I stayed away from trailers and talk about the movie. I knew the director and main actors, and I knew it was about aliens on Earth and a language expert attempting to communicate with them. I had a strong feeling Villeneuve and writer Eric Heisserer had a purpose for telling this story, and I really did not want any hint as to what that would be.
After watching the movie in an empty theater tonight (I don't get to see a lot of movies around their release dates so I get to watch many of them late at night, alone), I walked away profoundly moved by the story, which blew my mind.
I'm writing this because I need to discuss some aspects of the movie to help wrap my mind around them. So be warned, I will spoil things from here out. I HIGHLY recommend you go see this movie before reading on.
OK, you've been warned, major spoilers ahead!
"If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?"
Though this line is one of the last in the movie, it defines the story. We learn that parts of the movie are told out of order as "flash-forwards" not "flashbacks" as Louise is actually experiencing them out of order. All the reveals in the last act lead me to ponder this question, and it is a profound one.
I'm reminded of a phrase I've heard and used myself when pondering the painful things I've had happen in my past: loss, failure, hurt. "I wouldn't wish those things on anyone, but I wouldn't trade them for the world." Our past experiences define who we are today. To take away even the poor choices and painful experiences would change who we are.
I've found some of the times in my life where I grew the most were around pain, loss, and failure. But what if I already knew the pain that was coming? Could I choose to move freely toward that pain? Or would I try and change the future?
The alien race chose to take a chance and give us their knowledge, knowing they would need us in the future. They even were willing to sacrifice for that hope, as the alien Abbott must have understood death would come in this task.
Louise, the main character in Arrival, chooses to go forward and accept the future she knows is coming. Even though it will mean breaking her relationship with her future husband and ultimately suffering through the painful loss of her future daughter. She doesn't run from the pain, but instead tries to cherish and celebrate every moment, good and bad, through the journey.
As I reflect on this, what blows my mind the most is this: Knowing what was coming, and thinking and experiencing her life non-linearly, Louise chose to cherish the little moments along the way. Instead of dwelling on the pain of her future husband leaving her, she chose to let herself fall in love with him. In a glimpse of them dancing, you can see the joy on her face in that moment. Instead of choosing to never have a child, knowing her daughter would one day suffer and die, she chose to give her daughter the gift of a life loved.
I have not cried at a movie in a long time. I found myself tonight alone in an empty theater bawling uncontrollably at the deep, complex beauty that this story told. This story is much smaller and personal than I expected (as great science fiction often is). Yet I feel it asks questions about the nature of our choices and responsibilities.
As a Christian, I'm struck at how these questions might give insight into a God who created a universe knowing His children would hurt Him. And with Christmas coming, I'm reminded that same God chose to come to live among us knowing we would reject Him and crucify Him.
As I get older, I realize more and more I don't fully understand just how deep true love can be. My hat off to Arrival for reminding me of that.