The science fiction film that asks the question “Why are they here?” could not be more timely and important.
Arrival is a film that is both complex and profound, yet is amazingly simple once you understand, or unlock, the mystery of its language. Director Denis Villeneuve has given us a film that’s the first thing that was able to give me hope for humanity since Tuesday. The broader story of Arrival is about uniting as a planet, one race, in order to solve the question above using our most dangerous weapon, language. It’s not an easy journey as we’ve discovered over the last year at an increasing rate. The more intimate story is one of Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications. Her journey is the emotional core of Arrival and spans great lengths of time throughout the story, even if we may not be fully aware of it.
Twelve alien heptapods appear all over the earth in various locations with no rhyme or reason. This is the catalyst that brings together the leaders of the world who all work at deciphering the alien language. The fear of imminent death is obviously a concern, but what are the other possibilities? The film asks if they’re research scientists or even tourists. Louise describes the intricacies of languages and emphasizes the importance of not only learning the alien language, but how they communicate. Even amongst humans that speak the same language things can get lost in translation.
“We need to make sure that they understand the difference between a weapon and a tool. Language is messy and sometimes one can be both.”
We’ve just elected a sexist, racist demagogue as the leader of the free world. The most powerful position on earth. Someone who sought support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than using rational argument. When Arrival talks about the dangers of communication I could think of nothing more timely. The ramifications of what the word “weapon” may or may not mean to an alien race. And how we as humans react to that as well. The result is to cut off communication. Sever the ties of unification due to fear of the unknown and assumptions. It all spirals out of control so easily. It was also depressingly humorous when the film refers to the president commanding the military and seeming authoritative as if they knew what to do. Two people actually laughed out loud at this. It would not have played as a joke last week.
The mystery of a universal language is one that plays out until the end of Arrival, but the emotional story underneath is what truly grabbed me. The coupling of these two stories is brilliant. Amy Adams delivers a truly wonderful performance of a woman who knows loss and love. This film is one of the years best. Bradford Young’s cinematography is breathtaking, Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score is mesmerizingly alien, and Villeneuve’s direction acutely focused.
I cannot discuss, or praise, Arrival more than I already have without spoiling the true joys that I had while discovering for myself. It’s a film that begs you to think, to communicate, and to be introspective with your fellow man. We are all one and we need to know that now more than ever. I urge you to see this film in theaters now.
Please check back on the site next week as we discuss Arrival further and delve into what the solved mystery at the films conclusion means.