Arrival Review & Analysis: An Understanding In A Full Circle

Language is the foundation of civilization. It is a glue that holds people together, and it is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”




That line is quoted by Dr. Ian Donnelly (played by Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist, from Dr. Louise Banks’ thesis (played superbly by Amy Adams), an advanced linguist, when they first meet each other on a helicopter trip arranged and led by a US military leader, Colonel Weber (played by Forest Whitaker) for a mission to making a contact with 12 strange shaped unidentified objects contain a race of alien (which are later called, The Heptapods) that suddenly appeared in 12 countries on Earth. The brief, but keen-witted, scene is from Arrival—the latest feature directorial work from Denis Villeneuve, a French-Canadian filmmaker—a movie based on an award-winning science-fiction-existentialist novella, Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang released in 1999.

The first time I watched Arrival in theater, I was not automatically connected. I knew it’s a film with the tremendous level of techniques and details. I understand the movie, but I found it was not entirely explicable.

It was the time on my way home when I was struck with some kind of consciousness. The imageries from Arrival lingered on my mind and they were getting stronger and stronger each time. The film was like calling me to come back to it. Like the line Amy Adams’ character repeatedly said in the opening sequence, “Come back to me… come back to me”. It was like a plea, solicitation, and even a prayer. But, I didn’t immediately fathom what’s so fascinating and exciting about the movie.

And then I went for a repeat viewing, a day after I watched it for the first time. I let go my imagination, I absorbed the details, and the most important thing was I dismissing my ego.

And then that was it, the moment of enlightenment. I reached an understanding, in a full circle. Now, I don’t only like the movie, but I’m awe-struck by it. Arrival is a rare movie, these days in an era of films with futuristic setting misinterpreted as sci-fi, wrapped by the accountable using of science and knowledge. It’s a movie with almost no gimmicks because every little detail counts. It trusts our intellectual to digest and to interpret. It’s not only a great sci-fi movie. It’s a great movie.

The story of Arrival is the story of Amy Adams’ Louise Banks.  It follows her journey, a kind of spiritual one, to find the meaning of her existence. But, it ends up as an extraordinary spiritual journey that not only succeeds in revealing her fate, but also the core of human existence, through language.

I’ve read the novella on which Arrival is based. Although Arrival delivers the same energy and emotion like the novella does, the way it tells its story is unlike its source material. Arrival tells its story in the manner of non-linear orthography language. What is that actually? Orthography is a set of rules about the way a language is written including spelling, emphasis, and punctuation. Bahasa Indonesia and English, for instance, are linear orthographies since we write and read it from left to right. Arab language, even though it works in the opposite mechanism to English and Indonesia, also belongs to linear orthography category. Because those three languages have such clear rules about how and when a word or a sentence begins and ends.

A non-linear orthography language, contrariwise, has no clear guides when a word or a sentence begins and ends. The language of the heptapods aliens in Arrival is also non-linear orthography which is written in circular puffs of dark smoke produced by their tentacles, with no beginning or no end.  Their language has no alphabets or scripts. The creatures from outer space in this movie communicate with logogram, a collection of symbols formed a circle that can stand for a word, an entire sentence, or feeling. Since the aliens themselves don’t experience linear time, their logograms can put words in any order without changing the meaning of the message. Arrival gives us a series of information about the events occur in this movie like the logogram, as if it’s in a loop of Aristotle’s Theory of Causality, which is the beginning and the ending; the cause and the effect, and both of them exist at the same time. The words of “beginning” and “cause” represent the past, as both of them refer to the preceding events or the start. The words of “ending” and “effect” reflect the future, as they refer to the following events or the finish line. Arrival makes us experience its entirety of the thought, emotion, perception, and reason all at once in tandem with the past and the future, not just in an intertwining or progressive order.

Language is indeed the key word in this movie, a very powerful noun whose multiple functions, such: as a tool of communication, either written or spoken or using body gestures or signs or signals or even through a series of imageries; as one of ways of knowing (the others are included emotion, perception, and reason); and as the weapon, like the line quoted by Ian Donnelly. This movie even merges its functions since it communicates with us and, at the same time, provokes our ways of knowing through cinema as its language.

