Interpretation: The Arrival, A Hero’s Journey

A recurring motif seen in stories is the journey of the hero. It is one where he is thrust out of his normal life, and thrown into danger. He is faced with a monster, who can unleash a power unknown. He then willingly accepts the tribulation, defeats the monster, and emerges triumphant. He now possesses this new power. In that sense he better than everyone else, but he also uses it for the well being of others.

This theme plays out in the movie, the arrival. It is uniquely interpreted, and I’ll get to why that is in just a bit. But first off, to summarize what the arrival is about: Aliens have landed on Earth and a linguist is employed to understand what they want, and see if they pose a threat to humanity. This story is interlayered with themes of love and loss, and the importance of communication and language. The storytelling is distinctive.  Just like the language of the aliens, the plot is also circular, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The beautiful quote from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows summarizes it well: “I begin at the close.”   Louise Banks, the protagonist of the movie, learns the language of the aliens and in the process rewires her brain to be able to access time in its entirety. In consequence of that, she sees her future and the sum total of her whole life. There is also some tension among nations about how to approach the aliens, with some countries proposing to decimate them, while others want a more diplomatic approach. Amy Adams has done a great job in portraying the character, although her turgid body language gets confusing at times.

Now coming to the overlay of the hero’s journey with regard to The Arrival. The first stage is when the hero is thrust from their normal lives into an unexpected dire situation. This happens when the aliens arrive. Louise Banks, a professor of linguistics is required to leave her cushy job to head to the military base near the spaceship. And in typical hero initiation process, at first it looks like she won’t be chosen to go, as the officer hints that they are looking at a professor at Berkeley as well. But she makes a case for herself, ascertaining her superiority in interpretation compared to her peers. And she’s ultimately selected. The next step is confronting the monster, which is where they meet the aliens and begin the process of fighting them. In this case, the fight is understanding what they have to say, while explaining the human tongue to them. A complication arises, in the form of lack of co-operation by other nations, and internecine conflicts. This is solved by the hero by breaking the rules. She takes a secret military phone and directly reaches the dour leader of China, convincing him to abandon the violent approach. She also finally learns the language of the aliens, and is able to view time as a continuum – the power obtained by the hero at the end of the quest. She sacrifices the love of her life for this, a hero’s sacrifice. And finally, she teaches the language at university, a gift for humanity.

So what is it about the arrival that is different?

The first aspect is that a hero’s journey is a traditionally masculine archetype. From my preliminary understanding of it, it involves the masculine realization – a boy to man transformation, so to speak. It requires a development of masculine traits, such as physical strength, building a fraternity, authority and assertiveness, to be competitive (arguably a human trait, but more closely masculine) to name a few.

But the movie builds a hero narrative employing the strengths of femininity – like communication, compassion, sacrifice, instinct and motherhood. Movies take the easy route when it comes to portraying strong female characters. They make them more like men. But this movie instead exalts the strength of femininity, which I found distinctive. And this is what made me really love this movie.

I have a basic understanding of the concepts elucidated in this essay. For in depth reading, I suggest the works of Joseph Campbell.

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Safe to say it’s been a while since I wrote anything. But the Academy of Motion Pictures released their award nomination list and I am so excited! It was a big enough external force to shake me out of my inertia of rest.
Physics analogies aside, in my house we act like we’ve been nominated, every year. The excitement is palpable and we all get hyped weeks ahead (this is exhibit A).
Like with most things, you grow older and the sheen wears a little. That happened to me with the big O. After I started watching movies seriously, I would get disappointed with some of the Oscar snubs.
I have only made volatile peace with how royally The Grand Budapest Hotel and Ex Machina were ignored (HOW COULD THEY?!).
That disappointment was quite temporary; I think the Oscars aren’t the pinnacle of cinema, more like a spotlight for it. I love the whole thing, despite the discrepancies that I observed over time.
Normally, I run around doing a victory lap when the nomination list is released and I make my own predictions as to who will win.

