Synopsis : Denis Villeneuve’s Sci-fi drama, Arrival, is about alien ships descending at 12 different places on earth and humanity’s attempt to communicate with them and learn the motive for their arrival.
Review : We start with a slow-motion shot of the ceiling of a riverside house where our protagonist and lead narrator Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) lives alone. She tells her daughter Hannah the story of her (Hannah’s) life. Hannah is shown to grow up with a single parent and then dying in front of her (presumably due to cancer). Next, Dr. Banks, who is one of the world’s leading linguistics professors, goes to teach at a college. And that’s when it starts. The Arrival.
The movie takes its own time to show us shots of the 1500-foot tall alien ships (somewhere around the 20-minute mark in the 116-minute movie). There are numerous slow-mo landscape shots without any dialogue. Many shots only have the visuals and Johann Johannsson’s brilliant score without any dialogue. Together with the cinematography, the slow-burn of the plot and the thick, tension-filled ambience of the film reminded me a lot of Sicario, Mr. Villeneuve’s previous work. It’s almost a signature style for him, making movies whose tension you can cut with a knife. And in all of them, there are life-altering stakes for the protagonists for their actions. Nowhere is that so true as here, where a mistake could lead to a potential war with the aliens, the reasons for whose arrival humanity is trying to decipher.
A movie is made great as much by its cast, story and director as it is by its cinematography and background score. Despite the bleak colour palette used, Arrival is gorgeous to see. Scenes where the alien spaceships are shown from above the clouds are particularly impressive. And the long shots add to the intrigue of the film. The closeups of the faces so that you can feel the emotions of the characters is exquisitely done. Mr. Bradford Young doesn’t have the brand recognition of Mr. Roger Deakins but if this film is anything to go by, he’s going to garner many more Oscar nominations. The background score too is marvellous. Tense, haunting and tugging at your heart’s strings, whatever the plot demands at a particular instance. Mr. Johannsson adds to his already impressive résumé with this film. A special word for the film’s opening and end credits tune composed by Max Richter. It is surreal. Here is the YouTube link for the same. Listen to it, it’ll blow you away.
Arrival has many fine performances but Amy Adams deserves the headline act. She is the soul of the film. Despite not being a traditional sci-fi heroine, her Louise Banks is a woman with the strength of character and determination that rivals that of Ellen Ripley. Supporting her are Jeremy Renner as theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly and Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber, both of whom portray their parts with understated and easy charms, specially Mr. Renner’s Donnelly who is the perfect sidekick to Ms. Adams’ Banks.
Like other Oscar-nominated sci-fi films of recent years, Arrival is special because it transcends the boundaries of the genre. It has the mind and vision of a science fiction film but the heart of a soul-searching drama. Credit to screenwriter Mr. Eric Heisserer for creating a screenplay from Mr. Ted Chiang’s 1998 short story “Story Of Your Life” that meditates on heavy questions exploring the meaning and purpose of our lives while also retaining the thrills of a summer blockbuster. Arrival doesn’t have the mindless CGI explosions of the summer tentpoles and despite that, the film never feels small-scale or boring. Each frame looks like it has been meticulously prepared to fit in the larger narrative.
There are clues to the central mystery throughout the film but despite having a gut feeling that the answer was just around the corner, I couldn’t solve it before the film did that for me. And despite some of the trappings of the genre and of Hollywood itself, the film more than makes up for its weaknesses. The climax widens the eyes, setting off an explosion of images in the brain – clearing the what, how and who of the film. Because, make no mistake, those questions keep us intrigued throughout. Even if you are a casual fan, those questions will arise in your mind within the first half-hour. And they won’t be about the motives of the aliens. The answers, when their arrival happens, are great. I know “great” sounds a generic term and believe me, I wanted to elaborate on that. But I don’t want to give away even the slightest of spoilers about the film here. This is a movie that will demand your attention and capture it until the end credits roll. This is a film that makes you fall in love with the visual medium. This is a masterpiece.
Genre : Science fiction, Drama, Thriller.
Verdict : Arrival is a must-watch. It has a dense subject which has been handled with immense maturity, making us marvel at it ceaselessly.
Trivia : There is a reference to Sanskrit in the film’s opening exchanges with the language’s word for “war” being discussed about. One linguist says it is “gavistī.” This has led to a search for the actual word on the internet. I think the correct word is “yuddhâ.”
Rating : ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2
Have you watched Arrival yet? What are your thoughts on the film? Do you agree with this review? Kindly tell me in the comments section.
Thanks for reading.
Arrival trailer :