The concept of language and communication is even used in the attention-grabbing and emotional opening sequence montage which is accompanied by On A Nature of Daylight, strings quintet score by British composer, Mark Richter, which is also used in Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island—that shows a brief encounter of the cycle of a young girl’s life, guided by the whispering narration by Amy Adams’ Louise Banks.  The way she whispers her words is like a lullaby, an apostrophe, and a sonnet all at once. She is questioning the concept of existence in a lyrical, forlorn, personal and motherly way. She longs for something and wants it to return to her belongings, something that she is meant to be. And there’s no better music than Richter’s in substantiating the emotional element of the sequence.

But what is it she longing for?

I used to think it was the beginning of your story. Memory is a strange thing. It doesn’t work like I thought it did. We are so bound by time; by its order…”, Adam’s Louise Banks starts her story.

The montage sequence whose structure like vignettes is a brief summary of a life: a baby is born, grows up into a young girl, and then suffers an unidentified illness before she finally passes away. It is the most emotional and heartbreaking opening montage only second to the dramatic Michael Giacchino’s waltz-esque score brought us to tears through the opening sequence of Pixar’s Up.

The opening sequence, shot in Terence Malick’s Tree of Life aesthetic, also shows an evolution of language as a means of communication through the speaking voice or the facial expressions: from the moment of happiness of a mother in welcoming her newly-born-baby; the moment of togetherness of a little child and her mother while they’re playing in a grassy yard and sharing some laughter; the moment of intimacy when the little daughter says, “I love you” to her mother; the moment when the little kid yells, “I hate you” angrily to her mother; to the moment of grief and sorrow when both of them are facing the hardest time of their life. The sequence shows us how language evolves along with the development of the brain, physical and emotional of the daughter with her mother, Louise Banks. But camera focuses its shot on the daughter, following her evolution in adapting language and expression as a tool of communication. The mother is her audience.

But now I’m not so sure I believe in beginnings and endings. There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived”, by these sentences, Louise Banks gets her understanding about what actually happens.

But, we’re still looking for what the movie is talking about as scene by scene goes by.

Louise Banks’ whispery voice over performs the function of the epigraph, which is commonly found in the preamble of a book or in a chapter whose intention to suggest its theme or even the entire of the story. Arrival is a Villenueve’s film, which means there are a lot of his cinematic trademarks in it. The way the opening sequence is being presented in this film reminiscent of Villeneuve’s cinematic demeanor.

Villeneuve is well known for his tendency to approaching film in the same way we write an article or story. In writing, the first sentence should be something that grabs the reader’s attention. Villenueve uses his first scenes or sequences to establish a tone and draw in audiences immediately. Or in literature we call it epigraph. Typically, his opening sequence is very important in the context of the entire film, but the real meaning or value of it is not always apparent or obvious until much later.

In his Enemy (2013) — coincidentally resembles the theme of alien encounters –, for instance, opens with a line that functions as the epigraph from Jose Saramago’s The Double, the novel on which the movie is based.

Chaos is order, yet undeciphered”

The epigraph in Enemy actually suggests that there are some senses of clues of it if we only know how it can be deciphered. The opening line, then, is followed by an intriguing and provoking scene, which takes place at a sex show, the kind of show we also find in Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden. Later, in the same scene, we see our first spider (I assume it’s a black widow spider), crawling out of a golden shiny tray and then we see a lady’s foot is about to step on it, intentionally and consciously. For you who have already watched Enemy will understand the connection between the epigraph, the opening scene, and the mind-blowing ending.

The aforementioned illustration exemplifies how Villeneuve utilizes his opening scenes to hint at a reoccurring theme and message in his films.

Arrival is no exception.

His preference for maximizing the technique of editing mixes up the conscious with the subconscious in his narrative. He unfurls the underlying message in dialogues or unexpected extreme close-up shots on, we might think at first, a random object. Villeneuve also often features music or score while the camera gradually tracks away from a scenic shot into a more structured one, by alternating shots with contrasting ones in order to bring audiences into a forced perspective. Without context, his creative decision would get audiences confused, but he combines it with music, cinematography, camera movement, and facial expressions on the actor to make a powerful statement. The result is, instead of being disoriented, audiences will anticipate many important aspects to come throughout the entire of the movie, because Villeneuve’s opening scene establish important aspects of his films such as setting, the topic, and the tone. In short, every little detail in his film counts.

