"Arrival" is Otherworldly
Why are they here? That’s the first question Arrival poses after twelve ominous-looking spacecrafts unexpectedly descend and hover just feet above Earth’s surface.
Similar to other recent science-fiction movies like The Martian and Interstellar, the film, which stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, takes both a scientific and creative look as to how unimaginable events—in this case, the first contact with another species—might unfold. What differentiates Arrival from other sci-fi films, however, is its ability to continuously challenge its audience with hefty, thought-provoking questions; as the film slowly builds tension between our encounters with the aliens, the questions become less about them and more about us.
Adams plays an accomplished linguist named Louise Banks who is recruited by US Army Colonel Weber (played by an always solid Forest Whitaker) to initiate communication with the alien species. A renowned physicist named Ian Donnelly (played by Renner) assists Banks in her efforts. The film’s themes center around two perspectives. The first is that of Banks, and her attempts to communicate with the aliens and decipher their language. The second is the global response to the newcomers. Initially, the regions where the crafts land are working in tandem, but as the film progresses, different regions begin to react differently and communication begins to break down.
Even as it poses some larger questions, Arrival becomes more introspective. By keeping Banks’ personal hardship at the center of the story, the film’s themes converge to express more contemplative thoughts concerning grief, self-actualization, and humanity.
Much can be said of director Denis Villeneuve’s brilliant craftsmanship. Arrival is a marvel to look at, and the creativity to visualize how this story—which was adapted from a short-story titled “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang—might translate to the big screen should truly be applauded. Screenwriter Eric Heisserer also deserves praise. The film tackles some weighty ideas while keeping the focus on Adams’ character, and her important yet somewhat soft-spoken role in the movie keeps the story grounded.
For some, Arrival might be a film they admire more than enjoy. It’s very cerebral at times, so it is not the kind of film where you can zone out and still follow along. The tension does build rather slowly, which might be a put-off for those looking for an alien extravaganza. However, this slow build to the climax adds a nice change of pace to the standard sci-fi film and delivers a much more mind-bending effect and less “shock and awe” appeal.
Arrival is an added welcome to the science-fiction genre, and it could be the most impressive one in recent memory. Better to see it now, as it is likely to be in serious contention come Oscar season in many categories, including best cinematography, best actress, and, most notably, best picture.