There’s something to be said for a good sci-fi film. Many people confuse fantasy and horror with sci-fi. “Star Wars” is fantasy. “The Thing” is horror. “Alien” is horror. Science fiction examines the unknown, tying our natural world and technology to the human condition. It usually asks more questions than it answers. It engages us in the way it views mystery and the cosmos. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is science fiction. “Interstellar” is science fiction. “Ex Machina” is science fiction. And “Arrival” is science fiction, and darn good science fiction at that.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve and written by Eric Heisserer off a story (Story of Your Life) by Ted Chiang, “Arrival” stars Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a linguistics professor who is called by the United States government when several alien spaceships descend across the world. Banks must find a way to establish communication with them before the rest of the world goes haywire and carnage ensues.
Language and communication are the foundation for how Adams investigates these creatures and it is thrilling as we view her trying to establish contact. As countries such as Russia and China escalate their paranoia about why the aliens have arrived, the pressure mounts on Adams to figure out what exactly it is the aliens want. To help us? To harm us? One wrong symbol can change the entire course of mankind.
It is especially refreshing to see a film with aliens that is not preoccupied with leveling cities and giving us explosions and battles. “Arrival” examines real-world reality in its science fiction setting. What would China, Russia and the United States do in the event of alien landing? What would the common masses do? How would the pressures build? To see such thought put into a motion picture is nearly a miracle nowadays.
Jeremy Renner as Ian and Forrest Whitaker as Colonel Weber give strong performances, but it is Adams who steals the show. She is able to convey so much with just her eyes, finding the perfect balance between awe, fear and determination.
The ending is near pure cinematic bliss as all the different pieces come together; Louise’s personal journey, what the aliens want, her visions, Ian’s journey, the paranoia of China, whether Louise’s risk-taking was the right move. Without giving anything away, it is the perfect ending of answering some questions, asking a few more and giving us the emotional impact we deserve from a good science fiction film.