At cinemas nationwide
Arrival, the latest film from acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) is a visually and narratively fascinating sci-fi tale that involves the complexities of language as well as time itself. Amy Adams gives a captivating performance as Dr Louise Banks, a language professor who is recruited by the army along with fellow professor Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to interpret the messages transmitted by the cephalopod inhabitants of an alien spacecraft – one of twelve that has landed at various locations around the Earth.
Adams effectively portrays Louise’s fascination with the aliens that she is communicating with and her drive in convincing the authorities that the alien messages are not as hostile as they initially appear to be. Examples of these can be seen in an early scene where Louise removes her protective suit to make near-physical contact with the aliens in order to enhance communication and in the film’s third act, where Louise desperately attempts to maintain contact with the aliens despite facing opposition from international governments.
Villeneuve’s direction is visually impressive, with particular examples including establishing shots of the elliptical spacecraft hovering above the ground and the lack of gravity inside the ship. This latter aspect is conveyed with the striking image of Ian throwing his pen into the air, only for the pen to float. The design of the aliens themselves is also inspired, with their vague octopus-like shadows appearing more convincing than many other equivalents from big-budget Hollywood science fiction.
Villeneuve also skilfully handles the emotional aspect of the film, which centres around Louise’s relationship with her deceased daughter. In particular, the opening montage showing Louise dealing with the birth, illness and eventual death of her daughter displays a subtlety and maturity rarely seen in the sci-fi genre, even compared alongside the likes of Interstellar and Gravity.
Similarly, Eric Heisserer’s screenplay provides a more in-depth look at the characteristics of an alien language than the likes of Star Trek, with scenes focusing on Louise’s deciphering of the various circular symbols emitted by the aliens that manage to sustain the audience’s interest. Similarly, the narrative twist, involving both a non-linear understanding of time as well as Louise’s memories of her daughter, manages to be both plausible and intelligent whilst also adding a further emotional dimension to Louise’s relationship with both her daughter and Ian.
Arrival is a visual, intellectual and emotional experience that serves as a more character-based alternative to the likes of recent science fiction films. See it if you can.