Aftermath: Arrival (2016)

I watched Arrival about a month back now, and I’ve still not fully wrapped my head around it.

What a movie. The best of 2016, possibly? Admittedly, I’ve not read the short story it’s based on. I will soon, though. I am curious about what exactly people are saying they’re disappointed with in the movie version.

Onwards, to what has me completely befuddled: what would you do if you knew the story of your life? If you knew exactly how each decision would turn out, would you make it anyway?

I wonder this a lot. Even before Arrival, even when not in the deepest depths of depression, I’ve wondered what I’d do differently with my life if, at the point of taking the plunge, I knew it would go this way. I won’t spoil the movie here, but the argument it puts forth is, basically, you should live your life as if the answer to the question of “would you have done it differently” is a resounding ‘no’. Is that mindful, complete living, or is that incredibly selfish when knowing that momentary happiness will come at the cost of infinite sorrow to you and others later?

Even while writing this, I’m trying to puzzle it out. I am deeply unhappy in my marriage. This is a fact obvious to even the occasional/rare reader of this blog. Would I decide not to get married, if I could “have a do over”? I’m not sure about that. I am today a very different person from the, yes, child that happily got married 6 years back. I am significantly more unhappy, but I am also significantly more mature. I have faced many challenges over the years and learned what not to do in many situations, unlearned many things and generally become a more balanced adult. I still have a long way to go, I think, but I am (mostly) proud of the person that I am today. I don’t know if I would have become this person if my life hadn’t proceeded the way that it did, but the lessons I have learned over the years are precious nevertheless.

Go watch the movie if you haven’t already. It makes you ask many more questions than this one, but I thought this was the most pertinent to address here.


Aftermath: Jurassic World (2015)

Following a strange confluence of events that prevented me from watching Jurassic World until the third attempt, I finally did.

It was a really fun experience that entertained me both as a standalone movie as well as a sequel 22 years post the first Jurassic Park with tons of throwbacks. At no point did I feel like it dragged; I actually wanted more slow moments that developed the characters further. The dinosaurs were as awe-inspiring as ever and the story quite fun although pretty much following the same beats as the original.

On to the primary non-scientific contentious subject: Claire Dearing, Bryce Dallas Howard’s character.

Claire is depicted as a no-nonsense workaholic who has lost sight of the softer side of life in her pursuit of an ever-better bottom line, for the company and her career. We meet her as this one-dimensional suit who we are instantly made to want to be eaten by some scary carnivorous giant. Over the course of the movie, our opinions are made to do a complete 180 and, by the end, we are rooting for her and cheering her victories and hoping she is all right coming out the other side.

From this point, there might be heavy spoilers so please don’t read further unless you have seen it or don’t care about spoilers.

Claire’s arc is to me the most important one of the movie (other than that of the Indominus Rex). Sure, Chris Pratt’s character is the action guy and sure, he has a semi-trained Raptor Pack he bikes with at one point. What character development did he get though? I suppose one could say he seemed more respectful of Claire by the end of the movie but that just brings us back full circle to Claire, the real human centre of this dinofest.

  • With the children – in the beginning, she actively avoids spending time with them, can’t fathom why anyone would make the time to have them and pawns her nephews off onto her assistant. After the Indominus Rex escapes, she eventually manages to remember that they were on the island too and then starts worrying for them. She is open with her affection when they reunite and ensures that she puts their safety ahead of her own. By the end, she saves the day and is emotionally open with the children as well as her sister.
  • With the dinosaurs – Claire consistently uses the word ‘asset’ to refer to the dinosaurs. To her, they are merely items in reports that have monetary value, and she is chastised by Owen for discounting them as simple animals. Over the course of the movie, she touches a dying Apatosaurus and experiences being outwitted and overpowered by smarter dinosaurs. Instead of rotting in the illusion-of-control hubris pit, she claws her way out and even realises she needs to use a dinosaur to fight a dinosaur. (Seriously, I said spoilers.)

