Every now and then, a news story pops up about some space agency beaming sounds into the universe in the hope that one day future generations will receive a reply. The powers that be have sent voices saying “Hello” in every known language, Lionel Richie, morse code, binary code etc. It always struck me as ironic that we’re not arrogant enough to believe that we are the only intelligent beings in the galaxy, but we’re arrogant enough to believe that whomever or whatever is out there will just happen to understand human languages. But let’s face it, if aliens ever did respond or show up on our doorstep we’d freak out, shoot first and ask questions later. Am I right? So here’s where Denis Villeneuve (‘Sicario’) and his brilliant new film ‘Arrival’ turns everything on its head.
Through the power of cinema, we have been told time and time again that should aliens ever come to our planet that they will be bigger, smarter, hostile, deplete us of our natural resources and ultimately end in world domination slash total destruction. In short: worst case scenario. So, what if we actually asked them, “What is your purpose here?” And not just asked them, but pulled every resource and truly strived to discover the answer?
In the film ‘Arrival’, a series of alien ships dot themselves around the globe. While panic ensues among its citizens, the world’s most powerful minds set up shop at these sites in an effort to communicate with and understand our new visitors. In America the government engage linguist Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams, ‘American Hustle’) and physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner, ‘The Hurt Locker’) to establish communications. As tensions around the world rise, a war seems inevitable, leaving Louise and Ian to employ drastic measures that could see the survival or total destruction of mankind.
Clearly this is not your typical alien or sci-fi movie - with language (and all its flaws and beauty) taking centre stage here. No landmarks go up in a blaze of glory, and there are no impassioned pleas from hunky U.S. presidents. This is very much a human story. A man and a woman, in their element, yet out of their depth doing what they do. It’s so impressively and unexpectedly intimate and deeply emotional. With such a complicated, intense and nuanced story, ‘Arrival’ reaches brilliant heights with its visual simplicity. The alien craft is a pared-back seed shape. No edges or corners. The inside it not a feast of electronics and lights but a sparse room with a glass wall. Its location is not a major city full of skyscrapers but a lush field surrounded by rolling hills in Montana. Our heroes don’t have drawn out meetings in war rooms or high-tech labs, but a tent filled with whiteboards and drawings taped to the walls. Villeneuve and his screenwriter Eric Heisserer (‘Lights Out’) have taken all of our preconceived ideas and flipped them, challenging everything we thought we new and creating a whole new view of the world and its possibilities. On top of it all Amy Adams puts in a sensational understated performance along with Renner, Acadamy Award winner Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg.
With such a complicated, intense and nuanced story, ‘Arrival’ reaches brilliant heights with its visual simplicity.
If you’re a sci-fi nerd or someone who always rolls their eyes and groans “Urgh, another alien movie,” then this is for you.