This might seem like an odd thing to be grateful for, so please bear with me as I describe my appreciation for a movie. Arrival - featuring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker - is a science fiction film based on the short story, "Story of Your Life," written by Ted Chiang.
Why am I thankful for Arrival?
The movie has solid performances by Renner and Whitaker, and the premise behind the film is outstanding, as characters try to determine the intent of alien vessels appearing in cities throughout the world. Amy Adams is brilliant in her role as a linguistics professor, one of the best in her field, as she’s asked to determine what a recorded “conversation” with the aliens mean. The aspect of communication plays a huge role for one of the two major points of having significant meaning for me. If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend you not only skip reading on to avoid spoilers, but please watch this film, especially if you’re a parent.
Adams’ character, Louise Banks, is immediately introduced as a parent. As the film dives into the significance of trying to identify meaning behind sounds or visual cues laid out by the aliens, Banks tries to explain to other characters how important it is to learn what someone else is saying before assuming or interpreting their intent.
Translation for me – how do I communicate with my children? Do I raise my voice, cry, laugh, or speak calmly, quietly, trying to convey how important my message is to them? Do they realize that what I’m saying is meant to show them, not only how I want them to behave and be treated, but how much I love and care about them before, now, and throughout the remaining years of my days? Communication is such an essential part of life, and it’s something most easily lost in translation. Do my kids completely understand sarcasm? Do they understand honesty or insincerity? Do they realize that we - my wife and I - will always be their biggest fans and always hope for nothing but the best for them?
Arrival does a phenomenal job at identifying people’s fears by establishing the hazards associated with this alien presence. Not knowing something means attempting to prove that the worst is either about to come or be avoided, even if the danger isn’t known or actually true.
Second point (and again – SPOILERS – Please STOP if you don’t want to know more about the film.):
Banks is a mother, and she’s immediately shown to be attentive and loving. The first moments of the film explore her relationship with her young child as she continues to grow, from a little girl to mid-to-late teens or early adulthood. No parent should have to feel in the real world how I felt watching a fictional character respond to the death of her child – to see Banks devastated by the disease that took her child from her world, where the daughter’s appearance, altered by the failed treatment, permanently imprints Banks’ grief onto my own heart. The impact of the loss is frightening, heart crushing, and despite watching the film on Halloween, still invokes an emotional response every time I think about it.
These moments, these feelings, happen within the first few minutes of the film, and it’s not the specific reason for being thankful for this film. The premise behind the film is about evaluating and understanding communication between two species (or people) and adding a science fiction twist of technology to the mix. The aliens are not hostile, despite our own fears and potentially providing every reason to have them respond with violence. They impart their way of thinking, a gift of time, in a manner of speaking. Their view of life is not linear, meaning they can see beyond a single path, where one action or one word follows another. They can understand the present by seeing the future, and Amy Adams is absolutely believable as she comes to terms with this special insight, and makes my appreciation for being a parent that much more finite.
Would you be the parent of a child you knew would not survive beyond your years?
It is gut-wrenching to see these scenes play out, and not simply because a difficult choice has to be made, but for the simplicity of doing it all again, knowing that suffering will be inevitable, because it really isn’t a choice at all. Children are the greatest creation, and knowing the ending doesn’t mean we stop or prevent it because we don’t want to endure the pain. We want to endure the pain, so that we might have those splendid moments, days, weeks, months, or years to live out those best times of our lives. Amy Adams' depiction of this character is striking, leaving a pit in my stomach, knowing that her realization, as a fictional character, does not diminish the sentiment attached to such a serious, life-altering impact within the film’s story.
It’s difficult to think about Adams’ character, because it’s hard to contemplate a world where the ending is similar to her own. But, realizing I would make the same choice proves to me how important every moment with my children is, how significant that choice is relevant to the pain it clearly causes her; although, ultimately irrelevant, because nothing else matters than the life of her child, regardless of the path it leads to.
I hope I always remember this film. I hope Arrival never leaves my mind. Despite the fact that I think it’s a great movie, it’s the connection with Amy Adams, the character she plays, and the choice she makes out of love that will be eternally stamped on my heart, as my soul still tries to recover from the impact it’s left on me.
For that, I am thankful – and I will always hope…