This Week at the Movies: ‘Arrival,’ ‘Billy Lynn,’ ‘Elle’

I went to a movie on Wednesday night, and the funniest thing happened: for at least an hour in the middle, I forgot. Forgot about It. The election. Its outcome. Our white supremacist, sexual predator president-elect and his gay-converting, fetus-funeral-throwing vice. For at least a little while, the horror of the world around us and the years ahead of us drifted away as I immersed myself in someone else’s story. We’re gonna need those diversions, occasionally, to cope with the hours and days and months to come. Here are this week’s:

  • The timing is entirely accidental, but it’s hard to think of a better moment to see a movie like Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival – on its face, a science-fiction story along the lines of Contact and Close Encounters, but with much to say about the importance of common language, international cooperation, and shared humanity. Suffice it to say it seems more like fantasy every day. Here’s our full review.
  • Ang Lee’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s bestseller Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk rolls out in a very limited release this week – only in the handful of theaters equipped to show it in Lee’s preferred 3D, 120 frames-per-second, 4K HD version. If that’s all Greek to you, then read more here; ultimately, it’s a failed experiment in hyper-reality that mostly showcases the artificiality of the filmmaking process. It will go out to more theaters in a more conventional version in the weeks to come, allowing those moviegoers to focus entirely on its bland storytelling and clunky staging.
  • Paul Verhoeven’s Elle is an odd mixture of contemporary European character drama and rape-sploitation picture, with large doses of pitch-black comedy just to knock us further off-balance. This is obviously a tricky tone to navigate, and the filmmaker knows it – plays on it, in fact, making a movie that’s deliberately unsettling and often downright disturbing. Many will loathe it (many already have, in fact), and it’s hard to fault them. But he’s doing something genuinely provocative here, and he couldn’t have a better accomplice than star Isabelle Huppert, who puts little spins on her already scalding dialogue, all the while hinting at the heady brew of trauma and bitterness that steers her actions. Tough, but sort of tremendous; read more in this month’s indie guide.

And there are other options – Loving is out there, and Moonlight, and The Handmaiden, and even Doctor Strange is pretty good. Or watch something at home, that’s an option too. Point is, get lost in a movie for a moment. It helps.