“Well, what do you make of that?” Colonel Weber (Whitaker) rather amusingly asks linguist professor Louise (Adams) after he plays her an indecipherable recording of the sound of aliens that have just landed in 12 places around the globe.
Villeneuve’s slow-burning examination of the relationship between science and language, humanity and the ‘other’, travels almost straight to the scene of one of the alien ships, bringing Louise and scientist Ian (Renner) into a situation where they must use language in order to determine the aliens’ purpose on Earth.
The production design of the ship in Arrival is brilliantly detailed, with great attention paid to colour, light and textures. It’s exciting that the characters enter the ship instead of the aliens walking on Earth; combined with Jóhann Jóhannsson’s chilling soundtrack, it makes every expedition on board the ship one of tension and unfamiliarity. The design onboard is reminiscent of Glazer’s Under the Skin, in that the space is made to feel organic and natural, but still unfamiliar with the potential to be threatening – which is what makes this film great.
The presence of alien life in the narrative is balanced out by Louise’s personal life, and as the two narratives interweave with increasing depth, becoming less linear as the film goes on, we are rewarded with a riveting and fresh, if slightly mushy, conclusion that provides a more pacifist take on the interaction between aliens and humanity than we may be used to in this genre.
Arrival is a fresh take on the idea of aliens visiting Earth. Despite an overly emotional narrative in order to ground the film in humanity, it is beautifully shot and designed, with an undercurrent of threat and a conclusion that is simultaneously baffling and amazing.
CAST: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg
DIRECTOR: Denis Villeneuve
WRITERS: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (short story)
SYNOPSIS: When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team – led by expert linguist Louise Banks – are brought together to investigate.