Arrival - Beautiful film

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Arrival is based on Ted Chiang’s Nebula award-winning sci-fi novella Story of your life, it was a complex yet powerful story, when I first read it, I didn’t think it was possible to make that into a movie, yet they did and did a splendid job. Arrival, as you can surmise from the title and the promotional material is about the arrival of Aliens onto earth. When aliens show up on various parts of the earth in strange UFOs, they are quickly dubbed as Heptapods given their seven limbs.


Linguistic expert Dr. Louis Banks (Amy Adams) is called in to act as a translator/communicator by the US Army. Comparisons to classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Contact, Close Encounters of the Third Kind is, of course, inevitable, yet the feel you get from Arrival is more Gravity than Interstellar or Prometheus, that it is to say the action requires you to focus less on visual effects and more on thinking. Like Contact the strong female lead, in this case, Amy Adams adds seriousness, gravitas to the proceedings. Arrival at the outset is humanity’s attempts to communicate with the aliens who suddenly appeared in strange UFOs around the earth and understand their intentions. The film builds up the crescendo cleverly by juxtaposing various TV news reports around the world with the scientist’s attempts to understand the alien language and communicate with them. As Dr. Banks starts understanding the alien language, she immerses herself within it, and even starts dreaming in their language, this leads not just a discovery of their aliens visit’s purpose, rather her own life.


The alien heptapods communicate in a language unlike any other earth language, the language don’t have a concept of time, so they know how a conversation ends even before starting to communicate, so their world-view is not sequential, rather complete all at once. We experience events in an order, and perceive their relationship as cause and effect. They experience all events at once, and perceive a purpose underlying them all. The film does add a few more dramatic elements and changes a few plot points to make it more interesting. Unlike the original story, the film ends with a positive message signaling a utopian imagination rather than a dystopia that is a staple of most sci-fi imaginations, strangely, although I am a strong believer of Drake’s equation and of SETI, the film makes you look not at the stars rather down, i.e. inside you, which is a profound and unexpected effect.

I loved director Denis Villeneuve’s last outing Sicario, and am pleasantly surprised by his range, he does a great job of not making Arrival another big budget extravaganza, rather a thoughtful film. In translating the tough story onto the film, Eric Heissner does a great job, given his horror pedigree, it is refreshing. The visual effects play a very subtle role in the story telling, but the entire mood is set by the film color tone and background score, some might even call it eerie.  Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker play supporting roles in the film without much fanfare and Amy Adams carries the entire film on her shoulders delivering an amazing performance.


Although the film is more introspective and asks you to examine your philosophical and existential beliefs, it builds up an excitement to keep you glued to your seat. Now that you know how the film is going to be, would you still make the journey? If your answer is yes, you are ready to watch Arrival.

Bhaskar Gandavabi
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