Another Villeneuve’s signature technique we can find in Arrival is the exertion of mystery. He always purposely restricts the perspective of his films to his main character(s) to create a puzzle. With this set-up, his characters are searching for the answers, and so are the audiences. This set-up also helps to bring a twist forth at the end of the story, where, if we once reach the end of the story, we would get the comprehensive understanding about the previous events shown in the opening sequence. It means that most of Villeneuve’s films have a full cycle.

The camera works by Bradford Young (cinematographer for Selma, A Most Violent Year) is brilliant here. He uses Amy Adams’ face as a canvas of observation, continuing Villeneuve’s cinematic traces, and inviting us to study her contour of emotions.

There’s a riveting scene in Arrival of which showing why Amy Adams, 5 times Oscar nominees, is the perfect actor for the leading cast in this movie. The scene is when Adams’ Louise Banks and her students first finding out about aliens encounter. One of her students asks her to turn the screen into television as breaking news program reporting the unusual events. In typical using of news footages in films, the camera will shoot the television. But, in Arrival, Young’s camera chooses to observe Louise Banks’ reaction and put her in a separate blocking with her students while the voice of news anchor is echoing and giving us the information, but also isolating her character. We can see how Louise Banks as a respected linguist absorbs the information and digests it through Amy Adams interpretation.

The scene continues Villeneuve’s tradition of shooting his main character in isolation shots. Before the aforementioned scene, Young’s camera follows Louise Banks as she enters the campus where she is lecturing. She walks straight and adamantly, even she is passing through some boisterous and curious crowds who are watching breaking-news programs. The camera isolates her from the crowd to indicate that she is a very focus lady. She once looks toward the crowds, shows some curiosity, but she keeps on walking to her class. This series of isolation shots establish Louise Banks’ character status, that later on, be revealed in a conversation.

Arrival is a compact and elegant film. Its pace is slow, as it unveils its mystery steadily. This movie builds the conflict and tension through communication, debates, and arguments surrounding the meaning of heptapods’ writings. The conflict is based on “lost in translation”. This movie is also involving a geopolitics issue, like we once saw in Eye in the Sky, as the heptapods landed on 12 different countries. Audiences who expect some spectacled combats between aliens and humans will get disappointed. But, once again, this movie is aimed as the nutrition for your brain, not only as a feast to your eyes.

I’m intrigued by how the heptapods space crafts are designed. These 1500 feet black monolith-alike space crafts resemble sloping half-ovals (a line and a circle at once) and each spacecraft is a detached entity. They’re like 12 separated-pieces waiting to be united. The number of 12 symbolizes the time. The clock which has the form of a full circle. In my theory, those 12 spacecrafts represent a variety of big cultures on Earth and together they will form an enormous full circle. Like the mechanism of time that always repeating itself or like the heptapods’ language, or like the structure of this movie.

I read this insightful book, The Symbolic Species: The Co-Evolution of Language and the Brain, in which Terence Deacon noted, “In this context, then, consider the case of human language. It is one of the most distinctive behavioral adaptations on the planet. Languages evolved in only one species, in only one way, without precedent, except in the most general sense. And the difference between languages and all other natural modes of communicating are vast,”

Arrival provokes the same topic as Deacon’s book implies. The main idea is questioning the concept of language to influence someone’s behavior and personality, mannerly or culturally, by which one changes his/her pattern of action to better suits the new environment.

I speak fluently in three languages: Indonesia, as my native language; English, the language I started speaking when I was 10 years old; and French, the language I started to learn when I was 14 years old. I rarely use it on a daily basis, but French influences how I interpret art and food, as my fascination for French began to develop since I attended a ballet class in my childhood.

I feel that my personality can be split into three different cultures and the way I express myself, more often than not, is only able to be channeled through a language only. For example, when I enjoy a product of high art (beaux arts/art majeur), I would use French to express myself. Otherwise, I would speak or write in English to express my ideas about mass art (pop culture) and I would use Indonesia to have a conversation about daily life, as the majority of my friends speak this language.

I also tend to sing better in English or French. But mastering three languages have helped me to understand three different cultures comprehensively. There were many times when I burst into laugh watching a French movie, while the other audiences didn’t laugh at all. My point is there is a barrier in language as a means of communication. The way humans languages evolving have their own flaws, as they require the speakers and the recipients to agree on every part of the process, including the interpretation which needs a whole understanding about the context and the culture all at once, instantly.

