Think about the last movie you saw. What was your favorite part? Did it have a remarkable oh-my-god-my-brain ending? Or, was the ending disappointing, leaving you with a bittersweet taste in your mouth from a fantastic story that fell short? In this series, we’ll look at critically acclaimed movies with less than perfect endings that left audiences puzzled, asking themselves “Wait… but he… what?” I’ll talk about what I love about these movies and where they fall short. If you haven’t gathered by now, spoilers ahead.
Arrival takes the age old sci-fi concept “Why the hell are there a bunch of aliens on Earth,” and gives us a fresh spin with unique alien designs, fantastic set design and one hell of a score from the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. The story follows linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) as she attempts to communicate with the mysterious “Heptapods” by translating their written language. It is worth noting that the ominous design of the aliens and their simplistic ships are nothing short of artistic genius. The Heptapods are massive black creatures with the upper body of an armless Dementor and the lower body of a seven tentacled squid, and the ships, well the ships are harder to describe. Bob Lazar, a famous (yet widely controversial) scientist who has claimed for decades he worked on alien ships for the government (stay with me), once discussed the feeling he had when he first walked onto an alien craft. He said, “It’s a very ominous feeling. Everything is one color, it’s a dark pewter color. There are no right angles anywhere. Everything looks like its fused together, it’s a really weird looking thing. There was almost nothing other than a small foldable hatchway that looked recognizable. Everything was really unworldly.” Regardless of what you think of Bob and his story, I don’t have a better explanation for how the aliens and ships in Arrival made me feel.
As the plot develops, we find out the Heptapods have come to Earth to give us the gift of their language, which when learned, grants the user a view into…time…kinda? Yeah. This is shown to us through glimpses to what were originally presented as flashbacks, though later in the movie it is shown they were actually flash forwards into Dr. Banks’ future with her love interest Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and their child. The Heptapods’ reasoning for giving humanity this gift is that in 3,000 years they will need our help with a problem or event that is never described or referenced again in the movie. In the final sequence of the film there are several flashes to Dr. Banks losing her husband/baby daddy because he couldn’t accept that she knew their unconceived baby was going to die from cancer as a pre-teen, Dr. Banks meeting a Chinese military figure in the future crucial to the plot in the present, and her teaching this new language at her university after this event has ended. Wow, what a clusterf***.
Let’s go piece by piece. These aliens come to Earth, teach us a language that lets us peer into time, and basically say “Okay, be back in 3,000 years for your help, glad we could come and effectively change the entire course of humanity, see you around.” If they could truly see into the future, why would they need our help? I think the writers are leaving far too much to the audience to wonder. Next, if all of this happened, and Ian (baby daddy) was around for all of it, how could he not accept that his wife could peer into time? Sure, it’s difficult to grasp the concept of seeing time in a non-linear way, but separating himself from her, while their daughter was going through cancer treatments for this reason doesn’t make sense to me. I’m not even going to get into the part where she meets someone in the future and doesn’t remember him, only for him to give her crucial information to the plot in the present. If you don’t understand that sentence, welcome to Arrival, a beautiful, unique film that fell flat on its face right before the credits rolled.