Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” is full of intelligent life — literally and figuratively. Expertly shot and directed with an incredibly smart script. Villeneuve’s movie also arrives at an unexpectedly relevant time, post U.S. election.
It’s a cerebral and thought-provoking sci-fi film that is just as much about communication and handling fear of the unknown as it is about the aliens that arrive on earth.
When 12 mysterious extraterrestrial spacecraft appear at many odd locations throughout the world, the U.S. government recruits linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and scientist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to try and develop a system of communication between the two species.
Tensions across the world rise and, naturally, some world leaders just want to blow the aliens out of the sky. The world begins to slowly erupt into chaos. People march into the streets, riots and looting happen, and the masses believe that these aliens have arrived to spell their doom.
Don’t expect an alien-invasion, action-thriller though, as it comes to be very apparent that the aliens probably have benevolent intentions, and the real antagonist of the movie is fear.
Two of the aliens are dubbed “Abbott” and “Costello” by the Dr. Banks and Donnelly, and they are creatures that are meant to confuse the audience – their seemingly friendly willingness to try and communicate is apparent, however their appearance is very strange and creepy. It’s a brilliant metaphor for fear and xenophobia, and is executed perfectly in “Arrival.” Despite the aliens showing no signs of aggression, the world still delves into fear of its own extinction.
While the aliens are just as full of life as they are strange, the movie is carried by dedicated performances by Adams, Renner and Forest Whitaker. Adams’ Louise Banks is capable and brilliant, whose knowledge of language and historical communication are expertly shown, and it is clear that the filmmakers did their research on how we might develop a system of communicating with actual extraterrestrial life. Renner is excellent as well, although you will become much more invested in his character later into the movie, and I can’t tell you why.
I also want to especially mention Whitaker and his character. Whitaker’s Colonel Weber, the man who recruits Louise, is thankfully not a cliché “kill the aliens before they kill us” kind of military figure. Whitaker plays him as a totally believable, rationally thinking individual who, although a bit pushy and gruff, is trying as hard as he can to keep the peace as much as Dr. Banks and Donnelly are. Props to Whitaker and the writers.
The timing of this movie seems to be near prophetic. After November 8th’s election, it has become very apparent that our own country has become gripped with a fear of the unknown, with thousands upon thousands marching in our own streets and protests that hopefully won’t develop into the kind seen in the movie.
“Arrival” shows us how we might react to that fear when communication cannot be reached, and we are consumed by our emotional reactions rather than rational thinking.
This makes “Arrival” more than just a great sci-fi movie; it makes it a necessary one. If there was ever an example of why cinema or art in general is vital to our culture, “Arrival” is just that, and makes the viewer look at humanity and realize how many of our reactions become irrational when fooled by anger or fear.
However, everything mentioned above is not the only plotline, if you don’t like the idea of going into the movie facing a harsh escalation of events. There is a secondary plot within the film that may just force you to watch the movie a second time, and how it connects the entire movie is clever to say the least. To reveal this would be to ruin the best element of the movie, and if you are curious, “Arrival” cannot be recommended enough.
“Arrival” is currently playing at the Riverside Cinemas, 1017 S. Boone St. in Aberdeen.
George Haerle is a 2008 graduate of Aberdeen High and holds a bachelor’s degree in creative writing for media and lives in Cosmopolis.