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Arrival – An Intelligent Sci-Fi Thriller

Michael Kennedy

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[ot-caption title=” Go see Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival, especially if you are a sci-fi fan. Regardless, this is one of the best, most thought-provoking films this year. It’s a very solid film and I highly recommend it.(via Wikimedia, Gage Skidmore CC-BY-SA 2.0)”][spacer height=”20px”]

WARNING: SPOILERS[spacer height=”20px”]

Denis Villeneuve, director of Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario, has recently released his newest film, Arrival, which is a clever take on the alien invasion genre, with all of the conflict taking place in characters’ minds instead of giant space battles.[spacer height=”20px”]

The film opens with Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a college professor of linguistics, thinking back to her time as a single mother raising her daughter from her birth until her death by way of cancer. We then follow Banks to work, or the university, where no students are attending class due to news of twelve alien vessels appearing around the globe.[spacer height=”20px”]

She along with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are tasked by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to assist the army in Montana in understanding why the aliens came to earth.

The film then takes place over a number of scenes where Ian and Louise attempt to teach the aliens, who are behind a glass wall in their ship, English, or attempt to learn their written language. Meanwhile, other countries such as China and Russia inch towards war against the aliens, tempting the US Army to do the same, providing a sense of urgency for the characters, as they seek to teach the aliens English while in reality, it is the aliens teaching them their written language. This works well and provides the characters more motivation in their hurried linguistic quest.

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Towards the end the twist is revealed, altering the whole plot and your perception of it. The aliens view time as a circle, they can view their future as well as their past, by learning their written, circular language, Louise begins to see her own future, one in which she has and eventually loses a child. All of the “memories” about the child had not been memories or even mere dreams, but haunting visions of the future. Whether you like this twist or not will determine whether you like this movie or think it’s another pretentious sci-fi film that gets way too complicated to be very enjoyable. [spacer height=”20px”]

Louise, aware that she can see the future now, uses knowledge of her own future recollection of her present to stop the world from going to war against the aliens. The aliens, now confident that humanity will understand their language and therefore their perception of time, leave, knowing they will be able to work together someday. [spacer height=”20px”]

As a fan of high concept science-fiction I was interested in this film from the moment I heard about it. Villeneuve weaves many subtleties into the film and its concept of time that will probably become apparent on a repeat viewing. Adams’ and Renner’s performances suit the script’s intellectual themes and plot and the scenes where they teach the aliens English as though they were children were both entertaining and engaging. By framing the whole film from Louise’s perspective, her emotions and thoughts drive the audience through the puzzle that is the story in a way that’s neither confusing nor heavy-handed. The humanity and thoughtfulness Adams brings to her character is brilliant. While many films of this type have popped up over the last few years (Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian) this one focuses more on the science and yet the human element is perhaps the most well-developed and compelling of the lot. In short, check Arrival out if you get a chance; I promise you, you’ll still be thinking about it weeks later.[spacer height=”20px”]

Sources: imdb, wikimedia  Photo Source: Gage Skidmore

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Arrival – An Intelligent Sci-Fi Thriller