On our latest episode, Jeff and I thoroughly reviewed the newly released film Arrival. If you haven't listened to that episode or seen this film yet, I recommend you don't read any further, because the spoilers will be plentiful and my additional thoughts/reactions here are merely meant to complement our feature review, not replace it. You've been warned.
Are you sure you want to keep reading? Ok, good. Because this movie is phenomenal and the more Jeff and I have thought about it, the more and more we love it. Not only is the story beautiful, Amy Adams is tremendous as Dr. Louise Banks and Denis Villeneuve's directing is fabulous, balancing the restraint of allowing the viewer to fully appreciate the experience of the characters without leaving you with dozens of questions with no answers. But you've already listened to our podcast and watched the film (right?), so you know all of this for yourself and know this is how Jeff and I feel.
The point of this is to try to convey the emotional impact this film had on me, beyond what I was able to put into words during our conversation. This is a combination of things: 1) my brain moves much faster than my mouth and I often have difficulty appropriately conveying my thoughts without falling all over myself to speak; and 2) I didn't want to cry. Again. It's one thing to cry in a movie theater. And then to cry in the car in the parking lot of the movie theater. And then to admit you did said crying on a podcast (and I guess here, too). It's another thing to subject listeners to having to hear me cry – I'm bad enough to listen to without that.
It's not often that a movie comes along and so unexpectedly punches you in the gut like Arrival does, yet here we are. This film almost seems designed to haul off and smack parents in the stomach, knocking the emotional wind out of them, before reaching down with a loving hand, picking them up, patting them on the back and telling them that "everything is going to be okay." The opening five minutes show the range of emotions parents experience from the unbelievable high of their child's birth to the ultimate low of the death of a child, with all of the fun, silly and frustrating times in between. Little things remind me of my son all the time – movies and TV shows featuring kids, car commercials where the parents drive slower now there's a baby in the car, friends posting baby pictures on Facebook and Instagram. All a movie or TV show needs to do is hint at there being a baby or kid around and you've got me thinking about him. He is ubiquitous in my and my wife's minds. My son giggled at me for the first time the other day and it was one of the greatest sounds I've ever heard. Now, every time I see or hear a baby laugh, I'm reminded of him and smile. So it's like this movie was designed to get to us.
Arrival demands that the audience put themselves in Louise's shoes and imagine an alternate reality where you know the future and all it holds – happiness and sadness, love and heartbreak, triumph and tragedy. How would you act? It's nearly impossible to say since we don't have that power. But it's easy to imagine some people turtling into the shell of their personality, never opening themselves up to the possibility of pain because it is too difficult to bear. It's easy because that's how many of us live our lives, protecting our deepest vulnerabilities because we are afraid of what the world would do if it knew our fears.
Arrival basically says "eff that," though. It argues that the greatest pain a parent can know – losing a child – is worth it because of the unconditional and unimaginable love you've gotten to experience by being a parent. I don't want to even begin having to imagine going through that, and I don't wish it on any others, but there's a quiet and hopeful comfort in this film's message to me and to others (parents and non-parents alike). It reminded me of Inside/Out's message that not everything can always be great, and without a little pain, we may never truly know our greatest joys. It harkens back to the Dead Poet's Society imploring you to "seize the day" and The Shawshank Redemption demanding you to "get busy living or get busy dying." That's goddamn right. We went right home and hugged and kissed our son. My parents, who had been babysitting, were surprised we came straight home after the movies. We both knew we didn't want to be anywhere else.
It shouldn't take a 2 hour movie to remind me of how lucky I am to have a healthy son and wife that love me and I feel a little bad about myself that it did. But every so often, it helps to have a movie that can nudge you in the right direction. This is what we mean when we say films are a launching pad for "musings on life in all of its trials and triumphs" (©Jeff Piotrowski). It reminded me to be more patient – some days feel interminable but I can't believe how fast the past 4-5 months have gone and how quickly my son is growing up. It won't last long. It reminded me of our first nights home from the hospital when Teddy wouldn't stop screaming at us and we thought we would never survive – and yet here we are, still standing and looking back on those first few days like they were minor inconveniences. My friends who recently had a son can commiserate with us and the feeling that the hospital somehow sent us home with defective babies. I know it won't always be easy and I fully expect a lot of difficult, sleepless nights ahead of us. But I also know it's nothing we can't handle and it'll be worth every headache and every minute of lost sleep.
So go out there and live your life! If you're a parent, go home and hug your kids and make sure they know you love them. If you're not and you're fortunate enough to still have your parents around, call them up and tell them you love them. It will make their day and will remind them that you've been worth it. Take the time to appreciate every beautiful day you have on this beautiful planet. Life is fleeting and you only get one shot at it. If you haven't already seen it (and if you haven't, why are you still reading this?), go see Arrival, if for no other reason, go see it to support movies like this instead of another tired remake or sequel, and maybe let yourself cry in public. But walk out of that theater with a renewed hope and desire to live your best life. And just try loving a little bit more, you never know whose life it could change.
And shut up! I'm not crying, you're crying!