Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) builds on his already impressive filmography with Arrival, potentially his best work so far. The film follows protagonist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who is chosen by the American military to help investigate the sudden arrival of 12 alien objects on Earth. She is joined by scientist Ian Donnelley (Jeremy Renner) and the pair attempt to translate the mysterious images used by these alien creatures in order to try and work out why these aliens have come to Earth and help prevent international military forces from taking action. Although Arrival would (rightly) be classed as a Sci-Fi film, its just as much about language and time as it is about science and it is the fusion of these themes that make it arguably the most intriguing film of the past year.
It’s hard to know how to describe the large ‘pods’ that arrive on earth, yet Villeneuve utilises the visual power of cinema to create such immense and overwhelming objects that fascinate the viewer from the first moment they are shown. The alien presence is the subject of much talk before we actually see it, creating suspense but also highlighting one of the film’s main themes – what they look like doesn’t really matter – it’s what they mean, the message they are trying to create, that is key. As the film develops it is clear that this is more than a ‘find out what the aliens are doing and then destroy them’ plot; the aliens have arrived for a reason and it is paramount that somebody understands the message they are trying to get across in order to prevent their presence escalating into nuclear war.
The central character played by Amy Adams may initially be seen as a relatively one-dimensional woman, carrying a fair few emotional issues and unable to truly assert her dominance amongst these military men. Yet as the film develops it is clear there is a lot more to her than that and as her relationship translating the alien language becomes more complex it is clear that her ‘backstory’ is a lot more than baggage, it is key to our entire understanding of the message the aliens are trying to get across and therefore essential to our understanding of the entire film. Adams plays the role of Dr Banks perfectly and manages to do what has been nearly impossible in recent years – become a genuinely credible Oscar candidate despite being a female in a Sci-Fi role.
What is so astounding about Arrival is its lingering message. The fusion of time and language in an ‘alien’ context addresses modern day worries about communication, divisiveness and survival. Overcoming divisions are essential to our cooperation in today’s society and the film addresses this in a complex, yet not at all ridiculous way. Sci-Fi has become a somewhat saturated genre in recent years, but Villeneuve’s take on it is one of the best, gripping the viewer from the get-go and then plunging us into emotional depths that the genre often fails to achieve.
Arrival is out now.