Sometimes artists are misunderstood, and sometimes it’s just a case of poor translators. Or maybe those artists are operating on another level of language? A love language if you will. Oooh foreshadowing…
I personally would like to think that our attempts to understand the alien are important and when a film does well at the box office, more so when it’s a film which is about the other, it’s time to stand up and take notice. And reframe some thoughts.
Another first contact film you say? Well, I say it’s the best one.
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Director: Jeff Nichols
released on blu-ray February 7, 2017
Rotten Tomatoes: 94%, Audience Score 82%
The Guardian: ****/*****
Denis Villeneuve is a French Canadian director. Yay for Canadian content! He’s a pretty swell guy too. I’ve reviewed one of his films before, but this time I think he has a shot at real international success: if you consider the Academy Awards a big deal that is. And since I wrote that review he also started development on the new Dune movie, so yeah. Cool guy. Cool cool cool.
Arrival is a story about aliens. Well, on the surface anyways.
Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) relives the childhood of her daughter, who has just died of cancer. Fast forward to Louise in the midst of a university lecture, when twelve spacecraft land across the Earth. U.S. Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) enlists Louise to aid physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) in decipher the alien language to find out the purpose of their visit.
Visiting the spacecraft of the “heptapods” the scientists discover that the aliens have an advanced circular language which is communicated via ink flares and in which whole thoughts appear in ink circles within seconds, regardless of the complexity of the sentence. Louise also beings to dream of her daughter and the father.
When Louise unravels that the aliens want to “offer weapon” to them, similar translations of “use weapon” are uncovered at other spacecraft sites. Certain countries like China respond by closing off global communications, while other prepare for an attack. Louise further argues that weapon might mean tool in this case. Some US soldiers plan to bomb the spacecraft and succeed.
After an explosion goes off which almost kills Ian and Louise, Ian determines that the circular symbols relate to time, and that the twelve alien sites are each sharing part of the technology.
China prepares for war, and Louise finds her way back to the aliens. They explain that she has been seeing the future and that their tool AKA language allows humanity to change their understanding of time. They offer this gift in exchange for help 3000 years into the future. Louise returns to camp but has a vision of the future wherein the UN has implemented the language and the Chinese general who ordered the attack on the heptapods is thanking her for turning him around.
She was able to do this by calling him on his personal mobile in the present, while he shows her his number in the future – she convinces him of the truth in the present by repeating the same whispers of his wife’s dying words to her in the future. This is when we learn that Ian is the father of Hannah and the husband of Louise. It just hasn’t happened yet. Ian admits his love for Louise, while Louise knows the reason they eventually split up is because Louise knows Hannah will die.
Despite this future knowledge, when Ian talks about babies with his wife, she agrees to it.
Pros: The plot twists are original, the story is realistic, and the tone is gripping. The idea of language is carried throughout the film, and somehow we are taken right along with it, to a very satisfying conclusion. Amy Adams is a showstopper in this film.
Cons: At times the moodiness and melancholy are a bit much to take in. You need to be completely relaxed and willing to sit still for the full runtime in order to enjoy the payoff. The details are key in this story and Villeneuve is relying heavily on them. It’s a thinking persons’s scifi.
Runtime: 1 hour 56 minutes
Points of Interest: The ink circles were created by Montreal artist Martine Bertrand. Yay Canadian content! It is also the artist’s son who created Hannah’s drawings. The movie is based on a short story titled Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang.
It might seem obvious at this point what Arrival is about. Aliens. Well no, actually. It’s about time and the relationships between people define our sense of time. Language is merely an activator towards that resulting outcome, and once we can appreciate another language, we open ourselves up to visiting and revisiting themes of our lives, and in some cases, becoming available for new ones.
I cannot say enough good things about this film. I have to admit when I first sat down to watch it, I was a little bit tired and disappointed at how slowly paced it was, but then on a second viewing, starting over, which I find a tad ironic now, I was able to settle into Villeneuve’s dirty sci-fi and appreciate the thoughtfulness. And I kept thinking about it all week, which is what a good movie should have you do. The arrival of this realization was worth the wait.