Last night Moonlight‘s Barry Jenkins won the WGA’s Best Original Screenplay award (even though it’s based on an unproduced drama school project by Tarell Alvin McCraney) and Arrival‘s Eric Heisserer won for Best Adapated Screenplay. By HE’s yardstick neither film really knocks it out of the park. Moonlight is good enough as far as it goes but calm down. I’m actually blown away that a majority of WGA members thought Moonlight was superior to Kenneth Lonergan‘s Manchester By The Sea screenplay…c’mon. And the Arrival screenplay is fairly close to infuriating. If you had told me right after my first viewing of Arrival at Telluride last September, which was not my idea of a joyous occasion, that the screenplay would take a WGA award, I would have said “get outta here.”
Posted last November: “Eric Heisserer‘s Arrival screenplay (based on Ted Chiang‘s short story titled ‘Story of Your Life’) is about Banks embracing the Heptapod’s non-linear attitudes about time, which means on some level that…I don’t know what the fuck it means.
“But it has something to do with Banks’ deceased daughter, whom he see in an endless stream of memory excerpts. And whether that tragedy of disease and early death resides in the past or future or whatever. It’s kind of like what the Trafalmadorians taught Billy Pilgrim about time in Slaughterhouse Five — that each and every incident has always existed, that there is no past or future, etc.”
“That sounds trippy and cool, especially with Kurt Vonnegut having advanced this notion, this dream of eternal, non-sequential, overlapping time realms existing in seamless harmony between the past, the present and the future.
“But when Sir Isaac Newton dropped the apple and watched it fall to the ground, there’s no way the apple ascended back into Newton’s grip a minute or an hour or a day later. That one drop was it — never repeated. If you were with me right now and I picked up a can of apple spice Febreze and threw it onto my couch, this event could never, ever be repeated either. I could throw it onto the couch 750 times and each time the event would be different. I could think back fondly some day to that time back in 2016 when I threw the can of Febreze, etc., but I couldn’t return to any one of those individual instances. The Febreze can-flinging is over and done with. Like everything else it happened as part of a random but perfect sequence of events, a sequence that will continue to happen like spark plugs flashing and snapping inside The Spirit of St. Louis as Charles Lindbergh makes his way across the Atlantic toward Paris. And if someone were to drop a small beaker of ice-nine into the Atlantic as Lindbergh is flying above, you can bet that would be a one-time occurence, and boy, would Lindbergh be upset when he lands at Le Bourget field on 5.21.27! Once, I mean. Just that one time.
“All to say that Arrival and the Heptapods and Amy Adams‘ character are, no offense, gently full of shit about time.”