The following review has been written with the intent that the reader has watched the movie.
When I walked into the cinema to watch the movie Arrival, all I knew about the movie was that it starred Amy Adams. That’s it. Not being a huge fan of trailers in the instance that spoilers may be given away, I watched and analysed the littlest of details of the movie. And it left me…well, confused but invigorated.
A sci-fi movie that is based on an award-winning novella Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, Arrival explores the point of first contact between aliens and humans. It is a movie that incorporates pretty, picturesque imagery (natural and CGI), coupled with sombre and dark themes underlying the concept of a distinctive alternate dimension (if you will).
Amy Adams surprised me with her refreshing performance as a seasoned linguist with the love for historical roots and its implications on language, particularly its evolution through time. Amy’s character – Louise – had being through anguish, grief, and loss, and she was able to capture the essence of her character effortlessly. But that’s where the acting skills peaked. Forest Whitaker’s performance as Colonel Weber, who was involved with military intelligence, felt grossly undermined, given his previous roles in movies and film. I feel like he could have had a stronger presence, but his character just seemed to dissipate towards the end of the movie. Similarly, Jeremy Renner should’ve dropped the corny dialogue act. Don’t get me wrong – his character as a quantum physicist was fundamental to the story, but when it came to courting Louise, it was just cringeworthy- you’re trying too hard, buddy!
Beginning and finishing with the tunes of Max Richter’s On The Nature of Daylight, you can feel the pain that Amy Adams’s character experiences and you can’t help but feel it seeping through the story as it unfolds. Haunting music, overused in movies, but so appropriate. You can’t help but have a tear or two, especially in this movie.
The first half of the movie was frustratingly slow, but it was necessary for the movie plot line to be set up for us, to understand what we were in for. After all, the planet had just had an out-of-the-blue visitation by alien ships (x12) that resembled an extreme concave black mirror of sorts. So pretty, so mysterious. So surreal. It was unexpected to see that the government of not only the US, but also of other countries around the world working closely (initially) to ‘tackle the alien issue’. But, what I thoroughly enjoyed about the way the movie ended was that it was almost a cryptic message being delivered to the real world – the world we live in currently – about how violence isn’t always the answer. Sometimes, all you need to do is ask…ask what’s going on in someone’s head and how team work, communication, and logic can effectively come together to a peaceful solution.
I admit, I did fall in love with the smoky, sultry script that the aliens created in the form of squid-diffusing ink blots. Having briefly studied a course on linguistics, I was intrigued at how Amy’s character had the major task of decoding a completely new and foreign language. What’s even more fascinating is that a McGill University associate professor Jessica Coon was hired by producers to create this ‘language’ for the purpose of this movie. Pretty impressive!
I was intrigued to see the relationship between Louise and the Heptapods blossom. And blossom it did, but the way the encounter between Louise and the Heptapods consequently took a toll on her lifestyle, her sleep patterns, and eventually to the point where she was able to almost re-wire her brain and be able to see the future – that was unexpected! While it may have looked like a torturous ordeal to have to re-live the fun moments that she would not be able to enjoy for too long, it was amazing to see how something simple as teaching another species your language and reciprocating the love by attempting to learn theirs was able to allow Louise to develop these skills.
The second half of the movie picked up the pace and I was at the edge of my seat, waiting to see how this movie was going to end. The non-linear storytelling mode threw me off grid. I loved how nothing made sense at the start of the movie, but towards the end of the movie, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, different plot points and story lines seemed to fit together perfectly.
Arrival demonstrates a terrifying yet appealing juxtaposition around the topic of extraterrestrial beings and their impact on time. It is a visually pleasing show that follows the non-linear sequence of storytelling. It is nice to experience cinematography that aims to challenge the usual by providing the audience with something that is truly unreal, captivating, and tugs on the brain stems to look between the superficial layers of obviousness. While I’m not sure if the cast is potentially the strongest, given the roles they played, they certainly made this movie stand out as a unique form of filmography.