Arrival is a 2016 American science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve and adapted by Eric Heisserer from the 1998 short story and novella “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. It stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker.
Dr. Louise Banks, a linguist (played by Amy Adams) is brought in by the U.S Army Colonel Weber (played by Forest Whitaker) on the day twelve extraterrestrial spacecrafts land on seemingly random locations across the world. She is to join physicist Ian Donnelly (played by Jeremy Renner) at a military camp in Montana and help their team to decipher the alien language.
Inside the spacecraft Louise and Ian make contact with two seven limbed aliens or “Heptapods” nicknamed Abbot and Costello who reveal that they have a written language made up of complicated circular symbols.
Louise’s mission is to understand the alien language and ask the extraterrestrials a simple question “Why are you here ?” the answer to which result in distrust among the nations of the world and political tensions rise. Communications between the UFO sites across the world are broken down and China prepares for an offensive move against the alien beings.
Louise at the Montana site however continues to learn the alien language. As she becomes more proficient she starts seeing vivid dreams and images leading her to make decisions that will affect not only her life but the future of humanity as well.
Not just another science-fiction film
In recent years there has been a surge in science-fiction movies that ditch the expected galactic adventure path and opt for a more subdued personal story path. Movies like “Interstellar” and “Gravity” do this particularly well. Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” is another great movie to join their ranks.
It is an intelligent and dramatic take on humanity’s first contact with alien life and not just an overblown spectacle like “Independence Day – Resurgence”. It is a film about grief and communication rather than lasers and spaceships. Where movies like “Gravity” and “Interstellar” explore the human survival instinct and space-time relation, language and communication are the major themes of “Arrival”. The idea of “Linguistic Relativity” of how understanding another language might alter our world view or cognition is masterfully realised through Louise, Amy Adam’s character. The nations of the world prepare their weapons as Louise strives to understand the alien language despite of fear among the people around her making a solid case for communication over conflict.
Amy Adams at her best
The opening scenes of the movie shows Amy Adams’s character and her daughter “Hannah” and detail their life in a montage of images. Hannah’s birth, her brief life and eventually her death at an adolescent age from cancer. Throughout the movie you carry this information with you as you read Amy Adams’s expressions. The movie is not CGI heavy resulting in a space for her to work that is more grounded and relatable. This is quite possibly the most subtle yet complicated science-fiction movie performance I have seen and much of the films success is a testament of that.
Jóhann Jóhannsson began writing the score as shooting started, drawing on the screenplay and concept art for his inspiration. He developed one of the main themes in the first week using vocals and experimental piano loops. Max Richter‘s “On the Nature of Daylight” that opens and closes the film is much like the film, subtle but effective, and will surely stay with you.
Thank god for this film
Recently I have come across much hate for this movie on the internet and I must address that here. It seems that it is edgy now to hate on a movie that does not patronise but challenge the viewer in any way. “Arrival” is not a crowd pleaser movie. It is a movie that asks questions and challenges its viewers to ponder upon those questions. Like with every film there are plot holes here as well. But the movie was not intended to perfectly portray reality but to present the limits of communication, how individuals handle grief and understanding our place in the universe. I agree that the movie does focus too much on cramming everything into the film and might no longer seem as subtle as it should have been. And it does particularly suffer from a slow and uninteresting middle part sandwiched between an intriguing start and an excellent end. But honestly, after a parade of stupid films that exist only to please the masses “Arrival” is a breath of fresh air.