Director: Denis Velleneuve. Starring: Amy Adams, Forest Whitaker, Jeremy Renner. USA, 2016. IMDB: 8.0. My rating: 4/4. Science fiction poetry.
Arrival is a beautiful reminder that when we gaze at the stars we actually look at ourselves. Shot mostly in dark colours, it is full of internal light. It is a poem, a reflection, a meditation. A story about the most valuable things we have, our fears and desires. About humility, our (in)ability to hear each other and what makes us human. The visual style of the movie tries to bring up Tarkovski’s movies – and not many modern science fiction movies can be proud of that. Still, ”Arrival” combines that in a modern and accessible way that makes the film not an art-house experiment but rather a story for all of us, if we let it in our heart. ”Arrival” is that kind of film that even though not perfect but it makes you feel ashamed for having even a slightest intention to criticize it.
Our world. 12 alien spaceships suddenly land on Earth. Nothing happens, The aliens don’t go out of the ships, they don’t initiate the communication, seemingly not interested in it. Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is invited to establish the contact with the help of the scientist Ian Donnely (Jeremy Renner), all under the control of the military headed by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker).
What makes the ”Arrival” really important is that here the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The sad part is that even with all the acclaim and success it received, I saw many viewers complaining about some plot inconsistencies, technical solutions, ambiguous ending, etc. It seems that many people lost exactly that small but important felling the movie is trying to deliver. There are some things you can feel with your intuition, heart, but not logic. ”Arrival” is exactly the case when one has the right to say all this seemingly naive and romantic stuff, because from the technical point of view it is brilliant. It feels genuine. I wish we would learn more how to feel things. Like ”Solaris”, these stories need to be felt. Remember, how you walked on a street in spring, when everything starts to bloom and suddenly you feel different?
The film brings various ideas to the viewers. One of them is an curious concept of ”linguistic relativity”. It states that the language you speak affects the way you see the world, thus knowing more languages expands your comprehension of life. Many scientists call these theories controversial. I would like to point one thing out though. One thing is speaking the language. Another is speaking it on a daily basis. And another thing yet would be speaking it continuously on a daily basis for years almost without using your native language (in case of immigration). How many of these scientists have actually tested and tried the third option? I have experienced it by myself. Another concept the film introduces is completely different understanding of time. Some of these elements were explored before, for example, in a wonderful novel ”A Stranger in a Strange Land” by R. Heinlein. “Arrival” could analyzed deeply from different points of view as it offers a lot of thoughtful material, but I feel it would deserve another article then.
Many compared “Arrival” to “Contact”. That is not devoid of sense, but the mood in both movies is different. If “Contact” shared somehow the elevated spirit of “Forrest Gump” (both directed by Zemeckis), then “Arrival” feels more like a modern and more accessible reminiscence of “Solaris” (1972) or “Stalker” – dark and gloomy, but with a bright light shining through. Visually it is more refined and elaborated as well than Zemeckis’ film (that is also a wonderful movie).
The trailers, of course, were pretty different from what we actually see. That is fine, since the movie was produced by Paramount. ”Arrival” is anything but a slick sci-fi blockbuster. That was predictable since the director is a wonderful Canadian guy Denis Villeneuve, a rising star (”Incendies”, ”Prisoners”, ”Enemy”, ”Sicario” – all remarkable movies he directed). The film is very fragile and not perfect (even Villeneuve himself admitted this). But the things it is showing simply do not allow me to be too critical with it. Let’s put aside all the stuff that is usually said about a good film – acting, photography, etc. You will find it all here on very high levels. What makes the ”Arrival” really important is that here the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
The light and music intertwine and are touching. The movie is very dark and pretty minimal, but it is stunning how through these bleak and monotone colours you can see an immense amount of light. The sound is chosen very carefully and is very minimal, exactly how it should be. It operates with subtle sounds and noises that help to create the atmosphere. A long-time collaborator of Villeneuve Jóhann Jóhansson is responsible for the soundtrack.
For such a dark and minimal movie, it is touching to see an immense amount of light shining through.
Probably the most impressive part of the movie is the alien part – the spaceships, the aliens and how the interaction occurs. This is pure magic. The designers did an incredible job to make it all real. The way hectapods communicate could be easily a form of art itself. By the way, Villeneuve said in an interview that the green screen was used only once during the shooting, thus putting actors in a real environment. This is his preferred way of working as he mentioned. Currently he is filming ”Bladerunner 2049” using a similar approach.
The movie collected an impressive cast. Ady Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker – all are wonderful here. Most of the movie’s weight rests, of course, on Adams – and she bears it impressively. But the mighty and heavy performance of Whitaker is also worth noting. He has a simple role but his powerful acting is impressive. The script is based on ”Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. The movie took slightly a different direction trying to expand the story (it is very short and can be read in half an hour) and did it well considering it was a difficult material to film.
Worth watching? ”Arrival” is a heartfelt story that behind linguistics, gloom and aliens is hiding the most important things about ourselves. A must-see for anyone interested in cinema and one of the most curious and important events in cinema of past few years. Instant sci-fi classics.