Monday, February 13, 2017

Arrival (2016) inspires beauty and terror in humanity

Film blog Arrival movie review
Photo Credit: Arrival / Paramount Pictures
Aliens invading Earth forces humanity to 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 Arrival.

Based on Ted Chiang's short story Story of Your Life, linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and 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 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. Louise is wholly composed character when the end of the world hits, sticking to her normal routines like lecturing 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 as the government's 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 and trepidation in a fractured environment.

Her quest isn’t about needing to see or speak to the aliens, but the beauty of language and how all races can 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 from the other person as you much as you may learn about yourself. Open lines of communication between person to person and country to country is vital whether or not there is an impending war going on between humans or against 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's 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 and the hypnotic score gives the journey a sense of awe and curiosity. The alien's 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 vast as if Banks is just on the cusp of discovering life-changing secrets. The movie takes place on Earth, but one feels like we've been transported to another world.

Villeneuve has become one of the most 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. This tale of aliens landing is gripping and patient, filled with love, hope, and determination. Almost above all else, Arrival explores human and non-human conflicts to 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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