Arrival Review – Pushing Through the Language Barrier
Arrival, the science fiction film from Prisoners and Sicario director Denis Villeneuve has a fairly simple premise. When alien spacecraft land across the globe, different countries scramble to communicate with the beings inside and discover why they have come to the planet. There’s really not much else you need to know about the story other than Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, an expert in communication and language while Jeremy Renner plays scientist Ian Donnelly. What follows is a tense and suspenseful narrative which might not go the way you expect it to.
What makes Arrival standout from other sci-fi films is its themes of communication and language. Rather than focusing on action or technology the characters in the film are determined to uncover how the aliens communicate in order to determine if they are friend or foe. This turns into a race between countries and some are more trigger happy than others as panic begins to set in. The mysterious creatures don’t look like the stereotypical imagery of aliens from other media and the early periods of the film are dedicated to Louise trying to communicate the most rudimentary of words to the beings from outer space. It’s an interesting theme which seems somewhat unexplored in mainstream sci-fi films like this one, how do you communicate with something that not only doesn’t speak your language but doesn’t speak at all?
Should you pay close attention to the film you can work out where the plot is headed but it’s a dramatic and powerful journey nonetheless. Amy Adams gives a solid, nuanced performance as the somewhat troubled translator while the rest of the cast including Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker give good performances. It’s difficult to say much more about the story itself without spoiling Arrival so know that this film is really one you should see for yourself without having it spoiled. The art and design concerning the aliens are quite cool with the monolithic structure of their spacecraft definitely giving off an otherworldly vibe. You certainly get the sense that this is a culture and a species that humanity struggles to comprehend.
If you aren’t confused by the fairly hectic third act of the film then it all ties together neatly answering the big question of the film. Aside from one very dumb decision by some of the humans in the film, everything makes sense from a political and military perspective. Since humanity doesn’t really understand these beings most countries play things pretty cautiously but as time goes on they become more and more restless increasingly looking at their arsenal for a pre-emptive strike on the aliens. One of the more interesting questions raised by Arrival is how the aliens perceive us and it somewhat questions our assumptions about other beings and that which we don’t understand.
To say much more about Arrival would be a detriment to the film as it really deserves audiences to go in fairly fresh. Suffice to say that the film does deserve a lot of the praise and accolades it has received. With grounded performances from Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner, interesting and different themes about communication and language plus a cool visual style, Arrival is a strong, intriguing sci-fi film with a tense and dramatic story.
What did you think of Arrival? Did you like the direction the story went in?
Let me know in the comments below.
For more on all things film check out the archive.