Arrival is like a breath of fresh air for science-fiction cinema. In this era of comic book franchises, YA series adaptations & endless big budget action movies, it’s nice to see a more cerebral genre film. I’m not disparaging popcorn movies, mind you; it’s just that we don’t get to see a movie like this one very often. The film is a fascinating & mind-expanding tale of first contact. The movie begins as many “alien invasion” stories do: large spacecraft appear at various locations throughout the world, and the intent of the alien visitors is unknown. Amy Adams stars as Louise Banks, a linguist who is brought in by the military to decipher the aliens’ language. A physicist named Ian Donnelly, portrayed by Jeremy Renner, joins her on the mission. Together they try to figure out what these beings want, and how to communicate with them.
How do we understand beings whose language & world we have no frame of reference for? How can they, in turn, relate to us? As the team tries to have a meaningful conversation with these visitors and exchange ideas, tensions escalate around the world. Some countries don’t wish to wait to until we can speak with the aliens. They want to attack them before they can attack us. But there’s more going on here than mastering the nearly impossible task of finding common ground with these travelers from another world. As the story unfolds, an additional mystery presents itself; Louise is having flashes of memory regarding her late daughter, and her life before the visitors arrived. Are these memories being triggered by the presence of the aliens? What does it all mean for Louise, and for us? What do the aliens really want?
Arrival is at once a race against time thriller, and a compelling tale about communication & understanding. As a possible conflict with the aliens draws near, Louise & Ian must learn how to see things from a unique perspective, and also teach the otherworldly visitors to understand the world we know. Is the ultimate solution tied to the visions Louise is having? This is a movie that challenges the viewer as it moves toward its conclusion. There are no easy answers to the central questions, and it’s the journey’s end (or is it a beginning?) that really is the most intriguing part of the story. It’s an uplifting, mysterious & powerful film, that will resonate most deeply with fans of thoughtful & humanistic science-fiction films such as Contact, Close Encounters, Starman & the original The Day The Earth Stood Still. The well-written screenplay is by Eric Heisserer, based on the novella “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.
The acting is excellent. Amy Adams gives a rich, well-rounded performance; she’s luminous, and imbues Louise with a great deal of strength, heart & emotion. Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, and Michael Stuhlbarg offer solid support in their roles. Director Denis Villeneuve and his team give the film a unique look; not the bright lights & flashy visuals of films like Independence Day, but a truly eerie, otherworldly feel that suits the movie. The unique score by Johann Johannsson adds immeasurably to the film's success. Arrival is currently finishing up it’s run in theatres, and a home video release should be announced soon. If, like me, your mind was captivated & thrilled as much by Close Encounters of the Third Kind as it was by Star Wars back in 1977, then seek out Arrival. This is one of the very best movies I’ve seen this year; highly recommended. Here’s a link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFMo3UJ4B4g.