Don’t let me spoil this film for you. It is very well done and enjoyable, especially the first encounter with the aliens. Most people won’t have a problem with the ending, or if they do, it won’t be as extreme as mine. And even I am glad I saw it, because I quite enjoy ranting and nitpicking.
My friend C indicates she might have a problem because she remembers Amy Adams [lead actress] from the Muppets movie and associates her with them. If somebody has not done a video mash-up of scientists attempting to communicate with Muppets from outer space, they should get on that.
This links to the upcoming epic blog post about time travel. COMPLETE SPOILERS from this point on:
For starters, an essential part of the story wasn’t well told. The film showed a lot of what I assumed were flashbacks to how the lead character had married, got divorced, and had a daughter who died young of an incurable illness. In fact they were flash-forwards; all this happens after the end of the main story. I had been thinking that she looked a bit young, but then she would not be the only Hollywood character to play older, or look improbably good for her age. Which of course is how it is in the “future” segments.
Then, if she was having premonitions, she was presumably spending her life under the impression that she was psychic, or mentally ill, and keeping it quiet. Which might make an interesting subject for a film in its own right; it didn’t really work as part of one. It’s hard to see how it would not shape her whole character, make her into a passive figure that expects and embraces tragedy. “Oh, that’s the house of my visions where my child dies! I have to buy it immediately!”
It turns out that she has or receives the power to see through time, and that she uses this to save the day by bringing back information from the future where the day has already been saved. This kind of works as Deus Ex Machina, albeit it’s a cliché (Bootstrap Future) unworthy of the film up to that point. A gubbin should be rooted in character development or conflict, though. Here, that seems to be the discovery that the bitter (dead child) comes along with the sweet (saving the day). It’s still not a decision or development, though. The price simply comes attached to the Deus Ex.
But what doesn’t work is, why on earth doesn’t she change it? Perhaps from her point of view, the “future memories” of her daughter are so strong that she felt she already existed, and the joys the child had were so great as to make her life worthwhile despite its tragic end. Which is a perfectly fine attitude to have if your child has already lived and died. To marry and conceive the child knowing their fate in advance is quite another thing.
(Perhaps I have a little sympathy here; how can you write a situation where knowing the future does not change it?)
I am, of course, taking the attitude of the child’s father, who divorced the mother when she told him the child’s fate (after the birth) and, knowing what was coming, was unable to deal with it. Whatever the mother’s philosophical views, to know and not tell the prospective father is very wrong.
The mother was also dropping hints to the child about her eventual fate. I doubt that will make the book of good parenting somehow.
This situation itself is a pretty rich one. It could make a subject for a film in its own right. You wouldn’t even need time travel; you could just have a child who was told “Oh yes, I knew that I carried the gene for galloping incurable leukaemia. No, I didn’t tell your father. But I knew that even though you’d die in your teens, the fun you had on the way and the joy you brought to me would make it worthwhile. I suppose we could have had the foetuses tested until we had one without the disease, but that just wouldn’t have been you!” This is, of course, a very touchy subject for all kinds of personal, political and religious reasons. But that also makes the subject rich, exploring science and how we perceive reality.
So, does seeing a future comes with the price of being unable to change it? That could be like some presentations of schizophrenia, believing you have no agency of your own and are at the mercy of other fates. Which would be a synergy with the self-fulfilling prophecies many of us fall prey to in our lives. Again possibly worth doing. But this is never revealed in Arrival.
But instead we have the intriguing premise of learning to communicate and deal with aliens, which turns out to be because they perceive time differently, and then a Deus Ex brings up things that might be worth exploring, but which aren’t, and leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.