Film Review: ‘Arrival’

A science fiction story in all its magical splendour.

After decades, our proclaimed concepts of extra-terrestrials – whether in pop culture or scientific myths, have come to a saturation. A point where we’ve learnt pre-conceived notions of what they are, in models presented to us by the world. Arrival questions the very root of these concepts, that aliens are simply humans with different appearances and belief systems, that at their core, they’re still us.

Director Denis Villeneuve is a master of silences. Going against the popular approach to alien invasions where explosions and slightly-more-advanced-than-us weaponries meet, Villeneuve returns to the beginning of the myth – the beginning of something that’s supposed to be unfamiliar, strange and unapproachable. He presents an impression of something unexplored in the style of a horror film, but not scary in the shallow manner; it’s the tingling sensation of a subtle yet certain fear we have in the darkness of the unrevealed.

When twelve unidentified flying objects appear overnight in random locations of the world, nations divide over the true purposes of aliens.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) recruits Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) – a linguist and Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) – a theoretical physicist to translate the alien language. The further she understands the aliens and vice versa, Banks gradually begin to grasp at much deeper meanings of these communications.

There has always been an impressive structure to Villeneuve’s films. They are usually incredibly linear upon first viewing, in spite of the convolutions the exact events are always clear; But in the end the films complete themselves in a circular manner, where the foreshadowings are realized and the voids are filled not by the ending itself but by the entire body of the tale. It’s self-fulfilment where the ending acts as a key rather than a sole conclusion, decoding the entire story and thus instantaneously giving a deeper understanding.

The dialogues between the characters are distinctively minimal, but quite effective in producing genuine interactions; they manage to stay charmingly unforced and give off an aura of realism.

This appeal of authenticity is further highlighted by Villenueuve’s highly stylized production design, music and the over-arching plot progression. Similar to his previous feature Sicario, every single element in Arrival works together to convey a sense of ponderous heaviness – not apparently sad, but melancholic like a rainy day.

The film’s leading lady Amy Adams once again shows a monumental amount of skill and grace in presenting a character of vulnerability. Rarely, is female character in a science fiction story given so much material to work with, which simultaneously gives depth to the persona, and makes her harder to embody. Adams however, does it with a certain ease, an ungraspable mastery at displaying Banks’ confusions, her doubts, worries, and fascinations with the aliens.

The core concept of Arrival is similar to that of Interstellar, but presented in a more self-containing mode of story telling. It’s a masterpiece that limits itself in a boundary of saneness, letting the resonance and reflection do more than the visual theatrics.

In theatres Australia wide from 10th of November

Find Showings Here

MPAA Rating: PG-13

ACB Rating: M

Run Time: 118 min

-Henry Pan

An overzealous film critic wannabe, Henry Pan makes a trip down cinema lane once a week, in order to decrease his ever-increasing massive watch list. You can follow him and hear all about his rants on films, life and pet dogs on Twitter @LifeOfPan.