

    Glad you liked it this much.

    1. Matthew McKinnon

      And – we saw it on a Sat afternoon screening in a cinema that’s normally two-thirds empty, but this time was completely full.

    2. Oh yes- it’s the sense of importance, of almost fear and dread mixed with it (in no small part helped by the disturbing soundtrack) of that initial meeting that impressed me- how Amy Adams’ character Louise had trouble breathing and her hands kept trembling. It felt right somehow, real.

      Above all else the thing that impressed me so much was the sense of this film making me feel something, really feel something to my core. I had such an emotional connection with it,

      I realise it might sound daft, but whenever Louise ‘saw’ her daughter, I kept thinking of my dog, Ben, who passed away a few months ago. We had such a rough time those few months before he died, long sleepless nights taking turns with him, so many trips to the vets for more and more tests, and to be honest much of his life we had problems with his food allergies and low immune system. But he was such a gentle soul, he always felt like a blessing to us rather than a burden. And if I had the chance to do things again, I wouldn’t change anything, certainly I don’t ever regret ever having him. The moments of happiness outweigh the pain and the cost, I feel privileged and lucky to have had him in our lives, no matter how short the time. It isn’t the quantity of time you have that’s important, its the moments..

      So you can imagine how Arrival felt, with Louise having all sorts of foreknowledge and yet going through with things, revelling in the moments and appreciating them all the more. In a way, ‘knowing’ her timeline/Life Sentence (I love that term and its play on linguistics) was a gift, her awareness of how powerful and rare and special her life and her loved ones were. Anyway. It felt like I was being kicked in the stomach. I hadn’t cried over Ben since the first weekend after we lost him, mainly because I’ve been in denial- I haven’t been able to look at any video footage of him, for instance, and while I talk about him a lot with Claire, it still feels distant and unreal. Arrival rather opened the floodgates and I admit I’ve cried over Ben since. I even managed to watch some video footage of him last night. I think Arrival has helped me in more ways than Denis Villeneuve could ever know or intend. That a science fiction film, of all genre, could impact on me like that is remarkable. Its helping me through something and I’ll never forget how I felt staggering out of the cinema yesterday, feeling changed, somehow.

      1. Matthew McKinnon

        I hate replying again, as it might seem like I want to have the last word. But –

        That was a genuinely moving reply. I’m not in the place you’re at right now (though I have been, a few times: we don’t have kids either, so our 2 cats are our children. Spoiled children, I might add), but I can totally see where you’re coming from.

        I took the opportunity to watch it again yesterday afternoon, this time on a huge huge screen with great sound, and I enjoyed it even more. The soundtrack CD just arrived this morning.

        Hopes for the new Blade Runner film are just unrealistically high now, eh?

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