Deacon’s book and Arrival intrigue me with the basic question I once had when I was younger about, “What was the first human language like before it evolved into thousand of languages we find today? Is it possible that someday, in the future, our languages going to merge into one and universal language? A language sans frontiere?

As Amy Adams’ Louise Banks gets a better understanding of Heptapods language, she begins to envision her future. Does it mean mastering Heptapods language help her to be a clairvoyant? I’m not sure. But, in my theory, the ability to see beyond the time is a part of Heptapods culture and the way they’re thinking. Like when I got attuned to the French language, I could understand them.

My hypothesis is that the Heptapods intentionally making appearances in 12 different countries to seek for someone who can learn their language. As two friendly Heptapods, Abbot and Costello (they were named by Jeremy Renner’s Ian Donnelly after linguistically challenged famous duo), said to Louise that, “they need humanity help”.

This moment when Louise meets with Abbot and Costello without any barrier (previously they communicate to each other through an invisible wall), and the friendly Heptapods are finally able to transfer their knowledge without any hesitation from Louise. This is the moment when a language becomes universal. This the moment when Louise realizes that she’s able to experience the future while still living in present time, and the time she has to see her destiny and she apparently has to accept it as well.

This the time when I’m aware that Arrival works on a theory of linguistic relativity, called Saphir-Whorf hypothesis, a theory which proposes the idea that the language we’re speaking reflects or shapes the way we think.

A friend sent me a private text questioning whether the Heptapods performed a function as a deception to the whole story or not. I cannot agree, but I don’t fully oppose to his perception either.  In my interpretation, the heptapods is the trigger for human beings to unite as one voice, without any barrier. It’s a metaphor of an idea to conceive a tranquility and harmony using language as a tool, not as a weapon.

That what makes Arrival transcends beyond its traditional role of a movie as an art or just as a mass entertainment. It not only offers an idea but also a solution. It starts with questions, but also gives us the answers. All at once. At the same time, in a full circle.

Like Hannah, the name of Louise Banks’ daughter, the film purports to use flashbacks and forwards in subsequent viewings by the way of a palindrome. It carries us to feel the emotion, perception, and reason in order to get a whole understanding. Again, in a full circle.

(5/5)

Reviewed at Epicentrum XXI, on January 7, 2017

Running time: 116 minutes

A Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures International release of a 21 Laps Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment, Lava Bear Films production. Produced by Shawn Levy, Aaron Ryder, Karen Lunder, David Linde.

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Screenplay: Eric Heisserer

Based on novella, Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang

Camera(color, widescreen): Bradford Young

Editor: Joe Walker

Production designer: Patrice Vermette

Music: Johann Johannsson

Art director: Isabelle Guay

Casts: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

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Review Midnight Special : Cinta Itu Supranatural Dan Spesial

May 09, 2016

by @Picture_Play

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“…, Midnight Special adalah film yang lebih mengandalkan emosi, suatu elemen yang kerap disepelekan dalam film-film ber-genre sejenis, terutama yang dirilis akhir-akhir ini. Hal itulah yang membuat Midnight Special menjadi spesial, milik Nichols seorang.”




Di layar televisi ada sebuah berita tentang hilangnya seorang anak. Lewat pembaca berita kita hanya tahu bocah tersebut berjenis kelamin pria, berumur delapan tahun, berkulit putih, berambut coklat, bermata biru, bertinggi sekitar 142 sentimeter, dan berat sekitar 27 kilogram. Tak dilampirkan foto, kita hanya melihat foto terduga penculik, pria berusia 40-an Roy Tomlin ( diperankan aktor luar biasa berbakat, Michael Shannon yang selalu hadir dalam setiap film arahan Jeff Nichols). Berita kehilangan ini tampaknya gencar disiarkan di berbagai stasiun televisi dan kemudian mempengaruhi banyak orang.

Salah satunya adalah pria bernama Caleb Meyer ( diperankan dengan karismatik oleh Sam Sepherd), pimpinan tertinggi sebuah sekte keagamaan yang para pengikutnya hidup dalam sebuah kompleks perumahan, bertani dan berternak, berkulit putih, jemaat perempuannya memiliki rambut panjang dikepang dan dalam balutan busana konservatif seperti di era dalam serial televisi Little House on the Prairie. Merepresentasikan kefanatikan agama di daerah bagian selatan Amerika Serikat yang masih ada hingga sekarang.

