Arrival is Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of the short sci-fi novel, Story Of Your Life. If you don’t know who Villeneuve is, then Arrival is a great introduction. The man has a gift for creating tension and propagating that kind of feeling throughout his films. But it’s slightly different here. His previous three films,Enemy,Prisoners and Sicario all had a haunting sense of dread felt not just by us, but more so for their protagonists whose burden is a twisty-turny psychological purge of the psyche. Villeneuve seems to take pride in having the consciousness of his characters tried and tested, haggled and plagued…and ultimately worn. No one does it better than he does, which makes him one of my favourite directors ever especially because psychological thrillers are my thing. But Arrival marks the first significant depature from trademark Villeneuve. It is still tense, but it is unlike it’s dark and shocking predecessors; Arrival provides a hopeful response to our divisive world and captures our attention through a quiet breathtaking touch.
Dr.Louise Banks, linguistics/language professor, is really at the centre of this entire film. Amy Adams plays Louise to perfection so I don’t know how the Oscars left her in the cold for a Best Actress nomination (she was fantastic in Nocturnal Animals as well). Arrival basically thrives on her ability to portray a complex role in an even more complex story. The premise is straight-forward enough-12 identically shaped half ovals land on earth without warning or reason, each one in a different location around the world. Louise (Amy Adams) and physicist Ian Donelly (Jeremy Renner) are called in to help the military to try and seek and answer questions regarding the purpose of the extraterrestrial’s visit. As soon as they enter the gravity-defying alien pod, you hold you breath and never release. As soon as the first rorscharch-like ink blots start appearing as a response to Louise’s questions and movements, Arrival slowly transforms the relationship between scientist and subject to one between two beings.
But even as Louise is tirelessly trying to decode the extraterrestrial’s elusive language, Arrival zooms out to the state of affairs around the world, and captures our natural instincts to distrust that which does not belong and that which we do not understand. Between the intellectual and mystifying conversations with extraterrestrials and the social state of affiars incorporated in the film, Arrival is a great deal about the heart as well. Dr.Louise Banks’ life and flashbacks are a vital part of illuminating our character, and provides an intimate perspective amidst the grand scheme of things. I really appreciate the fact that Arrival is a movie about so many things small and big, and taps into many ideas that transcend their boundaries. Not many science-fiction films bother to explore beyond the perceived confines of its genre, but Arrival follows Ex Machina’s footsteps in creating depth and width…and ultimately becomes something altogether original.
As such, fans of intellectual movies in general will be pleasantly surprised. Fans of science-fiction will be glad that it’s something original and different. Lovers of linguistics and language will dig the intricacy of its material and cinema-goers who want something emotional and true-to-the-heart will find the personal touch at the root of the film. For anyone else who loves a good time at the movies, Arrival is as much a crowd-rousing film as it is an introspective experience. Beautifully shot and framed by Bradford Young, Arrival’s cinematography captures the surreal glow of it’s most emotional scenes and the awe-inspiring interaction between beings in the monolithic unknown. The scenes inside the extraterrestrial pod where Louise holds up signs and the heptapods respond seem to defy time for me, something about the minimalist environment (huge one-piece glass-like panel, heptapods on one side, two scientists on the other, circular inky symbols between them and the light-dark contrast all around) takes me to another world. I was seriously transfixed, I’m not sure if I was even breathing during those sequences. Johann Johansson’s soundtrack was also brilliant.
I’m leaving alot, no like really alot of things out in this review (plot-wise), so that anyone who hasn’t seen the film will still go in clueless and come out like you’ve just spent the day in a literal extraterrestrial pod. Arrival’s ending is somewhat convoluted but I can imagine it’s tough trying to tie everything up perfectly with so much going on. But the message of the film still stands and that to me is a triumph in itself. Arrival is essentially a film about the big and the small, and about the purpose of one in the face of something that affects all. With it’s emotionally-driven core (major credit goes to Amy Adams), timely social message, intellectually stimulating plot and Villenueve’s signature psychological tension, Arrival is an original modern marvel.