The nature of time
"Yes my life is better left to chance; I could have missed the pain but I'd have had to miss the dance." — Garth Brooks, "The Dance."
The new film "Arrival" is about aliens making contact with earth. In the course of our interactions, they come to give us a gift. And that gift is a new approach to time. In other words, those like Amy Adams' character who can understand their language no longer are bound to linear time.
As part of the film, we see a timeline for Adams' character. She gets married and has a daughter. Her marriage breaks up, and her daughter dies of a terminal illness. It's a sad story we see play out before the rest of the story of the film. It's only at the end that we realize these are events that happened afterward and, being able to travel along the timeline at will, Adams' character knows this will happen if she follows a certain path.
In the end, she chooses that path anyway. Her decision is that the joy of the relationship and her daughter's short life outweighs the personals strife and suffering she'll endure. She knows precisely what will happen and does it anyway.
It presents a fascinating issue to consider. It reminds me of the Garth Brooks song, "The Dance," which has always been so poignant. The premise of the song — much like the film — is what would you do if you knew what was going to happen and it was bad. The music video shows people like JFK and Martin Luther King, Jr. The ultimate message of the song is that there's beauty in the journey, even if there's pain in the destination.
That, too, is what you leave "Arrival" feeling. There's a beauty in the journey, even though there's pain and sorrow in the destination. And ultimately Adams' character chooses to embrace the journey, clinging to love, rather than simply avoiding the pain she knows is coming.
It's a beautiful and touching idea, one that I found quite moving and challenging. And it's one of the reasons that "Arrival" is unlike any movie I've seen this year, in a good way.