Why are they here?
Well, I won’t give away the answer, but I am here to tell you that one of the best films of 2016 has arrived!
This is my review of Arrival!
Freaky alien ships have arrived–no pun intended–on Earth with each pod landing in twelve different countries, including the US of A. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a renowned linguist who has been selected by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to lead a team of investigators and “interview” the alien species. Given that language is her passion, Louise is determined to understand their speech patterns in order to get them to understand human language and context. Diplomacy becomes a tricky road as China and other global superpowers threaten to take action against these beings they do not understand. Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist, who by all calculations (again, no pun intended), has his sights set on the fair-minded linguist, must race against the clock to prevent World War III with the aliens.
Guys and gals, I saw this film yesterday and I am still thinking about it. I have told my classmates, co-workers and my family to go see this intelligent, mind-bending film and I am here to convince you to go see it, as well!
The story is expertly crafted from beginning to end. It is neither overly-complicated nor insultingly dumbed-down; it provides plenty of symbolism and clues, but it also allows you to do the thinking for yourself. I love how this film is not about lasers or explosions, but keeps its attention set on the very realistic scenarios of international negotiations and relations between worldly (and in this case, otherworldly) powers. Granted, this movie certainly isn’t going to teach you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about international politics, but in terms of getting an idea of how it works, this movie serves as a good analogy. The musical score is the best I’ve heard since the Imitation Game soundtrack and the very first shot of the alien pod ship is rightfully deserving of all the praise as a great achievement in cinematography that it has received.
Amy Adams has come a long way from her start as Princess Giselle from Enchanted. Adams is mesmerizing as Louise. Her vulnerable performance brings to life a logical and independent-minded woman who is seeking to understand without guile. Characters who are essentially pure of heart can be hard to write, but Adams provides Louise with a grounded humanity to balance out the character’s cut-above nature.
Much like Miracles from Heaven, the characters in this film actually act like human beings. Forest Whitaker’s Colonel Weber and the other military members are in a difficult situation and their reactions are made understandable to the audience. This isn’t the “progressive-linguist-fighting-against-big-bad-rigid-establishment” kind of story; all the players involved are presented in a humanistic manner, doing what they know to do in a muddy waters of negotiations with global leaders and inter terrestrials.
Going back to the masterful storytelling, Arrival is a sci-fi psychodrama, being both plot-driven and character-driven. The sci-fi elements are interwoven with the engaging character study of Louise and her own immersion into the aliens’ language.
One more thing: I’ve only seeing three of Denis Villeneuve films (Prisoners, Sicario and now Arrival) and I am so happy to say that this one is the easiest to watch! I say that because Prisoners left me reeling for a week and Sicario did not help me get to sleep after I saw it.
I’m honestly at a loss in terms of any glaring misses, but I guess if you are looking for lightsaber duels and galactic explosions, just wait until Rogue One comes out or watch the first Independence Day (NOT the crummy sequel that came out and bombed in the middle of this year). Between this, Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2014) and Sicario (2015), Denis Villeneuve is an artsy-thinkpiece kind of filmmaker. Look elsewhere for mindless entertainment, my lovely friends.
Very rarely has a film actually had me thinking about time, language, space and how our world works. Arrival made me really ponder time and language, and how they are linked. Time is a pattern of day and night, while language is a pattern of communication, the structure of words. As I drove home, I began to think about how God set these things to work in order so that all things can move smoothly forward. All things must occur in a patterned order to prevent catastrophe. Dare I say, in the strangest way, Arrival has increased my appreciation for God as the author of life, the linguist, the mathematician, the painter, the architect, the Creator of all things that are and are to come. While the movie itself doesn’t outright mention God, it would not be far-fetched to say that His hand was present within the pages of the screenplay.
When a movie can challenge you to stop and think about the world around you, that is the mark of a great film.
That was my experience with Arrival; it may not end up being yours, but see this wonderfully-acted, well-written film for yourself. You just might get something out of it.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.