One of the most loved and frequented film genres of our time is science fiction. This is the genre that allows us to knowingly venture into the unknown and contemplate circumstances beyond the capacity of our own beliefs. The idea of ‘extra terrestrials’, more commonly known as ‘aliens’ existing, let alone having the capacity to inhabit earth racks the minds of many sceptics. Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival is a film that although slightly lacking in ingenuity, provides the audience with a pensive and thought provoking experience.
The story follows protagonist, Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguistic professor at a university, who after an invasion of twelve giant space pods that land in different corners of the world, is suddenly approached by the US military and tasked with the duty of forming a line of communications with the aliens. By her side is Ian Donnelly, portrayed by Jeremy Renner, a mathematician recruited by the army to assist the translation, and a character recruited by the narrative to fill the role of a love interest in a time of panic… because of course.
What is so satisfying about the movie is its constant links to the mundane. It is not as if the viewer must adapt itself to another world and its rules as the film begins in a serene, quite philosophical manner with Adams’ soft voice engaging the viewer to ponder about life’s true purpose in the safety of Louise’s home. Adams’ gentle nature establishes a certain calmness to what is normally a very intense and presumably, a very ‘masculine’ military situation. Her character’s inexperience in the military world, and that of disobeying orders for the greater good is admirable, and her traits of resilience and determination make it easy for audiences to warm to the character.
Cinematographer, Bradford Young served some striking imagery, ranging form the vast establishing shots of the Montana field to a selection of close and medium shots of the cramped inner quarters of the military base. These shots, alongside the numb colour pallet provided an inner bleakness to Arrival that helped create an atmosphere of helplessness and uncertainty.
However, despite the quality of it’s visual aesthetics and acting, the film was at times quite clichéd. Alien movies are a long-standing part of our modern film history – see E.T the Extra Terristrial (1982) or the Alien series (1979-). While Arrival, in itself is an incredibly engrossing film, there is nothing new that it brings to the genre. For instance, the aliens looked something like a combination between an octopus and a dementor, and furthermore don’t really do anything or have a genuine purpose aside from setting the narrative in motion. In fact, the movie is not really about the aliens at all, instead lures fans of the trope into a in depth character study.
Another cliché in the film is the battle between Russia and China vs the world. As the aliens landed in twelve different locations around the world, countries must work together to figure out their purpose for landing on Earth. Yet, Russia and China make it difficult for the rest of the world, and opt for attempting to begin an assault on the aliens after a period of time rather than engage in discussions with the creatures. Surely by 2016 these often outdated and inaccurate geographical tropes have been exhausted in the film industry.
Though somewhat repetitive, there is something reassuringly familiar to the worlds reaction in a time of invasion that awards the entire genre a blanket of accuracy in its strive of realistic narratives. Arrival is heavy in content and requires a lot of listening, but all of the work is entirely rewarding in the end. Its jigsaw-like structure is entrancing and engaging, and keeps up the thrilling intensity of the film throughout.
If you consider yourself to be somewhat existentialist, or generally a fan of long-winded philosophical films, you’ll no doubt be fulfilled by Arrival. Stars Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are engaging and rebellious, combined with a gripping atmosphere, this blockbuster is well worth the watch.