Jack man, main man. Image Source:

In the spirit of full disclosure, I have not watched all the movies on the nomination list, but actually I do not think you have to, in order to predict. I have gone wrong (quite ‘bigly’ even) sometimes, even though the Academy seems to have a type (probably since I predict on a hunch). So when I know what a movie is about, I can gauge whether they’ll be fond of it or not.
So here goes!

89th Academy Award winner predictions

Best Picture: Manchester by the Sea or Moonlight
Best Director: Barry Jenkins for Moonlight
Best Actor Male: Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea
Best Supporting Actor Male: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight
Best Actor Female: Natalie Portman for Jackie
Best Supporting Actor Female: Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea
Best Cinematography: Silence
Best Editing: Joe Walker for Arrival
Best Production Design: Hail, Caesar!
Best Original Score: La La Land
Best Original Song: The Empty Chair from Jim: The James Foley Story
Best Original Screenplay: Efthymis Fillipou and Yorgos Lanthimos for The Lobster
Best Adapted Screenplay: Barry Jenkins for Moonlight
Best Animated Feature Film: Zootopia
Best Sound Editing: La La Land
Best Sound Mixing: Arrival
Best Makeup and Hairstyling: Suicide Squad
Best Visual Effects: Doctor Strange
Categories I have not predicted
Best Documentary Feature
Best Foreign Language Film
Best Animated Short Film
Best Live Action Short Film
Best Documentary Short Feature

Alrighty, that’s my list. I will update with winners – hits and misses after D-day.
As mentioned earlier I made the list based on both Academy’s previous patterns and my own hunches. La La Land looks like a favourite but I think it will not win as big as its nominations. Best makeup and Hairstyling looks like an after-thought (line this sentence).
Moonlight might get more awards because the Academy wants to appear more diverse (well deserving).

The 89th Oscars will be live telecast on 26th February 2017 on Star Movies 06:30am IST normally, it’s nearly here!



As always, spoilers ahead.

Mustang and The Virgin Suicides are really two very different movies. The setting is different. Mustang is set in a village in Turkey while The Virgin Suicides is suburbia of Michigan. The view focus is different. Mustang is seen from the POV of the sisters with a view focus on their lives. TVS is seen from the POV of the neighbourhood boys where the view focus is their interpretation of the girls’ lives.

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As the movies unfurl, we see how different the stories are as well.
TVS plays into the ‘bored white girl’ trope, at times making a parody of it – like when the boys try to decipher the meaningless scrawls of their diary and theorize what it could imply (the line, “what we have here is a dreamer” is a consequence of that). The movie is deep rooted in the western sensibilities which play as a background throughout the movie. It dwells heavily on the mystery that the girls are shrouded in. We see this as emptiness from the girls’ lives and as fascination from the boys. They internalize this house arrest they are placed under, only wishing to see the outside world rather than be in it. It feels like they have accepted their situation and rather than rebel against it have found ways to live with it.
Mustang is the opposite; the girls rebel at every chance they get, like they alone will have the final say in their lives. It deals with themes of identity and freedom. The movie is about what happens to each of their lives and aims to shed light in the various ways women’s lives are policed.

When I watched the trailer of Mustang, it reminded me of TVS. And even after I watched it, I could not shake off that feeling. And now that I have set tone to why they are different, I want to talk about representation- Starkly similar scenes that play out in the two movies while their end purpose is different.

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The manner in which certain shots are represented were very insightful. Though their presence in the movie had different motives, and different outcomes, in isolation these shots  were interchangeable. Some of these shots are

When the girls are under house arrest (happens in both movies, duh).
TVS aims to show the desolation in isolation. Mustang aims to show the urge for freedom from the entrapment.

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Both movies have one sister die (in TVS all of them do, but Cecilia, the youngest one commits suicide first) by committing suicide. While TVS uses this to exacerbate the clandestine thoughts of the sisters, Mustang uses it as a definitive. We have cause (her uncle sexually molests her and she is about to get married against her will) and action (her sudden promiscuity and deliberate insinuations to irritate her uncle which precede her death) for the girl’s death and consequences (her younger sister is to marry the man she was ‘promised’ to). While Cecilia’s death and attempts of death are shot in a manner that feels delicate and tragic, like a flower crushed under a heel; Ece’s (from Mustang) is not even in the frame. We feel the consequence of it, which is what the director wants us to focus on.

