Director/Writer: Denis Villneuve.
Actors: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker.
Director Dennis Villeneuve’s movies have a tendency to come off as nihilistic, unless you count a mental breakdown such as the one in ENEMY or the morally grey world of drug trafficking from SICARIO. ARRIVAL comes as new territory for the director as a relatively upbeat film with a hopeful story.
ARRIVAL feels both like a universal and very personal story focusing on the way we as people communicate and the misunderstandings that lead to conflict. But it’s also a story about a very personal choice a mother makes which has huge repercussions. The protagonist here is Amy Adams as the linguistic professor Dr. Louise Banks. After suffering a great loss, she is contacted by the government to assist in an effort to communicate with a race of aliens who landed in 12 different spots around the world.
Things like fanaticism, lack of cooperation, mistrust, the fragility of society all through seen through the global scale of trying to figure out how to deal with aliens and solidifies the theme of “the first weapon of war is language.” Within the movie, language is seen as the most important aspect that can either cause or prevent war.
While the U.S. seemingly takes a more altruistic approach in trying to communicate with the aliens by hiring Louise and a theroretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Renner), other nations are quick to load up their weapons to blow the aliens out of the sky giving the movie a constant sense of tension.
The majority of the story is told as Louise and Ian attempt to first communicate, and then develop a way to translate. What’s fascinating is hearing the intricacies of the English language and the way many things can be misinterpreted due to the double meaning of words, or how even the concept of a question can be a foreign thing for someone not used to our language.
A lot of these issues of double meaning and ambiguity are unique to English and while it would have been very interesting to see how other nations dealt with the language barrier, it was a fascinating lesson in linguistics.
The aliens, as we come to find out, have a different perception of both time and language than we do where ours is — I hate to say it — a flat circle. Sentences don’t start and end, they are. The future is literally happening now.
There’s some plot threads that feel strangely inserted into the movie. Like all of the sudden, the fanatic doomsday types become an issue when they weren’t before. The lack of lead up makes it feel forced conflict for the sake of conflict but that’s a minor nitpick.
Aside from that, this is definitely an emotional gut punch of a movie disguised as an epic sci-fi film.