So a colleague at work borrowed my copy of Arrival, being a genre fan who was pretty much blown away by BR2049 and was totally unfamiliar with the films of Denis Villeneuve and evidently in need of an education.
So he watched it. Turns out he didn’t like Arrival… well, he liked it, but wasn’t convinced/thrilled by it. Bit slow? I don’t know, I wasn’t really paying too much attention to him, I was too surprised and feeling very sad.
Anyone who read my posts about Arrival, like my first review, will possibly remember my emotional connection to the film, especially its feelings of loss and grief. The film just came around at particular time in my life where it just seemed the right film at the right time, absolutely stabbing me in the heart almost, but in a good way. Ever since it’s been a film with a certain personal importance, a connection to a time and a loss (our pet dog, Ben at just three years of age) that might seem hysterically ridiculous to an outsider but remains quite profound to me to this day.
But isn’t it strange when films don’t mean the same to everyone else? I mean, I’m used to that, of enjoying a film and being at odds with people I know or general opinion, but in the case of Arrival it just feels doubly depressing. That a film I can feel so deeply connected to and which means so much to me can just so totally miss the mark with some. Or maybe my colleague deep down is just a cold-hearted bastard who doesn’t ‘get it’. Ha, only kidding. Or maybe he is. Maybe he just failed some kind of empathy test.
There is a strangely profound thing regards Arrival being the point in question here, and my connection with it and the emotional space I was in when I first saw it. Arrival, after all, is concerned with the idea of linear time and how an alien language unravels that view of time, so that our heroine, Louise, begins to ‘see’ the future as memory, of events already happened. And the film asks, if we knew our future and all the pain inevitably bound up with it, would we accept it? Louise sees that she will marry fellow scientist Ian, and will have a child, and eventually divorce, and their child later die when still young. And yet at the films end, after having seen and felt all this with the viewer, Louise still goes with it, reasoning that the pain is worth it, that it’s part of being alive, that perhaps the cost of loving is in the losing.
Or something like that. Arrival feels to me as deeply spiritual a film as 2001: A Space Odyssey. Maybe most people don’t see those films that way, and that’s why my work colleague didn’t ‘get’ it. Arrival is a beautiful movie wrapped up in a ‘first contact’ alien thriller. Its deep and heartfelt and beautifully constructed and acted, and of course now even more poignant for the loss of Johann Johannsson and remembering him everytime I watch it and hear the films haunting score.
So it isn’t important to everyone and not everyone ‘gets’ it. I shouldn’t be surprised but somehow today it just felt doubly sad. Some films we like aren’t ‘just’ films, I suspect. They mean something more to us. Which is probably why I write this blog and you, dear reader, are reading this.
I think we pass the empathy test.