There are a ton of movies about alien invasions. All of them deal with how humanity reacts to the revelation that they are no longer alone in the universe. But none have ever truly grasped the psychology of such a scenario outside of expressing the more apocalyptic side of things … until now. Arrival is a different type of sci-fi film. And it is undoubtedly the most cerebral to ever enter the genre.
Amy Adams stars as Louise, an expert in linguistics who is recruited by a U.S. military colonel (Forest Whitaker) when one of twelve monolith-like UFOs lands in rural Montana. Along with a scientist named Ian (Jeremy Renner), Louise must find a way to communicate with the aliens to learn their intentions, before the worst nature of humanity kicks in and insights war with the alien visitors.
From the opening sequence, it’s clear that this film is one bathed in subtlety and intense realism rather than CGI action sequences. Most of the film is spent with Louise and Ian attempting to communicate with the aliens by teaching them the basic foundations of language. And even though we are walked through elementary levels of teaching, director Denis Villeneuve paces the film beautifully with breathtaking cinematography and a soothing score. Despite a relatively melancholy tone, intrigue is kept throughout thanks to interesting insights into the fundamentals of communication and how it shapes our view of reality.
Amy Adams’ earnest and emotionally gripping performance is also a driving force. Her character deals with loss and a genuine hope of connecting with creatures that many have already deemed hostile due to humanity’s innate nature to be afraid of what we don’t understand. Several references are made to moments in human history where communication was used for malevolent purposes, and thus even though we never feel threatened by the aliens, we can’t help but understand the sides that do.
But through Louise’s journey, Arrival manages to present an inherently beautiful message. Through language and the perilous effort to understand and survive, the movie creates a sense of both hope and genuine love even if a terrifying outcome seems inevitable. There are so many nuances to unpeel about this film that can’t truly be touched on without giving away the film’s ending, but know that although the film is even more complex than Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, the themes of connection, time, and the beauty of life are all evenly felt.
FINAL GRADE: A