Last Friday, Penny and I went to see Arrival. This is the first movie I’ve seen in a long time that made me want to review it. To tell people – go see it. (Mild spoilers below).
Arrival, which stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, is a science fiction movie about aliens coming to Earth. It’s a story that’s been done a million times before and, because of that, it’s also a movie that reminds us that the telling part of storytelling is sometimes more important than the story part.
The movie is slow and meditative (more Close Encounters than Independence Day). And it’s sad. It opens with a heartbreaking montage showing Amy Adams’ character (Dr. Louise Banks) with her daughter, who dies at a young age from cancer. Even though I knew the movie’s backstory before seeing it, the scenes nearly brought me to tears. And, if it weren’t for the rest of the story, I might have even been angry with the filmmakers for putting me through such emotional turmoil in a sci-fi flick about aliens landing. But Arrival is as much about the aliens’ arrival as it is about Banks’ daughter’s arrival, which is why I eventually forgave the filmmakers for that unbelievably sad beginning.
After the aliens arrive, Colonel Webber (Whitaker) puts Banks (a linguistic expert) on a welcoming team with Ian Donnelly (Renner). Ian is more technical and science-minded than Louise, whose main objective is to learn how to communicate with the aliens. Over the course of months, Louise and Ian teach the aliens rudimentary English and learn their much more complicated, but infinitely more interesting, circular language. (Words and sentences are inky blotches that look like coffee rings).
This is a movie that reminded me of different movies at different times (during the intro, Gravity; during Act II, Contact; and during Act III, Interstellar) but still managed to retain its own unique identity. Despite its well-worn story hook, Arrival delves deep and provides new food for thought – about how language can be a lens through which we perceive reality, how precious both time and love are, and how a difficult, impossible choice can become a destiny you’d want to repeat over and over again.
Did you see Arrival? What did you think? Have you seen any other movies lately worth discussing or recommending?