Feeling anxious about the sequel of Blade Runner? Completely forgot how it feels to watch a sci-fi movie that doesn’t have a merchandise emporium behind? We have both good and bad news. The good news – Dennis Villeneuve directed Arrival, and it’s as good as it gets. The bad news – most of its resonance as a piece of art comes from us living in wretched times.
12 spaceships arrive on Earth. Linguists professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is recruited by the FBI to help communicate with the occupiers of the spaceship that arrived to the US. As other world powers desperately try, as quickly as possible, to understand why the aliens are here, and if their intentions are harmful, Louise and her team find out that it may be harder to communicate with those who already understand you.
All good sci-fi contains several themes in itself, and Arrival (based on Ted Chiang’s Story of your Life) is no exception. Its premise is deceivingly simple: if aliens arrive, how are we to talk to them? Villeneuve’s film could hardly be more timely: to have a professor saving us all from World War III, when we live in a era that grows incredibly sceptical of experts, is, to say the least, provocative. That isn’t the only political comment of this film, though, as we see world powers growing more and more suspicious of each other, in a domino effect we unfortunately have seen way too many times over History.
And yet, the most powerful theme in Arrival is a purely philosophical one. Namely, would you go on with your life choices if you knew what pain they would inevitably bring? Generously, the film does give you the key to understand what you are watching right at the beginning, and yet, you won’t understand it until the end. The way information is released throughout the narrative – slowly, teasing – keeps you guessing, completely absorbed by even the nuts and bolts of translation.
Amy Adams is far from being the perfect casting choice, but in such a brilliant film, any actress could easily shine. Her choice of making Louise an ordinary woman, and give her, we dare say, a secondary character nature, is, however, very interesting. She’s a hero with no heroic features, vomiting after seeing the aliens for the first time, and every time she stands up against authority, she does it in the least aggressive way, favouring trickery instead of strength. Our understanding of her character is, however, flawed, as we consider her actions in the light of her past – the death of her child and the abandonment by her husband. To re-watch Arrival is thus to understand her character under a very different light, the light of a fighter, not a quitter.
Though the soundtrack is a bit too much for our taste (that won’t stop Joháan Joháansson of being yet again nominated for the Academy Award, we’re sure), Arrival is almost the perfect sci-fi film, and deserves a watch from everyone that cares about great films.
Arrival was in UK cinemas from 11th November 2016.