    Jurassic Flare
    Looks like a pretty genuine “Holy shit, I’m really doing this, aren’t I” face to me.
  • With Owen Grady – it doesn’t seem like she thinks much of him at the beginning, but that quickly changes after he escapes from the I-Rex. She quickly recruits him to finding them and also accompanies him despite his insistence that she stay behind. She never inconveniences his efforts by “being a weaker woman” nor does she ever fall prey to hysterics. Her failings are those of any person and not attributable to her being female. She saves his butt a few times too (although he seems unable to respond other than with a cliché every time she surprises him). She is the one that attempts the grand self-sacrificing gesture at the end, which ends up saving the day. She walks off into the light with him not as a pretty adornment but as a badass mofo that would like to eat her cake now, thank you very much.
  • With her job – we are made to understand, sometimes with a club beating our heads, that she is a workaholic, by-the-rules corporate machine. Multiple male characters tell her to lighten up, and the one other reasonably established female character (human, at least – remember all the dinos are girls?) is her sister who shoves the clichéd “motherhood is for everyone” argument down her throat. She is quite serious about her work, attempting to regain control of the situation using the meagre tools she has been provided with. However, upon realising that her nephews are in danger, she accepts that other people can handle the park and that she has a higher priority to look after. She isn’t a one-dimensional, unthinking automaton, and we should stop treating her like an asset and start to see the person that she really is (so to speak).
  • With her shoes – ah, yes. I was surprised she kept them on, but more surprised by the amount of focus the internet has placed upon her shoes (the ones in the poster above). Having shown up to work that day in a white suit and nude heels, she is forced to keep both on as she fights for her life and those of the others’ as the manic situation unfolds over a few hours. I for one think it’s great that a female character was convincingly depicted as a badass while holding onto her femininity; she didn’t have to look like a man or learn kung-fu moves to increase her cool factor. Whether or not the people behind the movie considered this or just figured she had other things to think about besides accessorizing, I think it’s great that they focused on that little detail. Sure, she runs from a T-Rex in heels (which are not ‘high’ by any means), but this is a movie with living dinosaurs – I think the disbelief has been suspended sufficiently already. (Plus, that scene really is just recreating the iconic moments Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm lured the T-Rex with a flare – was anyone put out that they seemingly outsmarted Rexy?) I don’t think the height of their shoes are the crux of the argument here in any case. It also is a nice way to show how out of her depth she is in the jungle and this dinocalypse situation. Note to self: find out what brand they are.

I have this compulsive condition where I obsess over the female characters in movies, looking for the tiniest connections to their characters. It stems partly from my lack of certainty in myself and party from my constant search of a role model or guiding principle. The Claire character actually made me attempt to reassess my beliefs of what makes strong women and what makes a strong me beyond the physical, and I absolutely adore her for it. Serious kudos to Bryce Dallas Howard for portraying her with substance, and the writers/director for not side-lining her like Hollywood is usually tempted to. Who knew you could find self-realisation in a movie about giant prehistoric birds?

You talkin’ ’bout me?

Aftermath: Blackfish (2013)

This documentary has been referred to as a “psychological thriller”. That’s an interesting way to sell a non-fiction story but it is pretty true. Briefly, this movie depicts the plight of killer whales in captivity by focusing on Tilikum, a bull orca stolen away as a baby and raised in captivity by SeaWorld. He has experienced a difficult childhood, like a human child suffering in abusive foster homes, and has developed psychotic tendencies as an adult whale. He has killed a few humans, often in gruesome ways, yet he is used to breed more offspring that are sometimes kept and sometimes sold to other such waterparks. SeaWorld has in a vast majority of instances downplayed the dangerous nature of these creatures and the pitiful conditions they are kept in, and continues to draw in business. What the hell.

I have to be honest about this – it was a deeply disturbing movie and I cried at the end, a little bit. As children, we go watch these performing animals and enjoy seeing things that we may never see in the natural world ourselves. I really enjoyed watching Free Willy. But as knowledgeable adults aware of the problem, we keep encouraging these theme parks to continue existing and perpetrating atrocities against animals and the humans that work with them. It’s quite shocking to realise that SeaWorld is still making money (although at a progressive loss), more than 2 years after this movie was released!

It’s in a way good that I’ve finally watched Blackfish now, as I am going to watch Jurassic World tomorrow. Massive predators kept in captivity for human entertainment, and specifically a mosasaur (not exactly a dinosaur, more an actual prehistoric water lizard) treated like a performing killer whale, leaping out of the water for a shark hanging as bait. Yes, the dinosaurs aren’t cute enough to garner sympathy like the orcas are, perhaps, but they are certainly fearsome enough to deserve our respect and a healthy dose of “better left alone”. I am certainly curious about how that movie will handle this subject.