Begitu pentingnya arti sang bocah hilang bagi Caleb, hingga ia memerintahkan orang kepercayaannya untuk mendapatkan si anak dalam waktu empat hari. Akan tetapi, Caleb bukan satu-satunya yang memiliki kepentingan terhadap si anak hilang.

Agen rahasia FBI pun ingin menemukannya. Saat hari mulai beranjak malam, di bawah sinar oranye temaram sang surya yang hendak terbenam, satu pasukan mendobrak kompleks sekte pimpinan Caleb. Kompleks tempat pengikut sekte itu tinggal kemudian disebut dengan The Ranch. Di tengah sebuah misa, para pasukan elit FBI itu menerobos masuk, dan memerintahkan seluruh jemaat Caleb pindah ke sebuah kampus terdekat untuk diinterogasi.

Caleb pun menjadi obyek interogasi. Dalam percakapan yang mewakili golongan rasionalis dan relijius, seorang perwakilan National Security Agency (NSA), Paul Sevier (diperankan oleh Adam Driver, Star Wars; Force Awakens) bertanya kepada Caleb tentang bagaimana ia mendapatkan serangkaian nomor rahasia milik pemerintah, kode satelit yang semestinya tak bisa diretas. Sevier adalah perwakilan rasionalis, ia adalah analis komunikasi satelit yang melihat apa yang terjadi dari sudut pandang ilmuwan. Kita kemudian tahu bahwa itu adalah perbuatan Alton Meyer ( Jaeden Lieberher), sang bocah hilang yang tengah dicari-cari. Alton ternyata anak yang diadopsi Caleb dan dari penuturan sang ketua sekte, ia memiliki berbagai keistimewaan, sehingga sekte yang dipimpinnya menganggap bocah itu sebagai “utusan Tuhan”. Caleb merupakan perwakilan kaum relijius, ia membaca apa yang bisa dilakukan oleh sang bocah sebagai perpanjangan tangan Tuhan dan menjadikan dia sebagai simbol pengkultusan. Sevier dan rekan FBI-nya lalu mencecar Caleb dengan pertanyaan jika ia mengetahui keberadaan Alton, yang dijawab dengan,

“Kalian tidak tahu sedang berurusan dengan apa, bukan?”

“Sebagaimana di film-film Nichols sebelum ini, penonton mesti sabar merekat informasi demi informasi yang didapat untuk memperoleh sebuah gambar besar, karena Midnight Special merupakan sebuah produk penceritaan visual yang cerdas dan menghadirkan dialog dalam porsi minimalis “



KEKUATAN PENCERITAAN VISUAL, TIDAK CEREWET 

Midnight Special, arahan Jeff Nichols (Take Shelters, Mud), memang mengajak penonton untuk menelusuri misteri tentang apa dan siapa Alton Meyer, bocah spesial yang dicari-cari itu. Siapa dia? Atau lebih tepatnya apakah dia? Kenapa ia diculik? Apa yang sebenarnya terjadi?

Film dengan pace pelan ini mengajak kita mencari tahu jawabanya, mengupas lapisan demi lapisan misteri dan menyediakan pertanyaan dengan telaten, lewat beberapa cuil eksposisi dalam dialog dan lebih banyak lewat pengungkapan ekspositoris dalam gambar yang menguraikan berbagai makna implisit. Penonton dibuat bertanya, lalu diberikan jawabannya. Dibuat bertanya lagi, kemudian jawabannya dihadirkan. Begitu seterusnya. Proses ini diiringi oleh score bernada monoton, namun melodius yang berfungsi sebagai penanda di adegan yang mengungkapkan sebuah informasi besar, menjadikan kita seperti menyantap truffle dari bahan coklat Belgia yang meleleh di lidah. Cita rasanya semakin lama semakin bertambah kaya dan kuat.

