Arrival (2016) inspires beauty and terror in humanity

February 13, 2017
Film blog Arrival movie review
Photo Credit: Arrival / Paramount Pictures
Aliens invading Earth can make people take drastic action. Suspicion and premature counter-attacks are sparked by world leaders and civilians trying to protect themselves. What do we do to quell panic? get answers? defend our turf? Director Denis Villeneuve tackles the complexity of humanity in one of the best sci-fi movies in a while with Arrival.

Based on Ted Chiang's short story Story of Your Life, linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are recruited into a special military operation to communicate with the creatures which initially harbor ill intentions. Together, the duo work with other countries to prevent war.

The science fiction genre has had a rough go recently. Audiences can mostly count on a franchise like Star Wars to transport them to another galaxy, while others have failed to live up to the hype like Independence Day: Resurgence. Ones that aren’t quite so loud like Interstellar, which invites big ideas about human nature but falls short either in the story or execution. There isn't a 'wrong kind' of sci-movie, but quietly, with its characters, story, and interaction with extraterrestrial beings, Arrival hits all of the right notes.

For one, the ever dependable Amy Adams leads with grace and complexity. Her character Louise is wholly composed when the end of the world hits by sticking to her normal routines like going to lecture her classes and watching the news in her office. When she’s recruited by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), that same sense of perseverance continues even when the government higher-ups are counting on her to deliver. She’s resourceful to go about making contact the right way, and through her progress, we see her confusion, happiness, and trepidation in a fractured environment.

Her quest isn’t just about needing to see or speak to the aliens, but the beauty of language and how different races must try to understand one another. Language isn’t only verbal: it’s symbolic, visual, emotional, changes time, and derives from the intention of the giver by the receiver. You learn as much from the other person as you may learn about yourself. Open lines of communication between person to person and country to country is vital whether there is an impending war between humans or unknowable beings. There is beauty and terror in having the patience to not immediately go on the defensive. Even if the world itself takes a bleak turn, eerily mirroring our own shortcomings, as well as our ability to connect and discover, Banks' expedition is one of endurance and tenderness.

The film's atmosphere is haunting and ethereal. Despite how chaotic the world becomes from these foreign visitors, the production design to the hypnotic score gives the journey a sense of awe and curiosity. The aliens' tetrapods, in particular, are fascinating. From the outside, they are massive cocoons hovering mere feet off the ground, and inside, resemble a television stuck on a static channel as they communicate in Rorschach-test blots. The film's coloring may be muted, but the cinematography is open and vast as if Banks is just on the cusp of discovering life-changing secrets. The movie may take place on Earth, but one feels like they've been transported to another world.

Villeneuve has become one of the more popular directors by critics in recent years, and it’s not difficult to understand why. He has a keen sense of creating and world-building abstract ideas into intimate stories. The story of when the aliens landed is gripping and patient, filled with love, hope, and determination. Almost above all else, Arrival explores human and non-human conflicts to entertain and provoke questions, and it's truly one of the best in a long time.

Rating: ★★★
Similar to: Close Encounters of The Third Kind
Have you seen Arrival? What are your thoughts?

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