Arrival, rated PG-13
This science fiction film is directed by Denis Villeneuve (2015’s Sicario, and whose next project will be 2017’s Blade Runner 2049). The script is written by Eric Heisserer, adapted from Ted Chiang’s 2000 short story “Story of Your Life”, which was the original title of the film. The wonderful cinematography is by Bradford Young (Selma and A Most Violent Year) and the powerful music score by Johann Johannsson adds a great deal to the film.
As the film begins, we are told that twelve large egg-shaped ‘shells’ (alien spaceships) are suspended over the earth in seemingly random locations. The stock markets go crazy, and around the world panicked people take to the streets rioting and looting. Every eighteen hours, a doorway at the bottom of these shells opens and allows scientists to come aboard. Government and military personnel around the world have questions about these creatures they’ve named heptapods. Are they intending to attack the Earth? What is their purpose for coming? Why are they here? But they are unable to communicate with these mysterious creatures.
Forrest Whitaker (Oscar winner for Best Actor for The Last King of Scotland) portrays Colonel Weber. He makes a visit to university professor and linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks (five-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams). She and physicist Ian Donnelly (two-time Oscar nominee Jeremy Renner) are assigned to board one of the alien ships in Montana to see if they can figure out how to communicate with the heptapods who are covered in mist, smoke and shadows, and hold off a global war.
The film shows us in the beginning that Louise suffers a personal tragedy. We see this portrayed in numerous scenes that correspond with what she is going through in her efforts to communicate with the heptapods, who are separated from the humans by a white wall or window, giving the effect like they are inside of an aquarium.
Time, particularly non-linear time, plays an important role in this film as Villeneuve and Heisserer continuously jump from time and place. I had a hard time seeing what they were trying to accomplish with that. Although the film leads you to believe it is about the heptapods, their purpose for coming and a possible global war, it isn’t truly about that at all. Although the film has some stunning imagery and effects, it instead focuses on language and communication. It is a film that you will want to talk about as you leave the theatre as you think back on the film trying to complete the puzzle and consider the morality of decisions made.
There is brief adult language, but overall a refreshing minimal amount of language or other content issues for a PG-13 rated film. And, despite the threat of a global war, we don’t see anyone praying or crying out to God. God is completely absent in this film.
Amy Adams is one of today’s best actresses and she carries the film. She is in almost every scene, and we see her go through a variety of emotions. Is her performance worthy of a sixth Oscar nomination? I think it is. I also believe the film may get consideration for Oscar nominations for best film, direction, cinematography and music. Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg were also solid in their roles, but the film belongs to Adams.
A rating for a film is always a personal choice. It is based on quality, worldview, content issues, what did I think of the film and how did it move me. My rating for the film is lower than most are giving it. But Arrival didn’t come together for me as a film as much as the individual elements (Adam’s performance, visuals, music, etc.) did. The total movie wasn’t as good as its individual parts, and I came out of the show and said to my wife, “Explain to me what I just saw”. If you see the film, let me know what you think.