What’s the first thing you do when confronted with an unknown alien threat? Try to communicate with the aliens, of course. Arrival is this year’s science fiction entrant in the Oscar race stars Amy Adams as the nation’s top linguist charged with the mission of communicating with an alien race.
Release Date: November 11, 2016
Writer: Eric Heisserer, Ted Chiang
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Arrival starts with the arrival of 12 large alien pods scattered throughout the world. The US pod is located in Montana, while others are found in Russia, China, England, et al. The film’s main storyline follows Louise Banks and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) as they interact with the seven-legged aliens they call “heptapods.”
The most fascinating part of Arrival is the process of deciphering language. Each pod has an access hatch where Banks and Donnelly can interact with the heptapods. The heptapod language is a unintelligible sounds of some sort, but their language consists of complicated circular symbols. Banks uses her name as a starting point. The heptapods respond in kind and now they are off to the races trying to find words and phrases that can be translated, such as eat and walk.
As fascinating as linguistics are, there’s a bigger picture. Why are the aliens here and what do they want? Are they a threat or are they friendly? The entire operation is lead by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) representing the military and Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlberg) representing the US government. At the same time, all of the other countries with pods are also trying to communicate with the heptapods and coming to different conclusions about the aliens’ intent.
Here you have the typical military tale of staying ahead of the possible alien threat and the lack of time the team needs to answer questions. Let’s also note that the world is falling apart wondering if these is the start of an alien invasion.
The story though is about Louise. Flashbacks abound as we look into the loner lifestyle of this college professor. We see that she is divorced and the parent of a child who recently passed from a terminal illness.
It’s hard not to liken Arrival with an episode of Star Trek. As with most alien films, there’s a lesson that we need to learn about ourselves individually and as a member of the global family of humans. The film also manages to tie the story of Louise, her past and future, together in a way that intertwines her life with the current mission.
Arrival has your riveted from beginning to end. You’ll marvel at the science of language and you’ll feel the sense of discovery as the alien language is slowly revealed. There is also the sense of urgency and frustration as our heroes must appease and outmaneuver the government with very little patience.
The best part of Arrival is its ending that sneaks up on you out of nowhere and begins to answer the question, you’ve asking from the very beginning. Arrival is a complex story that never gets confusing and ends in a nice tidy package. The ending is so strong, you’ll almost instantly need to see the movie again to catch things your missed.