Arrival is the film we need right now. It’s a movie about love. It’s a movie about life. It’s a movie about understanding each other; helping and guiding. Arrival is a film that dares you to appreciate what you have, even if you know you won’t have it forever.
Arrival is no different. As the film begins, we’re shown a few years in the life of Louise Banks (Amy Adams). The montage is quick and expertly paced, not dissimilar to the way Terrence Malick cuts sequences of his films. I won’t reveal what we learn about Louise in this introductory segment, but it is indeed enough to appreciate her plight. Shortly after, the aliens arrive. They arrive at 12 seemingly random locations across the world, in giant spacecraft that hover mere feet off the ground. Arrival dedicates its narrative to the sole spacecraft in America, which is located in Montana.
Louise is a renowned linguist, and is quickly recruited by US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to make and maintain healthy contact with the beings. (How much time did Weber spend vetting Louise’s credentials? How does he know when she’ll be at her office or at home? These questions do not interest Villeneuve. Weber knows because he knows. You infer and accept, and you move on.) In Montana, Louise is joined by Ian (Jeremy Renner), a theoretical physicist who studies life through science. Louise studies it through language and communication. Their differing philosophies create a healthy balance. It’s amazing how much we can accomplish when we actually listen to people who approach things differently than we do.
Communication is made and maintained with the beings, but I’m not interested in revealing how. Arrival is too fine a film to spoil in print. I can describe Bradford Young’s marvelous cinematography (Young knows precisely when to be cold and warm, handheld and still), but you need to see it to fully appreciate it. You can stream Jóhann Jóhannsson’s beautiful score online, but it’s far better when heard as the film flickers before you. Joe Walker has edited some of my favorite contemporary films, including Hunger, Shame, 12 Years a Slave and Sicario, and as is Walker’s style, his editing is a character itself in Arrival, jumping linear narrative to enhance story.
Adams, Renner and Whitaker play their characters as no-nonsense professionals. There’s little exaggerated emotion in the film. Barely (if any) crying or screaming or cheap humor is done here. You don’t find acting like this often in American studio films. The characters in Arrival are people, not caricatures. The truth of the actors’ work, coupled with the impressive technical aspects of the film, help shape Arrival into an experience I’m eager to revisit soon, and often.
We’re trapped in a delicate time. Tensions are high, people are anxious. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I can’t control the decisions of others, I can only control what I do and how I react. But I can also choose to listen. I wish more people were listening right now. The beings in Arrival come to our land uninvited, and show no signs of leaving. Yet, when we listen to them, we understand that they are coming from a place of calm. They’re interested, they want to learn. Louise stresses that if we allow them to know us, we will learn about them in return. But we can’t learn through fear or intimidation. We can’t yell and make noise and drop bombs. We have to listen. By listening, perhaps an understanding can be realized. And, perhaps, once a calm understanding is reached, we can begin to help each other in a mutually beneficial way. But it all starts with a conversation. It all starts with listening. I only wish we were all capable of doing that in real life. A-
You May Also Like