Arrival…..Or when Mulder finally told Scully, “In your face!”
If you’re used to Doctor Who timey-wimey events, then Arrival is for you.
Amy Adams plays a gifted linguist, Louise Banks (is anyone in a film ever not gifted?). The audience finds her in-res due to the death of her child from cancer. Because Louise doesn’t watch the news, she’s unaware that a better version of Independence Day 2 is in the works. Ships have landed, and these aliens can’t speak English, damn illegals. However, they are the B.B. Kings of Pictionary. Their language is in the form of drawn symbols, and is “written” in both the past and future tense.
Rather than recruit someone with a background in Semiotics, which would make perfect sense, the US Government and Forest Whitaker (Colonel Weber), find a linguist and a theoretical physicist, Jeremy Renner (Ian Donnelly) to decipher the alien code. The reason why these are the only two experts they could find, you know, instead of someone from NASA, is never explained. Probably for the same reason that translators for every language were present at this UFO landing site, but when they have to decipher Chinese, they call Adams….instead of….you know…. a real Chinese person.
The ship is righted (See what I did there?) when we are able to see inside the alien vessel. Refreshing is one word, when a space ship is depicted that doesn’t resemble something from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Instead, it is an extended and vertical UFO. The mood of the film, as with many, is displayed by the sets. The ship is black and cavernous like a cave or a mine, hence the team bringing a canary as a warning bell. The area the aliens occupy is filled with liquid gas, while they expel signs that look more like Rorschach tests, behind a spongy glass. The settings are languid and pale, especially Louise’s home. For a place that had the Mies Van der Rohe treatment (that is, a glass frame for all you non-Architecture aficionados), very little light comes in. Credit this mood to Production Designer Patrice Vermette and Director Denis Villeneuve.
Eric Heisserer, the screenwriter, based the film on the short story, “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. Hesserer does well to keep close to the original short story by making the mystery of why the aliens have arrived as central. When aliens arrive, humans usually have two conclusions, either they’re here to kill us or they’re here to give us a weapon. It’s both. And it’s none in this case.
Distinctly hovering over this rubik’s cube, is the fate of Louise’s daughter. Throughout the film, Louise is left with flashbacks of her. For a time, to viewers, it is never clear how she ties into the film, other than to give Louise much needed advice. How her daughter and the aliens are blended together is what makes Arrival worth watching and re-watching.
The film is a questioning of time and destiny. If we re-play tragedies in our head enough, can it prevent past and future mistakes? Arrival leaves us with our own reckoning with that question. What is a life fulfilled?
And it leaves you wondering why the hell Amy Adams is stuck in the DC Universe as the worst Lois Lane…
Check out my previous review of Doctor Strange.
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