“Arrival” is beautiful. The first 3 minutes tell the heartfelt story of mother and daughter with few words. It fondly reminds of the movie “Up”. The story resonates to our very souls. Here crying at the beginning of a movie is a good thing. All is not exactly what it seems, illuminating untold possibilities to come. That is part of the beauty of “Arrival”. Amy Adams as Louise narrates: “There are days that define your story.”
“Arrival” embraces life in absolutely surprising ways.
Eric Heisserer wrote the screenplay based on Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life”; its title starts making sense. This is much more than an alien encounter movie. Director Denis Villenueve’s “Arrival” is about the power of stories to inspire and define life. Amy Adams is amazing as Dr. Louise Banks, the linguistics professor, who must decipher the language and intentions of alien visitors to Earth. Adams embodies graceful humanity as Louise in her transformational journey from fear to wonder. Life is created and exists in our language. “Arrival” reminds us.
The sights and sounds of “Arrival” awe. Composer Johann Johannsson’s score effortlessly captures the currents of emotion. Bradford Young’s cinematography is brilliant. From the enormous scale of the Alien monoliths around the world to the isolation of Louise’s room, he seamlessly fuses the story with clarity. Villenueve orchestrates these sights, sounds, and authentic performances to tell a story that moves us.
Dr. Louise Banks (Adams) is a single linguistics professor at a university. On the day that defines her story, twelve alien onyx monoliths about 1500 feet tall hover around the world. Their locations include China, Russia, and Montana. The aliens come from another world. Do they come in peace? Literally landing at her doorstep, Army Colonel Weber played by all business Forest Whitaker inquires whether Louise is the right person to decipher the alien language and their intentions. He soon determines she is.
Soon Louise finds herself on a military helicopter flying to Montana with Alien Team lead physicist Ian Donnelly, played by Jeremy Renner. Ian tells Louise that science is the key to civilization, not language as her book proclaims. Yeah, they’re going to bond.
The monolith pods open every 18 hours, and Louise, Ian, and Weber must discover as much as they can. The strange creatures have seven tentacles, thus, giving them the name “heptapods.” Their oral language is indiscernible. However, their written language is like Japanese calligraphy circles with telling attributes.
Watching Louise and Ian decode the language is mesmerizing; however, the story slows to a narrative crawl. Perhaps, the only downside. The upside is amazing. Paradoxically, the alien language is nonlinear: There is no past or future, only the present. Or maybe they are collapsed and all the same? All the while Louise is haunted by visions of her daughter. The Aliens possess a technology that may be a threat or a gift.
Life arises out of our language. Villenueve and Heisserer guide us with lyrical focus, and a welcome sense of humor. Louise tells a killer “kangaroo” joke. Amy Adams makes “Arrival” special. She has power. Adams instills in Louise the vulnerability and compassion that speaks to the hero in all of us. Renner is deceptively strong and tender in what could have been a predictable role. His authentic partnership with Adams generates the eloquent and sublime epiphany. “Arrival” invites us to make the story of our lives wondrous. “Arrival” is one of the best movies of the year.
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