“There are days that define your story beyond your life, like the day they arrived.“ Louise Banks
Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer, based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, is a beautiful film. It’s about extraterrestrials coming to earth but this is not Independence Day. This is what it really might feel like if that happened. A realistic science fiction film. However, the thrust of the story centers on Amy Adams character, Louise Banks, and her journey. It is a non-linear journey and one that comes to surprising destination.
The film opens with a sequence that shows linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) with her daughter through the years until she dies as a young girl from some rare type of cancer. Then we see the arrival of a dozen spacecraft which hover in various countries. There is a mad scramble to communicate with them and try to understand why they are here. A helicopter lands on Louise’s property carrying an army colonel, Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) and he brings her in to head a the team that will attempt to communicate with these creatures. She is joined by physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and together they make contact. There are two 7 legged creatures that resemble an octopus. They communicate by excreting and ink like substance that form circular pictures. Banks begins to decipher them and over time begins to identify the symbols to try and communicate with them.
“Language is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.” Ian
“That’s quite a greeting.” Louise
“Yeah, well, you wrote it.” Ian
The whole process is fascinating. Banks has to start with the basics, holding up a sign that says ‘human’. She has Ian walk back and forth and holds up a sign saying’ Ian walking’. It’s pretty amazing. Col. Weber gets frustrated, he would like things to progress faster but Banks explains her rationale and he understands. There are no dumb people in this film, no ‘bad’ guys. Everyone is trying to do their jobs and trying to do the right thing. It’s actually refreshing.
In a lesser film, Banks would be treated with skepticism and it would be pointed out that the male characters don’t respect this female’s opinion setting up an all too easy conflict.
In Arrival, there is not even a mention, a look, an indication that Banks is being treated differently because of her gender. She is the right person for the job, they seek her out, and they let her do her thing. Of course, something happens that causes every group around the world to fear that the aliens mean to do harm and this throws a wrench in the works.
“We need to make sure that they understand the difference between a weapon and a tool. Language is messy and sometimes one can be both.” Louise
The ending is very clever, smart and moving. And I don’t want to explain it. Its best experienced.
Amy Adams is amazing as always. Her face is so expressive; she communicates so much with a look. It’s really her film and I wouldn’t be surprised if an Oscar nomination is coming her way.
I have come to admire Denis Villeneuve. I’ve liked both Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015). While those films were very dark, Arrival feels very optimistic and full of wonder. The look of his films is very unique. You don’t see a lot of daylight. It’s interesting. He seems the perfect choice to helm the upcoming Blade Runner sequel. I’m looking forward to it. The music by Jóhann Jóhannsson is very powerful. He also scored prisoners and Sicario.
Arrival is not an action film. It is a character study. It is a stunning piece of work.