Both movies have one sister acting out sexually, but again Lexi from TVS is portrayed as uninhibited which accentuates under the stifiling circumstances where as Ece from Mustang is trying to push her luck out of spite after being sexually abused by her uncle and she ultimately kills herself.

And finally, there is the house arrest itself. In TVS a conservative family sends their daughters to prom and when one of them breaks curfew because she sleeps with her high-school prom date and falls asleep on the football field- they stop letting their daughters go to school altogether.
In Mustang, the girls play in the beach with their classmates and when their uncle and grandmother hear of it, they place the girls on house arrest after performing a virginity test on them.

The emotional chord struck by these representations are the same, despite their unique circumstances. And this is because, underneath the void and the fight, the house arrest bred melancholy. And the orthodox branch of the Western and Middle Eastern worlds share their need to moral police their girls. In the end, it is the humanity, both good and ugly which is the commonality in the movies’ representations.

On a separate note, please listen to this song from the soundtrack of The Virgin Suicides. It will change your life. Also watch the two movies if you have not and let me know what you think.




As an engineering student with a love for cinema, I get minimal opportunity to obsess about it outside my circle of friends and family. It probably comes from my dad- I love to dissect a movie and try to see what I have understood of it. I don’t think that I’m all that great, but it’s lot of fun for me to do. I got an opportunity to do it on a more professional standpoint when I heard about the Media Meet 2016 organised by the Media Department of Christ University. I got to publish a paper there; it’s a conference and seminar that was held on 4th and 5th August, 2016.


My paper, titled Two Moons (a reference to their first movie together) studied the collaborative works of director Singeetam Srinivasa Rao and actor Kamal Haasan. Their movies together (especially Michael Madana Kama Rajan, my most favourite movie of all time) are some of the best Tamil movies ever made. If you happen to be a cinephile who has not seen them, I definitely recommend it (and take a peep at my paper while you’re at it).

DAY 1 – 04.08.2016

I arrived at Christ at eight in the morning and what immediately struck me was the vibrant atmosphere. There was a literal buzz of activity on campus, it was really uplifting. I have heard a lot about the oppressive rules in the college and must say, the students do well for themselves despite all that. And the campus! Having never gone inside the University before, I did not expect such a large campus with such ample lung space everywhere (they had a fountain that worked, and a bird bath! That’s luxury as far as Bangalore campuses go).  I walked what felt like a kilometre before arriving at the designated block, and registered myself. The inauguration was pretty standard, Bharatanatyam dance, lamp lighting- the usual.

We jumped right into the talk by the first guest speaker, Mr.Devanshu Singh. He spoke about his love for cinema and what motivated him- trying to understand how cinema can elicit such powerful responses from its audience. He said it was what made him pursue movies, to try decoding the magic. It appeared like cogitative reasoning to me, where dots where connected backwards in retrospection. He also spoke about the importance of doing whatever it takes to reach a goal, and try to use what we have to get to where we want. He did anything that was related to movies and used what he had (a way with words) to get to where he wanted (be in that biz). It was a really well rounded talk with a chill vibe.

Then we began with the presentations itself. There were eight panels where the presentations took place simultaneously, with three speakers per room. The first session was at 10:15 and went up to 11:15. Two of the three papers were really great I think, one which spoke about the ways nationalism is incorporated in the movie Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. The other was about how classism in Kanjeevaram sarees was highlighted by the movie Kanchivaram. She spoke about various aspects of that movie from closing sequence to the poster of the movie that highlighted said topic. The other paper spoke about future of television. The reason I didn’t find it so great was because they went into detail about how much TV has evolved for the last twenty thirty years without actually going into the topic itself, stopping at streaming and present ways of TV viewing.

