There’s something very special about Arrival and it isn’t just the emotive, intelligent nature of the narrative but also a welcome return to the Spielberg–esque focus of benevolent aliens. As the world around us seemingly tries to rip itself apart, and argue over every single faction, Arrival chooses to give us hope in the form of a higher being giving us the individual chance, and choice, to doing something better.
While most big Alien-based science fiction, in this era, heads out to destroy and celebrate, Denis Villeneuve’s expansive, immersive drama concentrates on learning and positive possibility notwithstanding the choices lead character Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) finally makes. Her decision may be one of eventful sacrifice but it also offers proof that sometimes those moments are bigger than us, here and now.
What overwhelmed me the most, other than the deeply honest reveal of the finale, is the driving force of learning and progression. While the world around us reflects the need and desires to spontaneously react to every situation, something I’m finding harder and harder to process logically, Arrival decides to pace itself. This slow-burner gradually places pieces out before you and lets the puzzle build up and spread out, up there on the big screen. What makes it extra clever is the understatement of editing and how we see everything out before us but we don’t know what it’s saying until the final third. Its visualisations of the ‘words’ the Heptapods create are full of meaning, like a flick of paint in a Jackson Pollock painting or the very first drawings by humans telling stories on stone-age cave walls, a true mixture of old and new with a dark, earthy filter.
Beyond the smart, considerate co-starring roles and performances from Jeremy Renner, as Scientist Ian Donnelly, and Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber, it’s Amy Adams’ Dr Louise Banks who excels on every intelligent and emotive level. In the initial scenes, we believe she’s struggling with the death of her young daughter to a rare cancer and although this will work out to be a smart play of the story, she still embodies someone who stands for something bigger to come. Her self-assured belief isn’t overplayed, it’s a steady stream of thought and consciousness that means we believe in her and the knowledge she has for language and, more importantly, wanting to make sure the aliens learn the right words. It’s an all-encompassing, inspiring reflection of humanity at its best.
With Arrival, Denis Villeneuve has helped create a sci-fi for modern times and one that offers hope on both the levels of human understanding and the future. While many of us fear troubled times ahead, it gives us a glimmer of light in a difficult year across the globe and maybe, just maybe, it might instil some faith for what comes next for those who experience the journey.
5/5 – Arrival is out now in cinemas across the UK (click here to book with Picturehouse Cinemas or with other cinemas here)
It’s based on the short sci-fi story ‘Story of Your Life’ by Ted Chiang. For more on that award-winner novella here.