A Movie Review: Arrival (2016)



“There is no time. Many become one.”

How would humanity react if extraterrestrials visited Earth? Many films have attempted to answer this question, but few have been as thoughtful as “Arrival”. The film explores several interesting themes, including the nature and perception of time, linguistic theories about the relationship between language and culture, and the philosophical question of whether people can, or should, change events in their lives if they were given foreknowledge of the future.   It stars Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a brilliant but lonely linguistics professor who is tormented by visions of her daughter Hannah, who died of cancer when she was a teenager. After arriving at her lecture hall one morning to find it nearly empty, she learns that twelve pear-shaped UFO’s have simultaneously arrived on Earth. Each spaceship has landed in a different country. Although the crafts do not behave in an overtly threatening manner, their presence creates widespread fear and panic. In an unprecedented display of unity, the world’s governments band together in a desperate effort to decipher the aliens’ intentions.

Louise is recruited by Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to attempt the herculean task of communicating with a species that is vastly different from humans in virtually every way. After reluctantly agreeing to assist, she is transported to a remote area in Montana where one of the spaceships is located. Louise develops a rapport with Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a cocky but courageous physicist who hopes to learn information about the aliens’ advanced technology. In an excruciatingly long and tense sequence that director Denis Villenueve milks shamelessly, Louise and Ian are gradually transported into and through the aliens’ ship before eventually encountering a duo of tentacled seven-limbed aliens that they nickname Abbott and Costello.

The extraterrestrial beings clearly wish to communicate with humans, but are their motivations hostile or benign? Louise realizes that Abbott and Costello mainly communicate with symbols instead of sounds, and this revelation gives her insight into the way that they think. She has arguments with Colonel Weber and other military officials that are very similar to the debates that Jodie Foster’s character had in the 1997 film “Contact”. The military believes that the extraterrestrials are dangerous, while Louise feels that they have peaceful intentions. The aliens’ message to humanity is finally revealed near the end of the movie and Louise realizes that she must act before it’s too late.

Several scenes featuring Louise and her daughter are interspersed throughout the film. We first see Hannah as a plucky small child, then later as a rebellious teenager, and finally we witness her horrific death after her body is riddled with a rare form of cancer. There is a major twist at the end of the film in which some surprising information concerning Hannah is revealed. Louise’s knowledge of this revelation leads her to make a questionable decision regarding her own future.  

Villenueve coaxes solid, if not particularly memorable, performances from his cast. Amy Adam’s Louise is the only character with any real depth. This is a plot-driven movie that is more interested in broad philosophical questions than character development.

You will enjoy this movie if you like cerebral science fictions films. There are no fancy action sequences or big explosions, so don’t bother with it if you are looking for a popcorn flick. It’s a great choice for anyone who is looking for a thought-provoking movie about aliens.

Rating: 7/10