Arrival is a film that struggles to find its place in 2016. It’s a film that disagrees with Brexit, one that would likely be anti-trump and one that goes against the anti-globalist rhetoric that seems to have sprung up in all corners of politics in recent times. That is because Dennis Villeneuve’s sci-fi thinker is the film that we need, but not the one we deserve right now. A film that boils down to a message that our inward thinking ways will only shelter us further and further from each other, and in the end bring about our darkest hour. Unfortunately, we can’t always rely on extraterrestrials to teach us that.
Narrative wise, Arrival focuses on 12 mysterious oval shaped objects that arrive on Earth in various corners of the world. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are brought in by the United States Army to join the process of first contact with the aliens. Despite diligence in their craft the army press them hard, and with Louise having reoccurring visions and memories as she gets deeper into her work the army become more fixated on what the aliens want, specifically whether it’s hostile or not.
On the surface, you throw credit to Amy Adams who is an actress I had yet to rate but now see her merit wholeheartedly. As far as directing goes, Villeneuve’s style was at times dull and inactive early on which made for a tricky first act, but once the film hits the accelerator Arrival becomes a symphony of success, as complicated as it is beautiful. When dealing with some classic sci-fi elements like Arrival does you always walk a careful line between entertainment and realism, in which leaning to the first can make your film campy and the latter making it drab. Fortunately for Villeneuve he walks that tightrope effortlessly for the most part, with much of the film’s creations going in a direction that stand out as different from previous science-fiction films. Even when the film does run close to ridiculous, Amy Adams is always there to sell it convincingly.
The rest of the film’s beauty comes in the way that Arrival‘s message unravels, like an epiphany that could not resonate more in the year we are having. Throughout the film the backdrop of the main narrative shows the anarchy caused by the alien encounter, with masses in fear, martial law in effect and many scared for their lives. With that, the governments of the world begin to embody that fear themselves and quickly turn on each other, choosing to keep their knowledge for themselves despite all knowing that sharing it is the only way they can figure out what the aliens want. Easily translatable, that fear is encapsulated in the current political landscape, with many key political decisions of the year showing the desire to focus on ourselves rather the collective good. It’s almost scary how accurate Villeneuve captures the factional tension that goes on in the real world.
On the whole, the beauty of Arrival is that it poses its message within a narrative that is itself clever, interesting and therefore absorbing. Because of that, it feels humanistic despite the far reaching concept. Though, it’s interesting to think that even though Arrival’s science fiction monarch comes from the fact that it is a story about aliens, maybe the idea of a unified humanity is itself science fiction. After 2016 it may appear that way, yet Arrival is a film that reminds me there is still those out there who believe in the power of unity, and thanks to Dennis Villeneuve’s daring and creative concept, this film will remain at the pinnacle of sci-fi for years to come.