TIFF16 DAY SIX: ALIENS & VOLCANOES

ARRIVAL (DENIS VILLNEUVE)

We’ve seen it time and time again. Alien life has found us and we fight them off. We will spend approximately 10-15 minutes of screen time being curious, then the bullets will whiz by.

However, what if instead we had a whole film just about trying to talk to them. Trying to learn their language and understand — truly understand — what is it they wanted and why they came here.

This film is quite possibly the most optimistic film I’ve seen in my life. So much of our films are combative in nature, because it’s easier to have a satisfying ending that way film-wise, and that’s our history. In every story ever told about man discovering somewhere new and coming upon indigenous people it’s followed up by mass-genocide and attempting to take that land from them. Therefore all of our alien films have attempted to comment on this horrible part of our history by making us the less evolved indigenous people.

Arrival allows us to sit with this fear while watching on as we open diplomatic relations with these aliens. Even though the big build up has nothing to do with conflict but rather getting to the point where we can ask “What is your purpose here?” and be able to understand their response. It’s a magnificent way to discuss nuclear fears. At the same time we watch on as all the other world powers: China; Russia; Pakistan; etc.; are trying to do the same and you’re hoping for once all these countries can work together to have a peaceful outcome to this process.

Villneuve makes the process of Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) breaking down language and learning and teaching into the sort of science we never thought it was. Constantly I’ve criticized the English language as being a bastard language which picks  and chooses random things to throw in constantly. However, the meticulous nature with how we’re presented a systematic manner by which to learn and break down language is fascinating to me.

The only issue I noted had to deal with the final act. I didn’t quite love how it turned when it brought in even more science fiction into the fray. However, it’s interesting nonetheless. I feel the journey there is a lot more worth it than any sort of big finale I could’ve imagined for a film liked this.

INTO THE INFERNO (WERNER HERZOG)

What makes me so loving of Herzog’s work is his sincere curiosity of this world. At times I wonder which he’s more interested in, how man interacts with nature; or how nature pushes back against man’s interaction.

This time out he and Clive Oppenheimer, a volcanologist, goes around the world looking at the volcanoes of the world and how the locals are monitoring and concerned with them. At times he will be talking to tribal leaders who discuss the volcano in a spiritual sense and others he’ll be talking to scientists and historians discussing measures put in place and what happened before. It is not so much a study of nature as it is how we manage to live in the face of nature.

We sit in our seats looking into the mouth of the volcano as the magma bubbles and stirs about and we are in awe as so much of the natural feats that Herzog has given us over the years. Herzog asks us whether that magma is life or just another part of this earth that is there to take ours eventually.

This film is not just a document of Herzog’s curiousity; but also a look at the people and our wish to recognize these heroes who look into that boiling magma everyday to find out more and eventually save lives from knowing more than they did the day before. Add on top of that all of Herzog’s philosophical lyrics and you have a great 90 minutes of nature documentation.

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Author: Andrew Robinson

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