Arrival Denis Villeneuve (USA 2016) Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
viewed Empire Cinema Newcastle: ticket £3.95
slush and mush
Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival comes across as a sort of displaced Ten Commandments. It’s a new age recasting of the yearnings of ordinary folk in troubled times for a second coming: some revelatory moment that we are not alone. That there are forces greater than us abroad in the cosmos. And as middle aged men with beards like Charlton Heston are so yesterday, enter Amy Adams the new age torch bearer, the female bright eyed and bushy tailed mediator with the force.
Given its new age ethos, from the opening shot, Villeneauve takes his lead from that master of intellectual cinematic vacuity Terrence Malick. The opening shot is of a textured surface of indeterminate colour which we struggle to understand. Our understanding is resolved as the shot tilts down to reveal that it is the ceiling of a spacious living area which is characterised by a drop dead picture window giving onto a panoramic view of a primordial lake. We know we are in a very classy abode, above the cut of the ordinary.
But why this teasing opening tryst with the movie? Why does the film begin with a shot designed to trick its audience? Villeneuve seems to be saying from the start that this is a clever film, nothing is as it appears and he is going to do some clever stuff. So watch out! As the shot develops a voice over fades in with words that might have been written by Terrance Malick. It is the voice our protagonist, Louise Banks who immediately in that sort of knowing inflection of voice, solemnly informs us: “I used to think we were bound by time… memory doesn’t work as I used to think it did…”
New age mumbo jumbo loves to imagine time is serious stuff but illusionary, a malleable entity. Enlightened new age beings recognise ‘linear’ time as an illusion, rigidly maintained (amongst others) by white Anglo-Saxons males. Enlightened new agers (often young women) realise time is non-linear. And of course it is easy on a non linear digital editing suite to (select clip; mark out; press key; shift clip; mark new in) to make mincemeat of time. Always remembering of course that mincemeat has many facets making it inherently prone to toxins. It is more difficult however to make mincemeat out of time as a logic. Arrival doesn’t even try to construct a temporal logic it prefers emotional logic as an easier more manipulative option. Villeneuve and his script writer go for the ‘big mac’ approach: digital mincemeat (lots of flashbacks/flashforewards whatever) served up in the mush of an emotional mayonnaise and tomato sauce in the person of Louise’s daughter, Hannah, who is the main chosen time referent. The script writer here gets so excited with himself for calling her Hannah, that he exploits this as if he were the first person to notice Hannah is a palindrome, and attaches to this awesome revelation, appropriate temporal significance (time like this palindrome Hannah goes back and forewords – get it!) .
So we have Malick style pompous verbosity matched up with emotionally charged new age take on time. Other than that there is not much else. This is a cold movie. Deterritorialised and sanitised. Its high gloss production values give its emotional and physical moments the authenticity of a perfume advert. The acting dutifully conforming to script is wooden with the dialogue delivered formulaically. Most of the film, realised of course with all the pizzazz of the digital compositors, is second hand stuff. From Louise’s hand gestures with the aliens and the shape and look of the aliens, though to the lighting and the use of TV news monitors to feed back images of a world in panic, we have seen it all before, often done better and more originally. Lacking humour, new age doesn’t do humour very often (I don’t count Woody Allan), Villeneuve steers a po faced course back and forth through its scenario, reaching a high point of banality with a weirdly embarrassing dialogue between a Chinese War Lord ( ? General of some sort, not the premier whom in China you might expect to talk charge. I mean China is a communist country; or, has time slipped again?) and Louise, who demurs to whatever it is he says. And in the background throughout the film the army and security people sort of shuffle about the sets like robots – as they do in this kind of farrago.
Villeneuve and script writer seem to have taken time to look at Tarkovsky’s Solaris as there are references in Arrival that echo elements of this film. The lake, the wateriness of the alien’s element and of course the theme of time. But time in Solaris, as well as having a personal also had a political signification. Tarkovsky’s concept of time was an opposition the Soviet progressive dialectic ideology. Except for the grab of a few ideas, Villeneuve seems not to have taken much from Solaris, content to make a lazy film packed out with effects to please an undemanding audience. adrin neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org