I stayed up late re-watching Arrival. I decided that I love that movie. 

I was thinking about Arrival today while folding laundry, the morning after I'd stayed up late to re-watch it, wondering why this movie speaks to me so much. I often connect strongly to moody cerebral science fiction movies, so maybe it was inevitable. But more deeply, on watching the movie this second time, I connected strongly to the particular combination of fear and wonder, of feeling intellectually challenged and emotionally overwhelmed, that Amy Adams conveys for much of the movie. She is haunted but enlivened by what haunts her. She walks towards the fear, the dread. In doing so she embodies a quiet, kind power; a form of strength that incorporates curiosity and love as part of its structure.

This is the emotional quality I seek in my work and my life. The heroic version of this quality looks easier in the movies than it is in real life, and I'm not even using advanced linguistic theory to bridge the gap between alien civilizations across time and space. I'm just trying to help people stay alive. I don't compare this experience to trying to communicate with aliens; these are my people. It's less the experience of the aliens as it is another part of the story, about grief, that I think I connected to most strongly. The idea of going towards love even if grief lives in the same room.

And yet, these aren't my deaths to grieve. I haven't lost the people I'm closest to.

I remember a moment when I was doing AIDS work and I saw this movie Fearless in 1993, at a time when everything seemed like it was just going to keep getting worse. And I remember losing it at this movie. Crying my eyes out for reasons I didn't totally understand, for deaths that hadn't yet occurred, for grief that wasn't really mine to grieve. And yet, was. I think I'd been getting numb for the weeks preceding seeing the movie, and then cried much more than I normally would have. Some guy's story came back to me, some horrible story that I don't remember now, and it was like I'd shut myself down after hearing his story, and then after the movie, for some reason opened myself back up to the world, to pain, to other people's stories.

Arrival wasn't that for me last night. It was just a very evocative sinking into the deep spare melancholy of the world; of the universe. And how this connects to who I am right now, I feel like I'm still working out. But I do know there is something about Amy Adams' character that I identified with, that I found in common with how I am feeling. When I figure that out, maybe I will be able to read some alien alphabet of time and physics. Or maybe I'll just know my own language better.

* * *


Maybe something in this territory:

From Chris Plante in The Verge:

"Arrival tells the story of one woman who chooses a life of grief to save the world. I find her so painfully relatable. As I get older, the emotional struggle of life — the one I couldn’t see when I was a child — has revealed itself. Friends and family die. Unexpected tragedies interrupt banal work weeks. To live and to love is to court inevitable grief, and we make the choice to move on. I’ve attended many funerals over the past few years, and I thought about each of them on the drive home from my screening. I don’t have the advantage of knowing my future, but I do have the memory of my past. I know the pain that comes with emotional investment, and it does not hobble me, or at least I try my best not to let it. I found Arrival’s bigger themes of communication and trust compelling. But what will stick with me is its defense of choosing life in the face of profound grief."

* * *

Don't worry: I haven't forgotten the musical note:

It seems like a good ecologic/musicologic question to ask whether the Arrival soundtrack would've sounded even a little bit the way that it did if no one had ever recorded humpback whales. I mean that as a compliment. I like listening to humpback whales. 
An accidental discovery leads me to recommend playing these two links by clicking them in rapid sequence to play in different browser tabs. If you make that happen, the soundtrack becomes a backing track to the whales (or vice versa?):



Admittedly it's a little late on Saturday night and I'm listening on headphones so as not to wake anyone up. And I'm in a mood, and might have descended a little more deeply into the humpback song / Icelandic film score mash-up zone than others might choose. Still, you might consider playing them both, from the beginning, starting at the same time.

There is also a very non-whale-ish piece of music, "On the Nature of Daylight", that is not a part of the movie's score, but serves as the underpinning of a key portion of the movie. (Written by Max Richter, who wrote the score for The Leftovers, speaking of haunting science fiction.) I recommend this also via YouTube link:


  1. 1993 Crying my eyes out for deaths that hadn't occurred yet. Yup.

    Lovely to read you again.


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