Arrival (12A) | Close-Up Film Review


Dir. Denis Villeneuve, US, 2016, 116 mins

Cast:  Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

This intelligent, grown up story has a mind expanding philosophical take on the “aliens arrive on earth” theme, which is closer to the tradition of  “Close Encounters” than the sort of action movies where Presidents Bill Pullman or Morgan Freeman get Bruce Willis or Will Smith to smash the invading aliens to bits and save the earth.

Twelve strange cigar shaped spacecraft appear at locations all over the earth – America,China, Russia, Australasia, Britain and so on.   In America expert linguist Louise Banks (Adams) is called in by the military, who have of course surrounded and isolated this alien object, and is ordered to attempt to communicate with the arrivals.  One of the members of the team is scientist Ian Donnelly (Renner), who is eager to question the visitors about their technology, while in charge of matters from the military point of view is Colonel Weber (Whittaker).

The story telling is somewhat elliptical, in that we learn through apparent flashbacks that Louise has suffered a tragedy in her life with the death of her teenage daughter, though she never refers to it.  You will learn why at the end of the movie.  The pace is also leisurely, some might say ponderous, when for example it gives you plenty of time to speculate on the nature of the visitors and their intentions in the sequence where Louise and her team first enter the spaceship, whose interior defies the earthly concept of physics, as they penetrate deep into this alien world for her first “close encounter”.  The aliens themselves are presented in intriguing, indeterminate form, while cracking the alien communication, which appears to our eyes to be circles with ink blots floating in the air, is initially a baffling challenge.  Meanwhile elsewhere other countries too are doing their own investigations and largely refusing to share the information they have gleaned with their colleagues elsewhere in the world, while military action against the supposed invaders is threatened in China, unless Louise can discover the aliens’ intention in time to prevent it.

The resolution and the challenging way the story sometimes moves about in time, particularly towards the end, can be seen as either intriguing or confusing, depending on your point of view.  Me, I go for intriguing.   It might be helpful to seize on two references in the dialogue.   Firstly the idea that time itself might not be linear after all – a concept which Professor Brian Cox acknowledged recently on television as a scientific possibility – and secondly the linguistically accepted idea that the way you think is shaped by the language that you speak.   One of the problems we face as one human race in communicating among our various nationalities, who speak a different language.  I should also mention that the look of the film, particularly the aliens and their ship, is beautifully and imaginatively conceived.

It would have been interesting to have learned more about what was happening in the rest of the world.  I was for example wondering how the visitors were greeted in Devon!   But that would be another story.  This one is about Louise and her journey of discovery into what the aliens have to teach the world overall and the light they will spread on her life in particular.