Directed by Denis Villeneuve • Written by Eric Heisserer
With Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker
There’s a mournful nature to much of Denis Villeneuve’s work, which is forefront in the tone of Arrival, an intelligent science-fiction drama-thriller based on the short story, Story of Your Life by Ted Chaing. Adapted by screenwriter Eric Heisserer, the film stars Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a linguistics egghead called upon to help establish lines of communication with a mysterious alien spacecraft, one of twelve that have appeared in various locations around the globe.
The antithesis of b-movie entertainment like Independence Day, Villeneuve’s film is a complex, thought-provoking exploration of ideas around our understanding of communication. I have deep reservoirs of respect for movies that invite the audience to be challenged and involved on a higher level than the movie itself; Kubrick’s 2001, Nolan’s Interstellar – cinematic gifts that keep giving, no matter how many times we see them. Arrival is such a film, one in which breathtaking spectacle is second to the strength of the stimulating ideas that course through its veins.
As she did so strikingly in Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, Amy Adams captures an acute sense of longing, fighting an inner turmoil that regularly interrupts her daily life. It’s a graceful performance of bottled anguish that is mirrored by the stern, grey tones of the overall piece, giving the film a deep breath of human intimacy, as it alternates and intersperses things that are both grounded and grandiose. She’s joined by an uncommonly kindly Jeremy Renner, playing a theoretical physicist, working alongside her to unravel the alien language.
While rich with existential ambition, this is a story that simultaneously asks its audience to think inwardly. The global reaction to the arrival of aliens is another fascinating dimesion, working as a fulcrum for much of the inherent tension brought about by widespread panic and our natural fear of the unknown.
The initial sight of the monolithic alien craft hovering motionless over the landscape is an awe-inspiring one, yet also one that mixes feelings of dread and intrigue, surrounded by tanks, jets and military hardware. Jóhann Jóhannsson’s suggestive score deepens the mood, cleverly attuning itself as a haunting representation of a muffled alien language.
While there’s a coldness to the overall experience, don’t let yourself hold that against it. Arrival isn’t the kind of blockbuster entertainment that it was mis-marketed as, it’s much more than that – a deft film of subliminal hope and positivity, mounted on a multiplex canvas that reminds us how meaningful a trip to the cinema can be. Find a like-minded friend, and it’s one that begs to be discussed and explored over drinks, long after hours.