Arrival, and Why Sometimes You Should See the Movie First
The Academy Award nominations were announced a couple weeks ago and while there were some nice developments (the Academy discovered diversity!), I was completely shocked by the best actress category. This isn't a post about Jackie, but I will say that I have spent the past few weeks after seeing that film asking people if they've seen it, because I need to share my feelings. Because I have FEELINGS. Here's my quick synopsis: I feel like with Jackie, they took a script for a straightforward biopic, gave it to an arthouse film director and said, "Just do whatever." And oh, he did. There is a scene that I legitimately wondered whether or not was an homage to The Shining (btw, still wondering). At one point the music has a complete tonal shift and it's like you're watching a horror/thriller movie. Oh, by the way, that scene is Jack's funeral procession. Anyway, my point is, I knew Natalie Portman would be nominated and I knew it would make steam come out of my ears. What I didn't expect was that Amy Adams, who completely blew me away in Arrival (a film that, as a whole, completely blew me away), would be heartlessly snubbed by the Academy. We really are living in the darkest timeline.
Arrival is such a wonderful film, and if you haven't seen it yet I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's now available for rent or purchase, and (at least in my city) some theaters are showing it again in a pre-Oscars push. I'd pay $15 to see Arrival again on the big screen, and I'm considering it - that's how much I loved it. After seeing Arrival this fall, one of my first comments to my friend and fellow moviegoer Ashleigh was, "I can't wait to watch that again." Ashleigh wholeheartedly agreed. She's no fool.
Before seeing Arrival I put a library hold on Ted Chiang's short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others, which includes the short story ("Story of Your Life") Arrival was based on. Chiang's book was in high demand and I didn't get my paws on it until after I'd seen the film. That turned out to be a good thing, however, because this is one of the very, very few times I will advocate for both reading the source material and seeing the adaptation, but seeing the adaptation first.
I wondered, while reading Stories of Your Life and Others, if there was such a thing as high science fiction. If high fantasy means that a story takes place in a fictional universe and all rules are up to the author, could there be "high" versions of other genres? Could high science fiction be a story in which the science is like, next level geek shit? Because if so, that is how I would categorize Stories of Your Life and Others. I am an intelligent person. If you asked me to summarize certain paragraphs in Ted Chiang's short story collection, I doubt I could. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and not understanding small bits of technical talk didn't keep me from enjoying the stories and comprehending their messages at the end. It just took me till the end of the stories sometimes to fully realize what was going on and what information was important to retain and what didn't really need all of my brain power (I'm speaking specifically of "Division by Zero," but trying not to give anything away).
But back to Arrival and it's source material. Arrival is, I suppose, a movie with a twist, but it's not a huge shock. You uncover the truth slowly, just as Amy Adams's character does, so that by the time the truth is revealed it's almost an obvious conclusion as well as a surprise. The fact that this is pulled off is almost entirely due to the expert performance by Amy Adams, and the fact that she wasn't recognized for it by the Academy is a real shame.
The story and the movie are actually quite different, and for that I also think the Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay is wholly deserved. Turning something from the genre I just invented, high science fiction, into a story as relatable and understandable as Arrival is no small feat. The biggest difference is that in "Story of You Life," there isn't really a big reveal. Throughout the whole story you know that there is something strange going on with Louise (who provides first person narration to her daughter) mainly because her verb tenses are all over the place. Slowly you can piece together what's going on, but there's no big climactic scene where she speaks fluent Mandarin (like poor, snubbed, hardworking Amy Adams) and solves the world's problems with her newfound alien-gifted skills. I'd say the whole storyline is approximately 75% less dramatic, on the whole. That isn't to say "Story of Your Life" isn't worth reading! It actually fills in some blanks that you may have after watching the film. Not only is the plot of the short story easier to follow if you've seen the film, but some questions that come up about the logistics of Louise's sense of time are answered in the short story that the film just doesn't have the time to address. So to all of you naysayers who left Arrival going, "But why didn't she just..." GO READ THE STORY.
And to you, dear reader: If you haven't seen Arrival, for heaven's sake see it immediately. It's so wonderful and one of the best sci-fi movies I've seen in a very long time. Then, if you feel like delving deeper into Ted Chiang's brilliant stories, pick up Stories of Your Life and Others. Each story is thought provoking and fascinating, and as I read it I found myself recommending different stories to different people, from my dad who teaches and writes about religion, to you, who I can't believe it, but I'm telling to watch a movie before reading the book.