We saw this movie a couple of weeks ago, after I had a bad day and needed an escape. That’s what I got, even if the various early scenes of global turmoil in the face of species-wide fear and uncertainty felt especially raw right now, given everything. We both loved it, and we talked about it for days afterwards. We talked about it more with friends at a party we attended yesterday. This movie affected us.
Amy accompanied me as a favor, expecting something emptily nerdy, but found herself delighted at an achingly human story of choice and consequence that mirrored the classical tragedies she holds dear. It reminded her especially of Oedipus Rex, and on reflection it seems on one level like its antithesis: Amy Adams’ character chooses to accept the future foretold rather than fight against it, and all the beauty of the film flows from this decision, even with the pain that accompanies it. Looked at through that lens, another friend remarked that it demonstrated an eastern philosophy of embracing hurt versus the more western stance of raging resistance, and showed how this gives an ending of subtle grace rather than tearful irony.
Beyond its objective aesthetic, the film felt all the more deeply personal to us from coincidental resonance with recent trauma, as smaller-scale as you can get from the either horrors in the news or the tragedy that the movie’s characters face. Days before we saw Arrival, we had a harrowing weekend with our cat, and we too found ourselves making some difficult decisions about a little loved one in the face of inevitability.
Something had gone wrong inside Ada, the week prior, and her belly had inflated like a warm water ballon. She didn’t seem terribly bothered by this, and we had a full Thanksgiving travel-schedule, so we waited until Friday afternoon before seeing the vet — who reacted with alarm. They didn’t know what had happened within Ada, but an x-ray revealed a terribly enlarged heart, and drawing a sample of the strange fluid revealed it as mixed with blood. It seemed something like heart failure, which in cats often expresses itself with the appearance of a choking fluid, but almost always in the chest, interfering with the lungs. Its presence in the abdomen — where it just sat, vaguely annoying the cat at worst — perplexed the vet, but did not lessen their concern.
Ada had a history of heart problems, and despite all the special medicine and attention we’d given this middle-aged cat over the last couple of years, her vet feared that we now witnessed the beginning of her end — even if a little off-script. They gave us a choice: rush her to a trauma vet elsewhere in the state, or euthanize her immediately, while she still felt comfortable and ignorant of what was likely a rapidly progressing disease. Thunderstruck, we chose the former option, if for no other reason than to give us more time to process all this.
After three days full of frequent consultation with the frank and caring professionals there, the animal hospital discharged Ada, shaken and shivering from all the places they had to shave her fur for ultrasounds and IV insertions, and to drain that fluid away. The doctor assigned to her puzzled out her strange case as the heart failure her primary vet feared, just expressing itself in a remarkably rare fashion (and one that proved far less painful to the cat, in a stroke of cold comfort.) Ada came back to us, but with a poor prognosis, a more complex medical regimen than ever, and a written list of all the possible final failure states likely to find her in the too-near future. And we took her back in, and as I write this we still hold her.
We could have let her go, at the start of all that, and spared her the pain — however brief — that probably crouches in her future. (To say nothing of the extra expense in attention and money that we have chosen to take on.) But keeping her with us, letting her live in love and comfort until her inarguable last moments, felt right, even though every person involved can clearly see that our little one does not have a long future. Over and after that weekend, Amy and I would spontaneously reassure each other that we were making the right choice, and we couldn’t help but see the film — and the choices made by its main character — as a beautiful, accidental affirmation.