Arrival is without a doubt now one of my all time favourite films.
I have been waiting to see this film for a while. I thought it looked interesting when I first saw the trailer but it wasn’t until the reviews & interviews started rolling out that I knew it was a film I desperately needed to see. It had crazy good reviews from critics & then a mixed response from audiences but I just had that feeling about it where I knew I would love it. Does anyone else get that?
I saw it first last Monday & it hit me HARD. I loved every second of it & balled my eyes out from being overwhelmed by it & I could not stop thinking about it – I can’t remember the last time a film in the cinema impacted me that significantly. I tried to write this review a bunch of times after that first viewing but it wasn’t until after seeing it a second time today that I think I can properly cover everything I wanted to discuss.
I’m going to recommend that you go into the cinema pretty much blind on what to expect – I’m going to try to keep as vague & spoiler free as I can in this post but really the film is as amazing as it is because you truly have no idea where it will go!
Denis Villeneuve directs with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer, which was adapted from Ted Chaing’s 1998 short novella “Story of My Life”. The film stars five time Academy Award Nominee Amy Adams in the lead, alongside the brilliant Jeremy Renner & Forest Whittiker.
Arrival begins with the arrival of twelve identical unidentified objects, each landing in random places across the earth. With no obvious obvious correlation between their individual placements, no idea who or what they are, what they contain, what they want & how to communicate with them, the world is thrown into a frenzy as each country approaches the situation in very different ways.
Accomplished & widely recognised linguist Dr. Louise Banks is hired by the US military to attempt to translate the ‘alien’ language & communicate with them to discover their purpose.
If you’re a fan of the book & unsure if the adaptation will live up to, here’s what the author thinks:
“I think it’s that rarest of the rare in that it’s both a good movie and a good adaptation… And when you consider the track record of adaptations of written science fiction, that’s almost literally a miracle.”
I’m reading it as soon as I can.
Louise is an incredible character. She is so, so smart intellectually & socially & never considers doing anything but what is right & Amy Adams plays her with such integrity, strength & vulnerability. She’s also never sexualised, or treated with any less respect than others for her gender. She is outnumbered by male presences who do at times dispute her but allow her to explain the reasoning behind every step she takes which in turn allows them to understand & respect what she is doing. Louise is excellent & impossible to take your eyes off, & if she was a real person I would have a poster of her framed in my house.
Hired alongside Louise is theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly. Ian is brilliant, perfectly individual whilst slotting in with Louise amazingly & excellently played by Jeremy Renner. He brings humour & realism in his reaction to the aliens which is all part of what makes this film feel so much more than science fiction.
Together Louise & Ian make the perfect duo; calling each other out when they’re too stuck in their own field & come to a mutual ground where they can work together to begin to communicate with these Heptapods (as they grow to be called in the film). They work passionately & tirelessly against many people’s expectations or wishes to prove what thy believe, & ultimately change the world.
The story is stunning. It’s tense, it’s unpredictable & it’s completely, utterly gripping. It’s science fiction as I’ve never seen it; focusing on the human response to it instead of the shiny alien technology, making it seem gritty & real & true to life. It shows every type of human response to something big, scary & unknown & focuses on the communication between us – not just big battles with fighter jets & cool weapons & sassy one liners. The story isn’t just told through what happens, as it happens means either – that’s woven together with news reports, voiceovers & flashbacks with such crafted fluidity that it doesn’t feel stiff once.
The cinematography by Bradley Young is, without being too dramatic, life altering. It has one particular brilliant long sweeping shots that make it seem monumental, most notably that gorgeous long shot of the helicopters first arrival to the US shell. The camera pans over a huge stretch of road, littered with vehicles & fanatics hoping to catch a glimpse of what’s happening before the road is blocked by military vehicles & blockades. The shot continues to trail the helicopters as they fly through mist sweeping in from all sides & creating a barrier between the public & the military operation, & the ‘shell’ – the Alien ship, comes into view in it’s overwhelming gigantic mass. There’s a base camp & busy personnel, all creating an immense sight for the viewer just the same way that main characters Louise & Ian.
The editing is so flawless. Every scene is essential & the audience isn’t treated like an idiot – routines aren’t shown repeated on camera every time they occur, which allows the story to grow & progress with the viewer. The fluidity of the interspersing of scenes from Louise’s personal life are beautifully timed & sewn into the main plot line in a non-jarred or forced way which I think is so hard to pull off successfully. I’ve never been a huge fan of the flashback, but telling these two stories at the same time is so elegantly carried out that it’s a joy to watch.
The Heptapods are unlike any other depiction of alien I have seen in fiction previously. They’re most terrifying in their very first introduction, where they look like bony, spindly fingers blown up to a huge scale. They’re dauntingly huge but become easy to trust which is the exact design they were trying to portray; the designer team took inspiration from elephants, octopuses, whales & spiders; all of which are recognisable things for us & therefore bring a sense of trust & calm with that familiarity. They’re also almost immediately named Abbot & Costello, which are of course brilliant names & drop almost all tensions. I would have liked to have seen them be called Mulder & Scully just for fun, but I do agree that Abbot & Costello are perfect.
The written language of the Heptapods is beautiful. It’s unlike any language we have on earth, but what’s most impressive is the amount of effort hat went into making something not only different looking, but was understandable, unique & translatable. The dedication that went into creating an actual, real language is stunning to comprehend.
By the way can we talk about how brilliantly clever it is that the wall separating the Heptapods to the humans is a literal language barrier? GENIUS.
The soundtrack mainly consists of a couple of eeiry composition throughout. Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson began to record his score before filming had even begun, & worked closely with the director to create it as the film was being shaped also – just as they did in their previous film Sicario, which also features a hugely intense score. There’s something about Arrival’s score that is so utterly harrowing, intriguing & just colossal. It feels very closely connected to the story & woven in as part of it, rather than just being something in the background of the scenes. It is absolutely personal to the story & in fact, the violin melody in the last sequence is palindromic – something that will have larger significance to you once you’ve watched the film.
It’s the end of the film, where tension is high & things start slowly clicking into place that solidifies it’s utter brilliance. If the film was just about learning to translate an alien language it would have been wonderful, but the realisation of not only what the puzzle pieces placed throughout the film add up to mean, but that they were dropped without us even realising in the first place.
The film also ends in the same shot as it began with, completing the story in a full circle – a literal representation of not only the non-linear timeline the Heptapods see through but also exactly like their written language.
The first time I watched it I cried. I cried a lot. Not even just at the last fifteen minutes, where crying could maybe be justifiable considering the emotional revelations etc. No, I bawled my eyes out for the last forty five minutes of the film just because I was just so overwhelmed by how deeply it touched me. It was completely unpredictable, totally immersive & just stunning. A new friend used the word duende & that’s the exact word for it. So much passion was poured into every part of this film & viewing all that made it a meaningful film that reminds me why I adore films so, so much. It gives the same feeling as films like Intersteller, Her, Whiplash & The Martian to name a handful.
Viewing it for a second time is just as enjoyable. I still got wrapped up, my heart still raced, & I still cried despite knowing what was going to happen. The only thing that I could nit pic would be that due to revelations at the end of the film, Louise is left at the start of the film with no backstory or character really, with us knowing not much about her previous life at all. But then again, that works with the Heptapod timeline again, so I’m really not too fussed about that.
Arrival restores my faith in film-making & in humanity. It excels in it’s solid & complex science fiction narrative, but it’s the emotion & heart that makes it breathtaking. It’s a masterpiece, & like I said – without a doubt now one of my all time favourite films.
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Arrival is currently showing in cinemas worldwide.