Film Review: “Arrival”

Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker
Directed By: Denis Villeneuve
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 116 minutes
Paramount Pictures

Our Score: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

If you’re hoping for an alien movie filled with mindless city destroying explosions, slow-motion gunplay, and jingoistic speeches by presidential figures, you’re going to be severely disappointed with “Arrival”. But if you’re looking for a profoundly tragic and beautiful sci-fi movie that transcends its interstellar subject material with an introspective look at what it means to be human, then you’re going to love “Arrival”.

When a dozen circular, monolithic structures appear over the surface of the planet in 12 seemingly random spots, the Earth quickly comes to a screeching halt. Classes are called off, planes are grounded, the economy goes into a literal freefall, and the world sits and watches as nothing happens. No sounds, no communications and no clue as to what these odd ships are here for. There’s an impending fear because dozens of governments attempt communication, but aren’t quite sure if the beings that they’re talking to are friendly or not. The U.S. government acquires the best of the best for the job, Dr. Louise Banks (Adams).

While senior U.S. military officials like Weber (Whitaker) expect immediate results, Banks has a deep understanding of language as well as the patience it takes to understand what an intergalactic species is saying. The master linguist is aided by Ian (Renner), a mathematician that comes in handy to device a program in place to decipher the visual language the aliens are using. But alas they face an uphill battle.

Fear of the unknown, the inability for governments to work together, conspiracy theorists having a social media outlet and an impatient generation are at full work outside the space ships and military quarantine zones surrounding the structures. “Arrival” doesn’t necessarily focus on that too much though because we all know that the human race couldn’t handle the possibility of extraterrestrial life. As “Men in Black” so eloquently put it, “People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals.”

“Arrival” finds more usefulness out of Banks’ psyche. It’s tough to describe the internal and mental conflict broiling in Banks’ head without revealing too much of what gives meaning to the slow burn reveal towards the end of “Arrival”. Director Denis Villenueve, whose other movies have ambiguous endings and hidden meanings (“Prisoners”, “Enemy” and “Sicario), is the right choice for a movie that has more than meets the eye.

Adams helps convey the deep emotional turmoil inside Banks and is complimented by the various forces pulling her apart. Throughout the run time of “Arrival”, we watch Banks struggle with the insignificance that humanity feels when knowing we’re not the only special entity floating around in the universe. That struggle turns into one of confusion and understanding that something greater is at work than the petty distress that mankind feels when losing it’s individuality.

The release of “Arrival” feels poignant considering the current election in the U.S., but for those who look beyond that simplistic snapshot reaction, there’s a deeper meaning at play. If “Arrival” has anything to offer, it’s therapeutic reassurance that despite the struggles we face because of our differences, every living human being on this planet still feels love, regret, sorrow, and joy. And understanding that idea every day could ultimately lead to unity and healing.