Sebagaimana di film-film Nichols sebelum ini, penonton mesti sabar merekat informasi demi informasi yang didapat untuk memperoleh sebuah gambar besar, karena Midnight Special merupakan sebuah produk penceritaan visual yang cerdas dan menghadirkan dialog dalam porsi minimalis. Film ini justru mengguncang jiwa di momen tenangnya, jadi bukan film yang cerewet mengumbar dialog. Hal ini karena Nichols percaya akan intelenjensia kita sebagai penonton, jadi dia tidak merasa perlu untuk “menceramahi” atau membeberkan setiap penjelasan secara terang-terangan di setiap peristiwa., bahkan hingga akhir film. Ia percaya kita bisa menelaah setiap interpretasi terbuka yang dipaparkan lensa kamera di layar lebar dan menerjemahkannya. Nichols adalah seorang visualis yang mengerti kekuatan gambar dalam sinema, namun visualisasinya memiliki makna yang dalam, bukan hanya sekadar visualisasi yang mengutamakan gaya seperti Zack Snyder atau (berdehem) Michael Bay.

Midnight Special adalah film feature keempat Nichols. Seperti di ketiga filmnya terdahulu, Nicholsyang juga selalu merangkap sebagai penulis screenplay, membangun ceritanya dengan latar pedesaan dan kota kecil di bagian Selatan Amerika Serikat, suatu teritori yang sepertinya ia benar-benar kuasai. Lansekap dalam film-filmnya menampilkan rawa, sabana, ilalang dan hutan dengan vegetasi perintis. Menghadirkan suatu atmosfer dan ilusi keterasingan yang kemudian berpengaruh dalam karakter-karakter ciptaannya.

Film pertama Nichols, Shotgun Stories (2007) adalah sebuah cerita tentang balas dendam di mana karakter-karakternya dipenuhi dengan firasat. Film ketiganya, Mud (2012), adalah sebuah kisah coming-of-age tentang dua orang remaja pria yang berinteraksi dengan seorang pelarian (diperankan oleh Matthew McConaughey), yang hidup di sebuah pulau terpencil di tengah-tengah Sungai Missisippi.

Midnight Special lebih mirip secara tema dengan film kedua Nichols, Take Shelter  (2011), karena mengetengahkan isu supranatural dan tentang karakter yang ingin melindungi orang yang dicintainya. Memakai elemen supranatural sebagai perantara untuk menjelaskan suatu hubungan cinta kasih yang seringkali menjadi misteri dan tak terdefinisikan.

Ya, Midnight Special menjadi spesial karena pondasi dasarnya adalah sebuah cerita tentang seorang ayah (dan sepasang orangtua) yang menyayangi anak dengan kebutuhan khusus (dibaca: kekuatan supranatural) dengan sepenuh jiwa. Meski hadir para karakter seperti Paul Sevier milik Adam Driver, seorang yang mewakili pemikiran rasional Barat dalam mengejawantahkan sebuah fenomena sehingga film ini memiliki elemen fiksi ilmiah, Midnight Special hingga akhir film menolak untuk memberikan sebuah konklusi tunggal. Nichols seolah berpendapat terkadang sebuah misteri harus tetap menjadi misteri. Ia memulangkan persepsi penonton untuk memaknai.



EKSPERIMENTAL, INOVASI, TIDAK MENGANDALKAN PLOT

Di Midnight Special, Nichols juga tetap bereksperimen. Ia adalah contoh seorang sineas cakap yang terus berinovasi. Inovasinya di sini adalah dengan mencoba menggunakan teknik crosscutting, sebuah teknik yang nyaris tak pernah ia gunakan di film-filmnya sebelum ini. Nichols dengan piawai mensaling-silangkan dua peristiwa yang terjadi dalam waktu bersamaan di lokasi berbeda. Teknik ini bertujuan untuk membangun tensi dan momentum, sekaligus alat untuk menciptakan suspensi. Lebih jauh lagi, crosscutting jamak digunakan dalam film-film aksi berbujet besar. Beberapa adegan dan plot points kunci baru akan terhubung di klimaks cerita, Wajar karena bujet Midnight Special jauh lebih besar dibanding tiga film Nichols sebelumnya bila digabungkan. Film ini juga menyediakan adegan kejar-kejaran mobil dan serangkaian efek visual mumpuni, yang meski dalam skala jauh lebih kecil daripada film-film superhero Disney/Marvel atau Warner/DC, efektif dalam menghadirkan atmosfer lebih koheren.

Midnight Special juga bukanlah film yang mengandalkan plot, dan jikapun ada, plotnya pun sebenarnya sudah usang karena memang sudah sering digunakan dalam berbagai film sci-fi fantasy, seperti Close Encounter of the Third Kind ( Steven Spielberg, 1977) atau Starman (John Carpenter, 1984), dua film yang disebut Nichols sebagai inspirasi.