A short tea break later, we got on to session two, from 11:30 to 12:30. Here I really liked the first paper that was presented. It spoke about the new-wave movies in Malayalam and compared it to the works of Director Padmarajan, in particular about the way women are portrayed. The other two were on marketing strategies used by independent Indian movies and the neo-realism of Indian cinema. They were good, but the first one was a standout for me.

The nerves were starting to pile up by this point. My paper was going to be presented at 1:15 so I quickly grabbed some lunch and went up to my room- 604. My paper was the first to be presented and I had made a PPT and everything (my first one ever. Thank you Google). I have never presented a paper before this, the whole concept was alien to me until a two years ago which was when I learnt something like ‘writing papers’ was even possible. I also wanted to do a good job conveying my love for my subject. So when I got on that stage, I was a bundle of nerves. I rambled most of it at break neck speed, because it was a fifteen minute long presentation and I was feeling like people might get bored. The QandA was me stuttering my answers, feeling like Eminem in Loose Yourself, nerves all over the place.

The presentation got over faster than I thought and we were soon headed to the main auditorium where the Panel Discussion on ‘Censorship in Cinema’ was to take place. The panellists included Dr.Geetha B from BITS Pilani, Nikkil Muguran (a PRO based in Chennai), Samyuktha Hornad (actor), and Dr.Samantak Das from Jadavpur University. It was really entertaining, especially Dr.Samantak Das, who said some pretty outrageous things that made a lot of sense. The politicisation of the issue, lack of proper regulation, re-enforcement of patriarchy and sexism using censorship were all addressed.  There was a follow-up QandA and it was really great to see how much people had to say about these things. When the discussion ended, we were free to head our way out.

DAY 2 05.08.2016

The quiz finals and talk by guest speaker Mayur Puri were done when I arrived on the second day. The first discussion I managed to catch was one by Ivory Lyons on the Influence of Cinema on Cinema. He used the examples of The Godfather and Star Wars franchise which have inspired many, many filmmakers. We saw snippets of other movies which had scenes borrowed from the mentioned two, how they parody it, revere it and try to make it their own. It was an interesting insight into how a filmmaker’s is not the sole owner of the meaning of the movie, but belongs to the fans as well.

Post lunch we headed to the main auditorium for a panel discussion on ‘Trends and Transisions in Cinema’. It was moderated by film/theatre personality Prakash Belwadi, with panellists VJ Abishek Raja, author Rajesh, Jhuma Basak (training analyst at CIPS). The focus of the panel was on how screenplay, sound and conveying emotions have changed over time. I found the part about sound especially fascinating- there was a lot that goes into sound in a movie that makes or breaks it.

We were nearing the end and I was extremely excited at this point. The keynote address was about to begin and it was going to be by Gautam Vasudev Menon. He walked into the auditorium with Talli pogathey playing in the background. I loved his vibe; it was very relaxed but attentive at the same time. I am quite a fan, his movies are really good at conveying what they set out to say. While the storylines sometimes leave me wishing things went differently, the movies I would have loved. Maybe an essay on his work sometime soon.
He spoke at length about how he got into movie making, where he started off and how he draws from his personal experiences. He is a clear romantic, and went on to describe scenes from his life or in his head with an accuracy that clean-swept into romanticization (I could relate deeply). He even spoke of alternate methods of funding that young filmmakers could employ and how with success like his comes a certain price with regard to who he can work with, what budget movies he can make etc. He finished it off by singing a song from his new movie (on the request of the audience) and did and good job at that too. I wish we could have had a longer addressing; he was really honest and candid.

The band from Christ played after that; they sang songs from his movies which were decent replications. The pronunciation was low-key bad and I wish they chose from a setlist that did not include every Vaaranam Ayiram song, but hey the instrumentation was solid. And on that note I end this exposition of the two days indulging my (not so) inner cinephile.
And if you’ve got to this point reading through it all, thank YOU!



