“There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived.”
A film is considered “complete” when is able to achieve three levels of impact: the cinematic impact- when it changes de way movies are made; the cultural impact- when it changes not only cinema itself, but the world in fact, the way we perceive culture; and the personal impact- when it goes deep inside you and is able to change your own self. For me, Arrival was all three of them.
It is official. Denis Villeneuve is my favorite working director. This could change, but my Lord is Arrival brilliant. Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario, and now Arrival are all some of the best films of this decade - no, century - and each has an indelible respect for the audience. It trusts that we will follow along as Villeneuve spins a web that, though it may not make sense initially, will craft a gorgeous vignette of some element of existence. Arrival is most certainly a part of this collection now and is one of the best science fiction films in a while with stunning visuals, chill-inducing brilliance, and incredible performances.
Admittedly, however, Arrival missed the mark for the first half or so. It seemed so different. So unique. Nothing truly made sense from the opening with this daughter that seems out of place for the film I expected to receive, plus the weird narration scene by Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). It just seemed so haphazardly put together that it seemed wholly indigestible. However, after this halfway point, the film is pure brilliance. Even better, it opens up the world of the first half to the point that you realize that - even if the narration is still a moment that I cannot wrap my head around - everything else adds up. In this second half, Arrival soars with the grace and beauty previously only experienced by eagles.
A confusing, nonlinear film, Arrival follows Louise Banks (Amy Adams), the country’s best linguist in the aftermath of the arrival of extraterrestrials. In the interest of determining their purpose, Louise is tasked with cracking the code of the heptapods (the aliens). What transpires is film that can often mirror Dances with Wolves in its respect for language (Close Encounters of the Third Kind as well to a degree for this) and Contact for its similarities regarding the military and its approach to, again, language. In many respects, Arrival is a science fiction film, but it is also a film about destiny, free-will, and the beauty of language.
Through language, worlds open up. One can weave a beautiful sentence that can move readers to tears. Others can craft a speech that sways people to believe one thing or the other. Language allows people to express feelings, emotions, thoughts, or simply converse with others. Language, as discussed in the film, is the foundation of a civilization. In many ways, it is the foundation of humanity. Arrival delves into this sheer beauty of language throughout the picture. Villeneuve brilliantly allows this elegance to take centerstage with long drawn out sequences of nothing but communication between Louise and the heptapods.
Yet, the film hardly stops there. Through showing the possibilities the language of the heptapods can reveal, Arrival hits a peak. Once we learn that the heptapods language allows the speaker to see the future, Arrival’s philosophical explorations really take hold. This is the part where many will be lost and why I am skeptical as to film’s acceptance amongst general audiences. However, the film’s nonlinear storytelling is incredibly revealing and really works. Through the nonlinear storytelling, we know the end of Louise’s story. We do not know that we know this, but by the end, it is clear what her future is. Louise knows it and though she keeps it to herself in the present, we know the future is something that is simulatenously her past. It is already a part of her and one she cannot escape. However, it is clear she does not wish to escape her future. It is one filled with challenges, but filled with equal joy and love. Films have previously discussed the concepts of free-will and destiny (hell, Oedipus did this in the BC’s) and yet, Arrival brings a warmth to the discussion. Though Louise may know her future, she chooses to head into it with no hesitation. Yes, it will bring her unspeakable pain and tragedy, but it will also bring sheer ecstasy. For Louise and many others, this is more than acceptable. However, Arrival does not hesitate to ask: If you know your future, would you try to change it? This is certainly a fallacy, as I believe Arrival showcases. The heptapods knew Louise’s future. How? Because it already happened. There is no time, there is no free-will, there is only destiny. For the world of Arrival, the possibilities of the world are not endless. You are on a path and destined to complete this path.
Arrival often mirrors the language it discusses, not just the heptapods’ language, though. Language, as Louise states frequently, can be messy and confusing. Yet, it opens doors to the world that were previously locked tight. This is very similar to the film as a whole, as it is a complex puzzle and my initial hesitation to the film’s world was because I only received small pieces of a large puzzle. Once they started fitting together and the image became clearer, the film became a truly awe-inspiring, striking, and beautiful experience.
Given the current state of the country, Arrival is decidedly a film for the moment. At a time when we are most divided, we must unite and work together if we are to truly succeed. Not just in America, but globally. We live in a global world and things do not occur in a vacuum. Rather, they leave an indelible mark on the world and people that surround us. Through his work of art, Villeneuve calls for the world to become one unit and work together to solve the problems before us. Here, it is the the arrival of extraterrestrials. In the real world, it is the environment, racism, intolerance, and violence. This is what makes the film’s climax - Louise calling General Shang (Tzi Ma) in China - so poignant. The film leaves it in Mandarin with no translation, but per the screenwriter, it translates to, “War does not make winners, only Widows”. For the film, this causes the General to back down from attacking the aliens. For ours, it is a call for union. To lay down your arms, your bombs, your hate, your anger, and your contempt for one another. It is a call to realize that this violence solves nothing, it solely creates the same concoction of emotions that led to it originally.
Arrival is one of the most poignant films of the year and yet another truly brilliant addition to Denis Villeneuve’s filmography. If somebody else’s works since 2010 matches his level of output, I would love for somebody to tell me who they are so I can immediately sit down and watch their films.
I hear a female voice calling for help while trudging through some gnarly thicket and rush to the rescue. After a good deal of wandering I arrive at a small glade and see the woman tied to a tree in a rather peculiar fashion. She explains she is a forest nymph being used by “acolytes” (?) as a bait for …(?) She begs me to set her free but insists that I take my hat off first. The strange request inspires suspicion and makes me realize that I’m either the prey the acolytes are after or that there are no acolytes at all and I’m at the mercy of an evil witch here. The realization wakes me up.
Acrylics and ink on coloured wax ground on paper/hardboard, 32 x 41 cm
The full trailer for the upcoming science fiction film “Arrival”, which hits theaters in November.
When mysterious spacecrafts touch down across the globe, an elite team - lead by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) - is brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers – and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker Director: Denis Villeneuve
UPDATE: The International Trailer shows even more!
Amy Adams stars in Denis Villeneuve’s newest film, Arrival, as renowned linguistics expert Dr. Louise Banks, who is chosen by the government as somewhat of a galactic ambassador representing humanity on Earth when an alien ship arrives. Based on the short story by Ted Chiang, the film also stars Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker and is slated for release on November 11.
On a side note, I would like to say that I am very happy that director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Enemy) continues to do work that features female characters as leads in stories. I was super impressed with Sicario and his work with Emily Blunt. It’s awesome to see acclaimed directors like Villeneuve continuing to pursue films that feature great female characters.