Arrival tells the story of a linguist who’s recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.
Having being roped into becoming a fan of Denis Villeneuve’s work with Prisoners and Sicariobefore being utterly baffled and a little confused by Enemy, his latest outing in bringing “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang to the big screen is Villeneuve’s biggest film he’s tackled yet. With his past films, they’ve usually been on the lower scale of things without the big budget special effects of Arrival, though this doesn’t mean that many of the themes he’s tackled before are no longer there because they certainly are. There are many universal themes in this film that despite it’s large scale, feels very condensed and intimately emotional as Amy Adam’s character is followed throughout the film in a less dark and twisted look at humanity.
With humanity at the core of Villeneuve’s recent work, it’s what makes his films so interesting as he tackles who we are as people that engages us fully. Though it may feel like a “save the world” film with tropes of conflict between humans and aliens because it’s hardly that. The mystery surrounding the hand like aliens is what makes Arrival an incredible yet confusing watch that draws serious visually stunning and captivating references to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SpaceOdyssey. Instead of being as action heavy as Sicario, Villeneuve takes a more interactive and discovery based approach and seeing how the world reacts to such peaceful based measures instead of resulting to an all out conflict in which we, as people, are so prone to do when we don’t understand something. Instead of attacking, we should be learning from one another.
And in this kind of situation with a film like this, the characters have to be the strength. It’s why this film works so well as they’re honestly just real people, like us, who just want answers. Amy Adams really carries this film, showcasing her acting prowess and not being used as a throw away support character like in the Superman films as Lois Lane. She learns as we do and is the entry point into this world. She’s accompanied by Jeremy Renner along with his dry sense of humour that’s always appreciated and a character, played by Forest Whitaker, who isn’t a trigger-happy general but someone who actually wants answers. All the characters are real and you can understand their motivations as they don’t fall into the annoying and overdone tropes seen too often now on screen.
Though Arrival’s message isn’t smack in your face obvious, it’s something you really have to think about for a while after you come out of the cinema and that’s what makes it a groundbreaking piece of cinema. It’s something that makes you think, something that a film should do in the first place instead of being a mindless piece of entertainment (not discrediting those films that are because come on, we do need those in our lives sometimes). Arrival shows how divided the world is and how if one domino is knocked over, it’s amazing what other countries will follow suit. Lack of understanding leads to fear and like I said before, understanding and humanity is what this film is essentially about. The future might be scary but can be bright if approached with a sense of hope of what could happen.
I’m excited to see Villeneuve’s next work, even though I do have my hesitancies about there being a Blade Runner sequel.