Aliens have landed! But in emotional indie style rather than in exploding world domination fashion. Think Monsters rather than Independance Day and then forget I mentioned Monsters as Arrival is completely different. Where was I? Aliens have landed! And it is up to linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to figure out how to communicate with them, with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) at her side. Hurrying her along is the US army who desperately want to know if the aliens come in peace or war and want the answers before anyone else. Twelve alien crafts have arrived and Louise is tasked with communicating with the one ship hovering just above US soil. I can’t wait for the spin-off film around the ship that landed in Devon…
As Louise starts to learn the aliens’ unique form of communication she feels the pressure from military representative Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) as the army loses trust in her, the alien visitors, and the rest of the world. Interspersed with beautifully shot visits with the aliens and complicated exposition about sentence structures are flashbacks to Louise’s daughter. The flashbacks did not sit well with me initially; I was enjoying a sciency scene of a linguistic nature then suddenly we’re back with a little girl talking about something tangentally related. I thought the filmmakers were awkwardly crowbarring in some depth to the character but could not have been more wrong.
The film’s use of flashbacks is so ingenious that I cannot really talk about them without ruining the film’s biggest treats. Let’s just say that the flashbacks come good in the end and I probably won’t appreciate them fully until I watch Arrival for a second time. Arrival is very deceptive that way. On first watch the film is a solid and beautifully shot science fiction that falls under the banner of good rather than great but in the days since I saw it my mind has been percolating and reflecting on what I saw. Maybe Arrival is great after all?
I definitely need to see it for a second time.
Director Denis Villeneuve has tackled a variety of genres from the surrealist Enemy, thrilling Prisoners, and recently hit the mainstream with Sicario. With Arrival he maintains a beautiful aesthetic alongside a structure that cleverly hides from the viewer what is happening even as they watch it happen. This is science fiction that doesn’t treat weaponry and creature effects as the be all and end all but prioritises the human element and the all important fictional science; the big idea. Science fiction should be about ideas; about a big “what if” and should explore that idea to its natural conclusion. Arrival does this wonderfully.
I did not immediately love Arrival on first viewing. With time and reflection it has really grown on me and a second watch is definitely needed.
And then surely soon: