The movie ARRIVAL was nominated for eight Academy Awards at the 2017 Oscar’s celebration. It brought home the win for Best Sound Editing, which makes sense considering it’s a film about language and communication – not to mention Aliens. However, it wasn’t the movie’s impressive cinematography or audio that captured my attention. As a parent – and a bereaved mom – I was captivated for a different reason.
I have three living children ranging from seven-years-old to one. My second born, Zachary, who would have been six now; however, he died in my arms at birth in 2010. Since becoming a parent – and especially in the wake of losing Zach – I avoid films that contain suspense, horror and intense drama and movies that involve torture, abuse, kidnappings, and other forms of brutality don’t sit well with me either. What I have learned from all my children, Zachary included is how truly precious life is. I’m a sensitive person, and even fictional representations of violence and evil cause me pain. Instead, I try to fill the visual palette of my mind with uplifting stories that inspire.
Our neighborhood babysitter recommended ARRIVAL one night as my husband, and I returned home from an evening out. She had seen the movie the day before with her friends and praised it for its interesting storyline. I wasn’t sure if I shared her taste in current culture, but over the Christmas holidays, my hubby and I decided to give ARRIVAL a try.
I wanted to stop watching the movie during the first ten minutes. ARRIVAL began by setting the stage for the illness and the eventual death of the daughter of Louise Banks (Amy Adams). I kept whispering to my husband, “I don’t want to watch a movie about a child dying!” That story is my reality, and I didn’t want to experience it all over again over a bag of buttery popcorn.
I saw my own sorrow reflected so perfectly in the pale, tired expressions of Louise. I saw myself in her outward strength, caring for everyone else – and the palpable exhaustion of grief. I saw the mother’s love which would do anything for her child and then the devastation that followed when it all proved not enough – there were so many similarities between Louise and myself. Over the last six years, I sojourned through the valley of the shadow of death and had come out on the other side. Still, I didn’t enjoy a Saturday movie night reminding me of all that I had endured and lost.
ARRIVAL’s narrative shifted after the first ten-ish minutes, so I stuck it out. It appeared that the loss was in the past and now Louise was a single woman marching on in the present, suddenly thrown into the perfect distraction for her grief. I was not surprised when she stepped into harm’s way to communicate with the Aliens, called Heptapods; she had no one left to live for.
Spoiler alerts ahead.
Once Louise began utilizing her linguistic expertise with the Aliens, her memories of her daughter started to reappear. By the end of the movie, we realize, with shivers of awed awareness, that we had in fact been watching her future (though the Heptapods were actually trying to show that time is not linear at all). Through Louise’s interactions with the two aliens on their ship, which hovered above a vast space in Montana, she began to experience their omniscient understanding – all knowing – and thus, she finally comprehended the Heptapods’ message. In 3,000 years something would happen and everyone needed to be prepared.
The impending situation three kiloyears in the future was not what profoundly affected me. It was what would happen within the next ten years that spoke volumes. That was where ARRIVAL got parenting exactly right.
When looking into the future, Louise saw what was to come in her life. She would unite with her fellow scientist, Jeremy Renner, played by Ian Donnelly, and they would conceive a child. That little girl, named Hannah (which is creepy for me because my oldest is also named Hannah), would not recover from a devastating cancer. Jeremy would be angry and walk-out on Louise since she knew that this would happen and did not tell him and he would have chosen a different path if he had known.
Everyone is different, but I Louise’s decision resonated with me. Even though my family and I have had years of heartache mourning Zachary and figuring out our “new normal” after such a loss, I would make a similar decision as the protagonist of ARRIVAL rival. Even knowing the outcome, if I had the choice, I would still conceive and carry Zachary. I love my son. Present tense. I treasure his life, no matter how brief. My kids are my everything.
What has become abundantly clear to me since Zach’s death is that love can never be torn away from a person, or a parent, no matter what happens. Love lives on. This loss is a precious gift. (If I had the ability, however, to change the outcome, so my child lived, I would do that without hesitation.)
I wept at the end of ARRIVAL. It moved me. It allowed me to pause and appreciate all that has happened to my family and me; all the good that came out of the bad, which I now believe is Zach’s legacy in the world. The movie also opened the space for me to pause in gratitude for all my children, Hannah, Zachary, Eden, and Luca; and for the joy of being Mom. (And, I must admit, the sixteen-year-old babysitter has better taste in movies than I expected.)