Alih-alih, Midnight Special adalah film yang lebih mengandalkan emosi, suatu elemen yang kerap disepelekan dalam film-film ber-genre sejenis, terutama yang dirilis akhir-akhir ini. Penitikberatan pada elemen emosional itu pula yang membuat penonton mesti menggunakan kepekaan emosi saat menonton film ini dalam mencermati berbagai alegori dan metafora yang ditempatkan secara halus, yang kemudian membuatnya unik.  Hal itulah yang membuat Midnight Special menjadi spesial, milik Nichols seorang.

Atmosfer emosi, suspensi, dan misteri sudah dibangun Nichols bahkan sejak di awal film. Suara pembaca berita televisi membaca berita hilangnya Alton Meyer terdengar, sebelum akhirnya kita diperlihatkan sebuah ruangan kamar motel yang gelap. Di luar, suasana sudah mulai malam, dan penghuni kamar motel itu memulai aktivitasnya. Ada dua pria dewasa, Roy Tomlin dan Lucas (diperankan dengan sangat baik oleh Joel Edgerton dalam logat bagian Selatan Amerika Serikat yang terdengar seperti sedang berkumur-kumur). Mereka bergegas membuka semua selubung dari kardus yang menutupi semua jendela dan ventilasi kamar. Roy dan Lucas, yang ternyata saling mengenal, kemudian membangunkan Alton yang sedang duduk membaca komik menggunakan pencahayaan senter, di balik selimut  yang membungkusnya.

Roy Tomlin ternyata ayah Alton. Tujuan Roy dan Lucas adalah membawa bocah lelaki itu menemui sang ibu—istri Roy—yang diperankan dengan luar biasa oleh Kristen Dunst. Sang ibu ternyata bukanlah tujuan akhir perjalanan mereka, karena Alton harus berada di sebuah tempat di mana ia seharusnya berada.

Perjalanan ayah-ibu- anak dan rekannya ini harus dilakukan sesegera mungkin. Selain memiliki tenggat waktu, Alton tak bisa berinteraksi dengan matahari di siang hari.  Matanya yang kerap berpendar dan mengeluarkan selasar sinar, harus ditutup oleh kacamata renang. Tantangan semakin besar, karena kelompok kecil ini diburu oleh agen federal dan pengikut sekte keagamaan “The Ranch”. Dalam perjalanan, kita mengetahui berbagai peristiwa magis yang ditimbulkan oleh Alton, sang bocah spesial.

Menarik untuk melihat bahwa perjalanan yang para karakter dewasa di film ini lakukan adalah sebuah alegori dari bentuk pengasuhan terhadap seorang anak berkebutuhan khusus. Karakter Shannon, Dunst, dan Edgerton adalah representasi orang tua yang percaya terhadap pilihan sang anak dan mendukungnya meski aral rintangan menghadang. Mereka rela mengorbankan diri –secara fisik dan emosional—agar sang anak mencapai cita-citanya.

Apa yang memotivasi mereka jelas dan lugas, meski Nichols lebih banyak menghadirkan berbagai close-up shots yang menyorot secara dekat perubahan air muka, gesture, dan perubahan emosional para pemainnya.

Hasilnya memang suatu ikatan emosional yang indah dan menggugah jiwa, hadir lewat kekuatan akting para pemainnya. Dalam satu adegan, karakter Roy milik Shannon memandang Alton dalam ekspresi seribu bahasa. Matanya menyiratkan kerinduan dan keengganan saat melepas anaknya,meski garis mukanya tetap menunjukkan ketangguhan hasil tempaan hidup yang sulit.

Alton meminta ayahnya, “ You don’t have to worry about me,”. Roy memandang lekat sang anak sembari berkata, “  I like worrying about you”. Sebuah permainan akting yang subtle, namun menggetarkan hati.

Keistimewaan Midnight Special memang disokong oleh kecakapan akting para pemainnya. Kristen Dunst, misalnya. Sepintas kita akan mengira bahwa aktris Melancholia ini hanyalah secondary character. Kita salah. Meski memiliki screen-time sedikit, Dunst berhasil menampakkan kegelisahan dan kesedihan seorang ibu dalam melepas anaknya. Dalam satu adegan puncak, Dunst secara brilian menyampaikan emosi tangis bahagia yang menjadi katarsis dan hanya bisa dihadirkan oleh aktor sekaliber dirinya. Sungguh indah dan menyentuh.

