Aliens have finally made contact, and the first thing we need to know is, “Why are they here?” In order to find out, the military commissions linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to head a team to break the enigmatic creatures’ code. As Louise draws closer, the rest of the world grows weary, edging on the brink of an intergalactic war.
Arrival is an incredibly refreshing take on the alien genre. Rather than focusing on the fear, the overall narrative is based knowledge through communication. Usually the rule for filmmaking is “show, not tell,” so to have a story based around speaking, this grand undertaking is anything but boring.
Of course, fear comes into play – and when it does, it’s absolutely infuriating. In fact, I think it was wrong to demonize the military/government as this film did; yes, they couldn’t inform the public of anything in the event that they were terribly wrong, but – as we’ve established with the power of communication – words are better than silence, but it takes time to produce the right words.
Additionally, I feel that a lot of subtlety was lost in this story – and frankly, I’m not sure how to feel about it: Between the circular nature of their language/time, to crossing literal barriers, it’s that fine line between clever and overdone.
Many folks claim that this is a film that will restore your faith in humanity. I say that’s a stretch, but it’s certainly a story we could use right now. In all, Arrival is an unexpectedly lovely film worth the watch.
…This has been stuck in my head ever since.
The future is a strange, mysterious place, where letters are artificially hand-written and men wear high-waisted pants. In this version of tomorrow, Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) is a introverted-sweetheart-writer-soon-to-be-divorcee with a penchant for video games and nighttime sexychats. After buying himself an AI-based OS who calls herself “Samantha” (Scarlett Johansson), Theodore becomes fascinated with her love of discovery, and through her finds the means to enjoy life again. Sorry, but there are some spoilers.
Originally I was thrown off by the OS-angle, only because I felt it’s been done so many times before. We as people are absolutely obsessed with technology, and this is not the first, last or only time this commentary has been made. In fact, there’s a whole genre of anime that is based on the concept of an other-worldly women changing the lives of their men, while simultaneously criticizing technological reliance.
Additionally, I found Samantha’s adaptive ability to be a little ridiculous – for instance, how does she understand humor so quickly? Or how does she experience the equivalent to a female orgasm? Not that she says that’s what was going on there, but how did she know to replicate that kind of sensation, audibly? (Great call blacking out the screen on that one – very immersive.) How does she “feel” exactly? Does she just pull from a massive database of reaction videos, or is the concept of feeling programmed? Why not make a movie on programming subjective behavior – I think that would be a more fascinating analysis.
Sorry about the digression. I need to stop myself from picking at these technical things – I realize that really these nuances don’t really matter in the context of the story (until it has to be an inevitable plot point or two), so I’ll get on to the heart of the matter – the complexity of human relationships and emotion, as well as the cruciality of communication.
Despite my gripes of technological fabrication, I really to have to commend Spike Jonze’s ability to blend the lines between artificiality and organicism. For instance, the opening piece of music blends from electric distortion to recognizable acoustics. More so, whenever we hear Samantha or any other OS speak to Theodore, there is no distinct separation between voices, which is to say that that the artificial voices are closer to viewers than the humans’ – it’s as if we are in Theodore’s mind with Samantha. Suddenly in a world where people are just perverse, characteristic shells, we get a glimpse that there still is a soul in there.
By allowing us a taste of such closeness, we are granted a look at the fact that people are flawed and are forever trying to figure themselves out. We turn away when we are most hurt, we desire connections but fear the intimacy of a conversation. Fortunately Theodore isn’t the only human in this film with these problems. With the help of a mediator, Theodore finds that he can be comfortable with another “being” again, and more importantly, with himself.
I think it’s fair to say that Her is one of those movies that I like more and more as I think about it. I’m still not sure where I stand when it came to the self-aware AI character, more so Theodore’s expectations of her. Is it weird that I found his possessiveness creepy? I mean, he does technically own her after all – did that conversation ever come up? Isn’t Samantha really just a hired therapist/personal assistant/sexbuddy? Sorry, sorry, I’m thinking too much about this again.
Technobabble aside, this film does a great job externalizing otherwise internal emotions… which Jonze unfortunately beats to death with his use of shapes and color schemes, but beautifully juxtaposed through Phoenix’s and Amy Adam’s performances. Though I harp on about the questionability of the technology in this film, I still find solace within the portrayal of the message that we’re all in this together. There may be ups or downs, but there’s always a forward.
Final Grade: B+