Friday, 25 November 2016

I've Just Seen: Arrival (2016)

Director: Denis Villeneuve

I feel that Amy Adams is a shoo-in for a Best Actress Oscar next year, though whether it will be for Arrival or Nocturnal Animals I don't know; she might even be doubly nominated, though that usually spells death for your chances, as it spilts the vote. I don't mind which it is, she was fantastic in both, though much more sympathetic in Villeneuve's movie.

There are touches of Contact, Interstellar and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and well as a bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey in Arrival, and if you enjoyed any of those films, you will like this one. It balances the science and sentiment better than Nolan's film (in my opinion), and has a similar poetry to Spielberg's movie. And like Contact, Arrival focuses on the story of a capable, intelligent woman battling more macho, absolute approaches.

The theme of the story is communication, both with an 'Other' and with each other. Adams is linguist Dr. Louise Banks, who is recruited to establish communication with some mysterious aliens (are there any other kind?), and is aided by Jeremy Renner's theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly, and supervised by Forest Whitaker's Colonel Weber.

In a film like this, you need to establish a sense of awe about meeting the aliens, and Villeneuve does this wonderfully. The first time Louise and Ian go into the dark, hovering alien 'spaceship,' I felt their amazement and the overwhelming shock of it all. The black, curved, carved edges of the vessel, contrasted with the white light at the tunnel's end; the trippy way you get up into the ship (I won't spoil it); and most of all, the haunting sounds on the soundtrack, like whales moaning in the deep. From then on I was completely hooked.

Much like horror films, science-fiction relies on its soundscape, and Arrival's is superb. The aliens sound organic yet unearthly, with rumblings that sound a bit like the base notes on an organ. The whole film is presented in slightly muted, washed-out colours, as though it is permanently overcast. This adds a touch of melancholy, a continuation of the grief Louise experiences in the opening sequence, where her daughter dies from childhood cancer.

I must say that the ending rather pulls the rug out from underneath you, and I was left thinking 'Wait, what?'; but in a way that makes me want to see it again. Overall it is an affecting, beautiful film that feels uncomfortably timely in the context of current politics. Hopefully this will be seen by lots of people who take its message of talking and listening to heart.


  1. This is indeed all about communication, on every level, even non-linear communication and cominication across time. Despite all the esoteric levels it is the communication between people that is most fraught with danger and potential misunderstanding.
    Loved the ending. It ties it well together. Fatalistic maybe, but there is truth in that as well.

    1. Yes, and not communicating as well. I was physically wriggling in my seat as the communication shut-down happened, mentally moaning 'Nooooo, you fools!'

      And I agree about the ending, though I do feel I need to see it again just to piece it all together myself.