Spoilers ahead, but the movie came out in 1993, so I don’t know if ‘spoilers’ really works in context.
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) is the mystery movie you want to re-watch when it’s raining outside and you have a filter coffee. It’s the movie to re-watch when you buy a new velvet bathrobe and want to lounge in it, feeling fancy. This is mostly because of the soundtrack; you have some Reinhardt and Brubeck set against stunning long-shots of Manhattan.

The movie uses the idea of mystery very cleverly, which is why I love it. On the surface you have the Carol and Larry Lipton (Diane Keaton and Woody Allen respectively), who have stumbled across a (possible) murder right across their hallway. But the movie progresses to parody murder mysteries while celebrating them at the same time. You have all these strata of discernibility, and get to pick which works for you.

There’s Carol, who is the kind of person every ‘Five find-outers and the dog’ fan will grow up to be. She sees a mystery and relentlessly pursues it. She hides under the bed when the (possible) murderer returns, only to leave her reading glasses there. Larry is constantly neurotic about it giving us alternative narratives to the murder mystery and lampooning the plausibility of it in the first place.

If this hasn’t charmed you into wearing pearls yet, the movie proceeds to make the viewer feel like they are spying on the Lipton couple spying on their neighbours. We constantly see the proceedings of their armature snooping by seeing the reflection of their actions in mirrors, rather than the action itself. When they follow someone, the camera follows them at a distance, straining at every turn to keep them in view, like we are following them at a distance. Especially during the first viewing, we’re novice detectives ourselves, critiquing every move of Carol and her ally Ted (Alan Alda).

The mysteries in MMM cannot be spoken about without mentioning the climax, where Larry Lipton has confronted (confirmed) murderer Paul House (Jerry Adler). Paul has kidnapped Carol after being made to believe these two rookies have evidence of his crime. Larry comes to free Carol and this leads to a scene where Paul is attempting to shoot Larry, at the back of his dilapidated movie theatre. Here are stacked ornate mirrors, reflecting images onto one another. The old theatre is playing the iconic final scene of The Lady from Shanghai, and the events occur in parallel to what happens in that movie. We are given a glimpse into this madness feeling like we are being persecuted as well, the mirrors reflect multiple images of Paul pointing a gun towards incoming sound (which points to the screen, obviously).


MMM plays around with the nature of mysteries but the best of all are its use of comedy in mystery. Witty dialogue and acting aside, the mystery in itself is amusing; its premise, the conventional nature of the main characters and the fact that total common folk are committing and cracking this case, and the way they go about it makes for a very engaging mystery.


Spoilers ahead.

The Mermaid (2016) is the biggest blockbuster in the history of Chinese cinema. It’s made waves in the international market as well and I had the chance to watch it recently. It is absolutely delightful, an absurdist comedy trying to get a word on impending ecological disasters that awaits the world. Having watched it without any background in Chinese film, I was impounded with the question, is our viewing experience affected by what we know of the film?

I couldn’t determine whether newcomer Lin Yun exaggerated the shrillness of her voice and maintained a comically blank expression to fuel the absurdist brand of comedy or because she was a poor actor. By the end of the movie I deemed it to be the former, but I was convinced only after reading up on the movie and the director’s brand of filmmaking. Where does this ambiguity come from? If this was a Coen brothers or Charlie Chaplin venture one would be sure it was deliberate.

If I were to isolate my film experience by not reading anyone’s opinions on it, my judgement would be that the movie was great, but it could have skipped some of those theatricals. I refer to the scene where Shan (Lin Yun) tries to kill Liu Xuan (Deng Chao) with a sea urchin. While the intentional ludicrousness is evident now, when I watched the movie, I mistook it for an equivalent of mainstream Bollywood fight sequences (which are exaggerated for hero antics and commercial reasons). This is not to say everyone will mistake the director’s ingenuity. A more seasoned film goer might automatically see it for what it is.

My point is precisely that our film viewing experience has numerous invisible goggles stacked in front of it. Goggles that skew our opinion of the movie, be it the people we watch it with, the reasons we watch it for or inherent bias we hold up against (or for) a film.