What would you do if aliens arrived on Earth? It’s a complex question, and many people have thought about it. But what would you really do? Would you panic or would you try to find a reason?
The movie Arrival was directed by Denis Villeneuve, and adapted from the short story Story of Your Life, by Ted Chiang. It explores how people and governments around the world would react to the sudden appearance of aliens. But, unlike an action flick, Arrival’s protagonist and her life experiences make it a very personal story.
Arrival stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, but focuses mainly on Adams’s character, Louise Banks, a linguist, who is brought in to help the US military when aliens land on earth. Twelve ships that look like black contact lenses, called shells, land around the world, and Dr. Banks is needed to figure out how to communicate with them by deciphering the alien language and finding out why they are on Earth.
Arrival is one of the best sci-fi movies to come out in the past five years. It is less about science and survival, and more about the how humans deal with alien intelligence, and each other. Arrival explores human emotion and life, while grappling with the existence of aliens and what to do in the face of an impending global crisis. The movie also illustrates the impact that language has on both culture and the perception of time across space.
The story is told from Dr. Banks’ perspective, and uses her life story to tell the story of the alien encounter. While each scene brings more clarity about what is happening, it’s not until the end of the movie that it all fits into place.
In fact, once it was over, I immediately wanted to see it again. It is definitely a movie that necessitates multiple viewings in order to understand how everything that transpires fits together. And, by the end, the first-time viewer understands that each scene has been crafted perfectly and made intentionally confusing so that the realization of the main character and the audience is all the bigger at the end. It’s perfect in this sense.
The only critique I have is that Arrival borrows from other sci-fi classics like Contact. But, even with the similarities, Arrival works, morphing the story into something unique that is different enough to overlook these small things.
The actors also help make it all feel so real and close. While still being filled with emotion and intense drama, the movie manages to fit in jokes that don’t feel out of place. The humor that is scattered throughout the movie helps keep it from being overly depressing and serious. Renner’s character, Ian Donnelly, brings a lot of the humor. He is a theoretical physicist and his perspective of science before everything else is what leads to these jokes. But even though he has much of the humor, he still is an incredible character with depth and serious conversations.
Adams’ acting really helps bring Arrival to life. I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets a best actress nomination for what she achieved as Dr. Louise Banks. Her thoughts and life experiences help explain what’s happening in the present, giving her insights about the current crisis. Adams acts all her scenes superbly, even when, from scene to scene, the tone is very different.
A lot of the credit to this movie’s success should be given to Ted Chiang, who wrote the original story that became the screenplay. His grand storytelling and intense concepts are what made this movie so enjoyable. Chiang thought of situations and concepts that are so far off yet so close to home. The way these ideas were translated by Denis Villeneuve into movie form is amazing. It’s a complex story with many layers, but the director managed to execute it successfully.
Watching Arrival was a transformative experience. The ideas and execution were amazing. Even if people aren’t fans of sci-fi or alien stories, this one is worth seeing. It will blow your mind.