ARRIVAL. Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker. Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Rated M (Mature themes and coarse language). 116 min.
This American science fiction film is based on the 1998 short story, "Story of Your Life", written by Ted Chiang. Twelve extraterrestrial, egg-shaped spacecrafts hover in a seemingly random way above different locations on Earth. The logic of what they are doing is not clear, and their purpose in arriving is not revealed. The film won the "Future Film Festival Digital Award" at the Venice Film Festival in 2016.
When the Aliens land, the U.S. Military, and Governments across the planet, go into crisis. Communication is impossible, because no one is able to talk to the Aliens. A military astrophysicist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), a senior U.S. military officer, Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), and a brilliant linguist, Louise Banks (Amy Adams) come together as a team to help solve the crisis. Louise starts to teach the Aliens a language they can use to communicate, and when she does the long-tentacled, squid-like creatures begin to draw complex symbols which Louise can't decipher.
Nations come together across the world and tension builds up, as they try to work out why the Aliens have arrived and whether their intent is aggressive. Governments withdraw from communicating their data and prepare to attack just as Louise finds out at the last moment that the Allen's real mission is to help Earth cope with what will happen to it in the future, and the Aliens want Earth to help them. The Aliens realise that Louise can see into the future, and she is important to what they want to achieve.
This film is thinking-science-fiction, and builds up its tension stealthily and expertly. If Aliens ever do arrive on Earth this movie tells us what is likely to happen: there will be confusion about purpose, nations will attempt to cooperate, and then mistrust each other; world leadership will be entirely lacking as terror starts to erupt; and any semblance of world community that did exist will speedily evaporate.There are many lessons to draw from this movie about current world politics. It tells us effectively that communication across nations is likely to loom as a critical issue that will prevent a political solution to any genuine global crisis.
Denis Villeneuve, the Director of the film projects a very disconcerting view of the world in this film, but his direction is highly detailed and absorbingly realistic.
Amy Adams takes the role of Louise brilliantly. The role permits her to communicate just how much language influences the way we think and live life. We learn how her interactions with the Aliens changes the way she processes her thoughts. One of the key hypotheses that drive the quality of the film's direction, and the emotional impact of Adams' acting, is the academic notion that language shapes our perceptions of the world, and even the thoughts we have about it.
The film resolves its issues metaphysically, and not in an entirely satisfactory way. Flashbacks about the death of Louise's daughter, and the Aliens' interactions with Louise, are presented as visions Louise is having of the future. The political parallels would have been obvious enough without mixing alien arrival so teasingly with the paranormal.
Despite such comment, this film is high quality science fiction cinema. Conceptually, its ideas are stimulating. Its special effects are sombrely impressive. Acting and direction are excellent, and there is a powerful musical score that reinforces the film's mood and sustains its air of mystery.
This is a film with a provocative mind and heart, and is a sci-fi must see. As all good "idea" films do, it leaves the final puzzle for the viewer, himself or herself, to solve - and intriguingly so.
Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting
Released November 10th., 2016