Arrival Movie Review: The Type of Film Which Is So Moving That It Stuns You Into Silence, Film Companion

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner

Arrival is the type of film which stuns you into silence.  It’s moving, meditative, and melancholic. A piercing sadness suffuses the narrative like a subtle perfume. I spent hours marveling at the puzzle and how the pieces fit together. And thinking about Amy Adams and her beautiful, frayed face. This doesn’t happen often in a science-fiction film.

Arrival is based on an award-winning novella – Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang. It’s the story of a linguist Louise Banks who is called in by the army for assistance when 12 gigantic, pod-shaped spaceships land all over the world.  Actually, they don’t land. They hover gently above. Every 18 hours, a hatch opens and experts are sent in to figure out the basic question – what do the aliens want? Are these friends or enemies? The heptapods, as they come to be known, hover inside the spaceship, behind a transparent wall. They speak in gorgeous, mystifying inky blobs. What does it mean? It’s up to Louise to decode these signs and save the world.

From this material director Denis Villeneuve creates a layered, thoughtful thriller. Arrival is designed to be a complex, perplexing experience. I struggled to connect the strands but I couldn’t look away or start planning dinner. Villeneuve, writer Eric Heisserer and cinematographer Bradford Young skillfully construct a slow-paced suspense that sucks you in. In places, the film wobbles – we get thinly etched army characters and a Chinese leader bent on declaring war upon the aliens. Jeremy Renner’s theoretical physicist doesn’t have much going on  either. But Amy Adams holds it together. Her face registers the tiniest of emotions. Her grief is vast but also knowing.

At one point in the film, Louise asks: if you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?  That is the crux of Arrival. When you ponder, as I did, the twisty plot, remember this line. And ask yourself the same question.

Rating:   star

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