DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve LEAD CAST: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker SCREENWRITER: Eric Heisserrer PRODUCER: Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Aaron Ryder, David Linde EDITOR: Joe Walker MUSICAL DIRECTOR: Jóhann Jóhannsson, Max Richter GENRE: Sci-Fi CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bradford Young DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount Pictures/Sony Pictures LOCATION: USA RUNNING TIME: 127 minutes
Technical assessment: 4
Moral assessment: 4
CINEMA rating: V14
News spread about a dozen ovoid spaceships hovering over 12 different locations across the globe. One is in the United States, somewhere in the fields of Montana, standing 450 meters tall and increasingly causing anxiety in the citizenry. To find out what the aliens’ purpose is for coming to Earth, military intelligence officer Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) creates a team and enlists the services of Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist whose expertise includes interpretation of languages and communication symbols, and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a physicist and mathematician. Soon the spacecraft opens up, and the team comes face to face with the extraterrestrials. Although similar teams are doing their own decoding exercise in other parts of the world, interpretations differ, thus impatience grows to panic level, until China cuts off its communication links with the rest and announces that it is ready to attack the visitors from outer space.
Arrival is one sci-fi feature where the aliens’ spaceships come unarmed, becoming themselves symbols of goodwill in a film that deals on symbols as a tool for fulfilling a higher purpose. Perhaps this is intentional on the part of Villeneuve, who also masterfully employs color (or the lack of it) to enable the audience to intuit the protagonist’s psyche and to meld inner scape and outer space together to arrive at the truth. With all its technical aspects in place, Arrival fills more than the viewer’s hunger for entertainment or intellectual stimulation, and surprises with its ability to engage the audience’s attention in spite of its stark visual simplicity. Noteworthy, too, is the story’s use of ink—not computers or English-speaking robots—to communicate. For a superior civilization to use a primitive writing tool such as ink to deliver its message is again a riddle worth pondering. Adams, at once vulnerable and brave, delivers a nuanced performance that imprints itself on the memory.
It is difficult to state the message of Arrival without divulging what the movie is keeping until the end. So let us just say that it speaks about the value of communication in relating to one another, be it on an individual or on a global basis; it highlights trusting and being trusted, cooperation springing from an expansive world view, and courage borne of surviving pain and loss. Most of all, Arrival is a tender reminder of the lofty purpose of life, and of the giftedness of the human being that he or she is in danger of forgetting. In the film, “weapon” emerges as “gift”, therefore a gift must be used as a weapon—and a weapon can either heal or kill. Arrival scores high in that it respects the intelligence of the audience even as it steers our consciousness into half-forgotten realms.