Coming from someone who’s irrationally scared at movies starring un/supernatural beings, Arrival‘s feel-good effect is noteworthy. My intention isn’t to spoil it for you, because you deserve to warm up to the slow burner and be enthralled by French-Canadian Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario)’s most critically acclaimed work yet.
Arrival proves to strike a good balance between heart, drama and technical jargon, while introducing far-fetched hypotheses that are not beyond reason and acceptance. It deals with man’s perception of time, touches on predestination, and how the mind bends or “rewires itself” when a new proficiency is fully ingrained in it. The aliens (yes you do get to see them), later dubbed heptapods, aren’t conventionally scary, which I most appreciate.It sports a wonderful cast, anchored by Amy Adams’ award-winning portrayal of a life that’s quite frankly otherworldly. In the film just shy of two hours, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a language professor who works alongside physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner).When different parts of the Earth are invaded by twelve immense structures from outer space, they are sent on a gravely confidential mission to decipher an alien race’s language – creaks, whirs and sonic bleats. Why are the heptapods here? What do they want from us? Do they destroy all of mankind and leave eventually? Insert all the other questions you’d ask in an alien encounter.
The interspecies confrontations range from nerve-racking to endearing. Through the process you feel everything with a sleepless, pressing urgency. Louise’s cocktail of fear, grief and confusion is constantly buoyed by her courage, intellect and curiosity – and eventually, with Ian’s help, they get to the bottom of it.
But Ian’s lines to her are mostly oozing with cheese – personally that stood out from an otherwise sensibly-written film with a remarkable soundtrack.
One would gather from the opening scene, and subsequent flashbacks of Louise’s dying daughter, that the calamity ties in closely with Louise’s personal life. Her past, present and future of triggering events.
It all culminates in the most graceful, memorable plot twist. Not only is it fully believable, it’s so tastefully depicted you couldn’t feel the carpet slide from under your feet.
Arrival shows the story rather than tells it, and allows one to walk the cognitive journey with the same apocalyptic panic and lack of predictable foreshadowing. Organic pacing is what I admire most about French cinema. While the narrative is definitely shorter (Interstellar and The Martian were about 30-60 min longer), more is left for pondering beyond the last frame. If this was merely the Arrival, what’s next? The heptapods hint that in 3000 years’ time, they would need man’s help. Sounds like sequel material to me.