Aliens Land to Deliver a Message in “Arrival”

Photo courtesy of Sachyn Mital, Wikipedia

Time is the driving force in director Denis Villeneuve’s latest film, “Arrival,” a science fiction drama based on “Story of Your Life,” a piece written by Ted Chiang.

Unlike most alien films, it focuses on the aliens, known as heptapods, coming down to Earth and the crucial need to establish communication in order to build understanding between them and the human race. To understand their language, the United States relies on linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) to learn their language and figure out why they came to Earth.

The screenwriting in this film is excellent and shows science fiction movie’s full potential to be thought-provoking. During the runtime of the film it teeters between Bank’s memories and current events, which leads to plenty of confusion. This unique way of storytelling becomes more unclear as the film goes along, until it is explained near the end of the movie’s runtime.  

The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking in this film, especially in scenes where it shows the spaceships from a distance. The egg-shaped UFOs that touch down in random parts of the world are also shockingly realistic in appearance, especially in close up shots. Also, to echo the theme of time, almost every scene features the camera panning in. This makes the film feel even tenser, as it feels like time is running out. It also shows off Villeneuve’s talent for cohesive storytelling.

The lack of action sequences will make the film appear dull for action movie junkies, but adds to its cerebral feel, making the audience focus solely on the problem at hand. However, what it lacks in action it makes up for in thrills. “Arrival” plays out like a puzzle that teases the audience and only divulges crucial pieces sparingly, giving audience members a thrill comparable to other stimulating films like “Inception.” The film is tense because of the race for answers, as every country attempts to learn from the aliens through various methods.

Amy Adams leads the film with her best performance yet, as a quiet but memorable linguist who uses her language skills to communicate through words, instead of violence, with the extraterrestrial beings. One of her most memorable scenes in this film is when she enters the spaceship. Her silent but noticeable uneasiness speaks volumes and makes it one of the most taxing scenes of the film. Jeremy Renner plays supporting character Ian Donnelly, a physicist hired to aid Banks with his knowledge of science. Renner plays Donnelly well with a calm demeanor, equally as fascinated as Banks: he is eager to understand the otherworldly beings. In addition, his chemistry with Adams compliments the movie well and progresses naturally adding to the film’s believability – despite its extraterrestrial nature.

Science fiction films that solve their problems with words, not warfare, are sadly few and far between, due to the high demand for blockbuster flicks like the recent “Star Trek Beyond” and “Jurassic World.” But “Arrival” proves that they can be done successfully in a unique and thought-provoking way. Although it is about aliens, that is only the surface; “Arrival” seeks to give a message. This film speaks to a much more consequential topic in recent years of cooperation and bringing together the divide of communication that separates the countries and for that reason, it is an important film to see.