At last, the arrival (pun intended) of an intelligent film about aliens. Or rather, an intelligent film about intelligent aliens. Or perhaps, even an intelligent film about intelligent aliens who try to share their intelligence with narrow minded global super powers each hell bent on trying to crack the code of the alien’s offering before their enemies. That is when they aren’t lining up most of their army to face a power whose motives they can’t comprehend (literally) or understand (philosophically).
When gigantic spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world, nations teeter on the verge of global war. Meanwhile linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads an elite team of investigators in a race against time to find a way to communicate with the extra-terrestrial visitors. Hoping to unravel the mystery, she takes a chance that could threaten her life and quite possibly all of mankind.
Pay close attention to the opening scenes because cosmic awareness comes at a cost and big picture revelations have their own domestic dark side which is played out at the end of the film. Banks’s interplay with physicist colleague, Ian (Jeremy Renner), lights up an already stellar cosmos and their differing approaches to solving the same conundrum reveals more about their own nature and motivating forces as the storyline develops.
This is one film that’s bigger than the sum of its parts. It’s beautifully shot; but that isn’t its main attraction. It’s not much of an action movie. The conflicts are external between rival countries and internal between rival approaches within the team. Forest Whitaker plays the sympathetic team leader, Michael Stuhlbarg the grasping, bitter boss. A few guns go off, there’s an explosion or two, but it’s mostly mouths firing obsolete military orders and a chain of command that missed the lesson about the unseen threat at West Point. Sorry boys, sending in the drones won’t help, here!
Indeed, there’s a quiet underlying stillness about Adams’ performance. Faced with the unknown, it’s those known qualities of stubbornness and determination that help see her through. It may be a race against time but it’s that very time (and space) to think that is crucial in beginning to understand what the alien’s may be offering. And its consequences.
Language both divides and unites us. And it’s not just the words but the concepts behind the words. Would a single language expressed through a knowledge of time help bring us all closer together? Are we really words not worlds apart? And I’m not talking Esperanto, either. Forget the space- time continuum, whatever that is, and settle back, engage brain and prepare not for take-off but a soft landing back into our inner selves. The first steps start in our own little worlds. It takes more than a simple block buster of a movie to make this point and get away with it.
Based on Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life,” for some, Arrival, won’t get much beyond the departure lounge. And that’s fine. But stay for the whole journey.
Your Arrival might be in hope whatever the time and the language on the destination board.
What’s your expected time of arrival?