Midnight Special juga didukung oleh sinematografi arahan Adam Stone (selalu bekerja di setiap film Nichols) dan komposer, David Wingo. Adam Stone sukses dalam menangkap keindahan natural alam dan memperkayanya, memberikan sentuhan seni lewat semburat sinar mentari. Lensa kamera arahan Stone juga efisien dalam memaksimalkan gelapnya malam, serta mengakomodasi kegemaran Nichols dalam memainkan ruang visual hampa yang akhirnya melahirkan permainan komposisi dan perbedaan kontras yang secara efektif menciptakan suspensi.

Komposisi Wingo memperkuat suspense itu lewat score piano monoton, namun melodious, seperti yang kerap ditemui di film-film tahun 80’an. Penempatannya yang cermat di setiap adegan penting, membuat musiknya seperti theme song. Usai menonton film, kita akan mendapati diri kita sendiri tak sadar menggumamkan dan melantunkannya.

“Interpretasi terbuka yang disuguhkan Nichols menyasar pada suatu pemahaman, bahwa ada optimisme dalam setiap akhir perjalanan.”



CINTA ITU SUPRANATURAL DAN SPESIAL

Bisa dimaklumi bila nanti ada beberapa penonton yang akan mempertanyakan klimaks cerita. Di satu sisi revelation ( tentu tidak akan diceritakan di ulasan ini ) di akhir film menjawab pertanyaan menggiring penonton sejak awal film, akan tetapi di sisi lain justru menyisakan berbagai pertanyaan tambahan yang tak terjawab.

Tetapi bila boleh disarankan, di situlah keistimewaan film ini. Interpretasi terbuka yang disuguhkan Nichols menyasar pada suatu pemahaman, bahwa ada optimisme dalam setiap akhir perjalanan. Bahwa ketika kita berjuang untuk seseorang yang kita cinta dan percayai sepenuh hati, hasilnya tak akan sia-sia. Kita harus percaya bahwa akan ada masa depan gilang gemilang penuh cahaya yang menanti di akhir sebuah terowongan. Sebuah masa depan yang indah dan megah. Bahwa cinta itu bersifat supranatural dan spesial.

Pesan optimis yang diusung oleh Nichols di Midnight Special mengingatkan kita juga akan film arahan Brad Bird  keluaran Disney, Tomorrowland. Bedanya, film terakhir menjadi produk generik.

Midnight Special di berbagai aspek sangat Spielberg-esque. Hanya saja film ini amatlah Jeff Nichols. Menyandingkan ironi dan keambiguan antara film indie arthouse dan blockbuster. Kekuatan penceritaan visual Nichols akan membuat setiap adegan akan selalu terbayang-bayang, bahkan usai kita menontonnya.

Sebuah kisah indah yang spesial. Saking spesialnya, akan membuat kita rela untuk menikmati kisahnya lagi dan lagi. Kita akan selalu menemukan jawaban baru di setiap saat kita mengunjunginya kembali. Bahwa Midnight Special adalah sebuah film yang hebat, itu sudah pasti.

(5/5)

By @Picture_Play

Reviewed at Djakarta Theater XXI midnight show program, May 07, 2016

Will be released for regular screening in Indonesia started on May 11, 2016

Production : A Warner Bros. release and presentation, in association with Faliro House Prods. of a Tri-State Pictures production

Distributed in Indonesia by : Warner Bros Indonesia

Produced by Sarah Green, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones. Executive producer, Glen Basner, Hans Graffunder, Christos V. Konstantakopoulos.

Directed, written by Jeff Nichols.

Camera (color, widescreen) :  Adam Stone

Editor : Julie Monroe

Music : David Wingo

Production designer : Chad Keith

Art director :  Austin Gorg

Set decorator : Adam Willis

Costume designer : Erin Benach

Sound (Dolby Digital) : Pud Cusack

Special effects coordinator : John McLeod

Visual effects producer : Eric A. Kohler

Visual effects : Hydraulx

Starred by : Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard, Bill Camp, Scott Haze, Sean Bridgers, Dana Gourrier.