Hahahahahaaaa! Hell of a week, am I right? Ha! JESUS SHITTING CHRIST.
There are things we can do to make this better.
These things will come in time: Marching. Volunteering what time and money we can to progressive organizations and causes. Speaking out—and, more importantly, listening. Engaging with politics not once every four years on a national level, but on a day-to-day, right-in-your-neighborhood level. Financially supporting independent news organizations and the elements of a free press that keep all of us informed, that do the work no one else can or will.
Those are some of the things that will help—that will help all of us, and help our country, and help the world. But there's something else, too, that offers a different kind of help: The art that we consume and create. The statements and images and sounds that speak to us and change the way we think, be it for a few minutes or a few hours or a few years.
Great art has a tendency to change the way we think for even longer than that. I'm going to suggest, here, that Denis Villeneuve's new film Arrival is great art, even though I've only seen it once, and even though it's only just now opening in theaters. A year from now, or five, or 10, who knows—maybe Arrival's impact and beauty will have faded. It's a long game, figuring out what actually ends up mattering decades down the line.
But I can say that I saw Arrival on Monday night, and—as Tuesday night slowly curdled, as the Mercury's supposedly fun party at the Doug Fir grew quieter and quieter, as I kept fielding reports from Mercury reporters around the city—I kept coming back to Arrival. It was a strange juxtaposition, trying to decipher red-and-blue splotched maps of America, and scanning CNN chyrons and FiveThirtyEight updates, and then, every once in a while, seeing one of the surreal images from Arrival floating in front of my eyes: a towering, slate-gray spaceship hanging over a green-grassed field, its pilots and cargo inscrutable and unknown.
Arrival is about the unknown, and the known, and great and sudden change. It's about how to survive in those times, from the first moments of panic to beyond.
I'm not going to tell you much more—there's more in my review of Arrival, if you want to read that. I will say that Arrival is a tricky, challenging film to watch, both emotionally and intellectually, and I'll also say that I walked out of it feeling differently about life than I had two hours before. I was glad that I saw it before Tuesday; even now, it seems uncanny to me that the film is coming out this week, of all weeks. Arrival isn't explicitly about this week (I mean, I guess this week isn't over yet, and an alien invasion would only be the second-most surprising thing to happen this week, so maybe I'm speaking too soon), but it is about the things that have run like undercurrents through this week's news: Fear and hope. Joy and doom. Perspective. Communication, and failures thereof.
This is, no doubt, a very likely chance that I'm building Arrival up too much—I'm sure plenty of people who see it will just shrug, or will think it's boring or sappy or self-important or any of the other criticisms people lob at art that doesn't work for them. And that's okay! All that anyone who writes about film can do is write about how it affects them—no critic is an actual arbiter of what works or what doesn't. I don't mean to raise Arrival up to impossible heights, and I certainly can't guarantee you'll feel and think the same things I did as I watched it, and as I turned it over in my head the hours and days following. Hell, I'm not even sure I can convince you to go, given that it's a hard movie to talk about without giving important aspects of it away.
This I can say with confidence, though: Art helps us through scary and ominous times. And seeing scary and ominous times in our art—and, in Arrival's case, seeing how creatures both like us and unlike us respond to those stresses, those changes—can offer not only much-needed solace but much-needed perspective. Right now the facts matter, and the news matters—but so do stories. Especially great stories—the ones that help us both think and feel, that give us a break from the real world even as they help us live in it.