Sunday, December 04, 2016

Arrival, and why I cannot bear to watch sci-fi movies any more

On Saturday (December 3, 2016) night I was at the PVR Select CityWalk/DLF mall complex. I reached the place at around 8.45 pm to meet up with Malati Mathur, her husband Sudhir and daughter Manasi Mathur-Burman. I had an early dinner at home, and joined them for dinner, which was quite light. We went to TGF in DLF. I ate chicken wings and potato skin which was part of the vegetable platter. Malati et al left around 10 pm and I stayed back to watch the 11 pm show of Arrival, starring Amy Adams and Forrest Whitaker. I was curious to watch an Amy Adams movie, and there was no particular reason to do so. Like I would want to see a Naomi Watts film, and for the same vague reason. I hoped to sit in a nearly empty hall and watch the movie. But as I waited for the movie to begin, people began to roll in, all of them young people, male and female, in their 20s and 30s, all of them casually dressed in near-crumpled wear, Google-style. And I would guess that they were all tech-junkies. The film did not start at 11 pm as it was scheduled. It started around 11.25 pm. Nowadays, it has become quite common in many of the multiplexes that the films would not start on time.And they strolled into the hall when the doors opened in the same casual manner. And they seemed the kind of folk who would go to a remote multiplex or cinema hall to see this kind film for a late night show. They were serious about this kind of science and technology films.

The film opens with the Amy Adams scene and a voice-over about life's beginning and related meditative/reflective stuff.Amy Adams has the strange appeal of a straight, serious unadorned woman. She speaks to her mother on the phone after news breaks out that aliens have landed at about six different places in the world. Then the tall figure of Forrest Whitaker stands at the door of Amy Adam's character's living room and it is night-time, and all is quiet everywhere. Without raising his voice he announces that Amy Adams'character is required for interpretation purposes.

There is the usual sci-fi drama, where everyone everywhere is alerted and it is made out that the fate of the world is on the hinge.She is introduced as the professor of linguistics and there is in the small group a theoretical physicist. There is a slight theoretical altercation between the man who believes that all problems can be solved through equations and she seems to believe that you need language and an unstated empathy.

Soon, they get all sorts of inoculations so that they do not catch some kind of an infection in the encounter with the aliens. They set off then in their space suits to the raised platform from where they can watch and make sense of the aliens. The aliens have come in a spaceship which is in the shape of an Anish Kapoor installation, an egg-shaped object made of uncertain material.

In a bid to communicate with the aliens, Amy Adams'character, whose name is Louise Banks, holds a placard with the word humans written on it. And it is here the film begins to teeter. It seems to boil down to the regular sci-fi pulp fiction, where you connect with the extra-terrestrials through your own lingo sort of. We watch the shadowy paw, more like that of a dinosaur, form an ideograph/hieroglyph in response, with gentle cursive forms which are not letters. The linguist has to decipher them. She measures the angles of the twists in the orthography and theoretical physicist compliments her that her approach to language is that of a physicist.

It is at this point I could not sustain my suspension of disbelief which is so necessary when you read imaginative stuff. The whole approach to the extra-terrestrials seemed to boil down to high school seriousness.At around 12.25 am, there was the interval. And I walked out because I felt that this would turn out to be silly sob story of how humanity comes face to face with the extra-terrestrials. The school-level seriousness of the film was quite disappointing. The director of the film is Canadian, Denis Villeneuve, from Quebec.And he seems to be a serious film-maker.

Perhaps, I should go back and see the second half.


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