HOLLYWOOD—“Arrival” is the best kind of sci-fi. It’s not only an eerie, thought provoking drama, but it’s something new. The best thing I could compare the experience to is the first time I watched “The Matrix.” Its fascinating exploration of language and communication will change the way you think about first contact with alien life forever.
The story follows distinguished linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams). She is asked by U.S. Army Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) to translate an alien language after the sudden arrival of 12 extraterrestrial ships on Earth. She is joined in her work by physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). While Banks and Donnelly try and navigate the extraordinarily complex alien language society begins to collapse and war with the new arrivals starts to seem inevitable.
Some parts are especially creepy. The opening scenes of society reacting to the alien’s arrival seem all too real. We have all lived through such times. It’s not hard to remember the panic, fear, and confusion we felt during traumatic events like 9/11. Here we see it amplified. The fact we view it through Banks’ perspective as she walks through campus and watches TV makes it all the more relatable, authentic, and scary.
The team’s first entry into the alien craft and contact with the aliens is extremely tense. The use of sound here and throughout is fantastic. It evokes the scale of the events we’re witnessing on a physical, personal, and historical scale.
I must warn you that this is not a simple plot. Like “Donnie Darko,” the concept of time is toyed with and the plot is somewhat non-linear. You’ll need to pay close attention if you want to get the full benefit. It did get a touch slow in the middle, but the beginning and end are so great that it’s worth it if you stick with it.
The movie’s main themes are language and communication, and it’s interesting to note that we get a few political statements on how communication can be used to confuse and radicalize ala “Imperium.”
Amy Adams stole the show. She might just get another Oscar nomination for her performance. The whole cast is good, but the focus is almost completely on her. Eric Heisserer’s script was great, especially considering the complex subject matter. I learned a lot about linguistics watching this, and the complex explanations were actually some of the best parts. This was the best writing of his career so far, and I have to hand it to him for stepping up his game. Director Denis Villeneuve did an excellent job capturing what one might call the emotions of the moment.
It’s a roller coaster ride to be sure. We are taken from horrible fear, intense sadness, profound happiness, and bewildering awe. Every shot captures the emotion spot on. We look up to see the grandeur, become disorientated in the alien ship, and focus in on faces to see the intensity of emotion. The lighting was good, and I must point to their initial entry into the alien craft as one of the best examples.
What can you really say beyond it was great. A true mind bending movie. The standard tropes of the alien invasion drama weren’t here. Instead of some Michael Bay style explosion extravaganza we are given a poignant lesson on our relationship with time, language, and the importance of communication. It’s something beautiful, intelligent, and unique. That alone makes it worth the ticket.