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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Women’s Day Special: Arrival is a riveting tale of a strong and vulnerable woman

For many, Arrival is a science-fiction movie but, bracketing it thus, we remove its possibilities. It is following a straight path, when all Arrival did was break the norm, bending in strange, mysterious ways as it took its audience for a ride of a lifetime.

Written by Anvita Singh | New Delhi |
March 8, 2021 8:23:19 am
arrivalArrival features Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker in pivotal parts. (Photo: Sony Pictures)

Amy Adams-starrer Arrival is not the most obvious choice when discussing feminist, powerful women-led films. But it should be. Helmed by Denis Villeneuve, the 2016 release won critical and commercial acclaim along with prestigious award nominations. For many, Arrival is a science-fiction movie but by bracketing it thus, we remove its possibilities. It is following a straight path, when all Arrival did was break the norm, bending in strange, mysterious ways as it took its audience for a ride of a lifetime. Among many things that Arrival is, it is an impactful, deeply emotional narrative of a woman called Dr Louise Banks. Arrival is ‘a story that Banks tells her daughter Hannah,’ as Adams had once said during an interaction with The Hollywood Reporter.

It has been almost half a decade since Arrival released, so there will be spoilers here. Arrival is about a skilled linguist, Dr Louise Banks, who is hired by the American government to figure out why a black, half-spherical UFO was hovering in Montana. At least 11 similar spacecrafts had descended in various parts of the world, alarming citizens everywhere. Who were these beings and what was their purpose? Along with Jeremy Renner’s Ian Donnelly, Louise decides to throw herself into the project. And when she emerges out of it, she is no longer the same person. I am not saying that Arrival changed me as a viewer, but I do remember feeling quite overwhelmed after finishing the movie. What had just happened? It had definitely changed my perception of the science-fiction genre, female characters and men writing and directing multidimensional female-led films. For here was a woman as if entirely insensitive to the male gaze in the most wondrous of ways. Here was a woman character who was not just smart, she was intelligent, strong and a little messed up. Someone who took both right and wrong decisions and followed her instinct to the T.

Louise Banks was afraid of what lied ahead, she was scared of facing the aliens, but she did not let her fear interfere with her curiosity and her generosity, as both a professional and a human being. Despite knowing the future, she lived her life like anyone else, always a little torn between the past, present and future. And what a delight was Amy Adams as Louise! So, so believable, relatable and complex. Surrounded by a score of men who always seemed to silently mock her and question her decisions, Louise struggled. Here the men were not monsters, there is no ‘villain’ in Arrival, which is what makes Louise so interesting. She had to fight an invisible enemy, which at different turns took different shapes — sometimes the nemesis was the somewhat sexist environment she had to work in, sometimes it was her own brilliant mind.

Two of Arrival’s most moving sequences are when Louise finally meets the ‘male’ heptapod Costello in person and the climax of the film. The former is weirdly chilling and affirmative at the same time. It is here that all the preparations Louise had been making in her head to face the alien gets tested. That right mix of fear, sentimentality and bravado that Amy brings to Louise’s character is a sight to behold. Every little twitch of the face, the bulging of the eyes, and the altogether unrestful body language accurately conveys what must have been going in Louise’s mind at the moment. And then there is the final act of the film. Just a long stretch of tying loose ends and realisations where Louise once again shows, this time in a bigger way, how driven was she by her longings and impulses. She chooses a bittersweet future instead of a tomorrow that may not have been marred by death and misfortune. Arrival is made up of many such little moments, and Louise Banks is the one who fills those spaces with her vigour and passion.

Arrival is available to stream on YouTube and Netflix.

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