I got to see an advanced screening of Arrival last night. Starring Amy Adams (Man of Steel, BvS), Jeremy Renner (Avengers), and Forrest Whitaker (Last King of Scotland), it was directed by Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario). Arrival is based on a short story, “Story of Your Life,” by Ted Chiang, who also helped shape the screenplay, and is a look at what happens when the people and nations of Earth are confronted with proof positive that life exists elsewhere, as twelve discs—called “shells”—settle at random spots around the globe.
The trailer doesn’t do the movie justice, and that’s saying something, considering how incredible the trailer is.
I am trying to not give away too much, as the film’s strength is the way it slowly unfolds itself in front of the audience, allowing us to experience each piece of the puzzle just as Adams’ Doctor Louise Banks does.
This really is Adams’ movie to carry, by the way. Renner and Whitaker are important pieces in the surrounding infrastructure (and both are really good here), but it is Adams’ performance which is the keystone of the film. If you don’t believe her, believe in her, then the movie falls down.
Billed as a science-fiction film, Arrival is so much more than that. Yes, there is the obvious sci-fi element of the spaceships and their heptopod occupants, but the story is summed up early on when linguist Doctor Banks and Ian Donnelly (Renner), a theoretical physicist, disagree on the cornerstone of civilization: Beck says that it is language, Donnelly says it is science.
You can probably guess which one of them is correct.
Without giving too much away, I will say that I like Arrival much more than the last big “hard science” sci-fi film to come out, Interstellar (you can read my thoughts on that one HERE). Without being a linguist myself, I can’t vouch for the incredible vocabulary and theoretical progression Banks puts forward in her attempts to communicate with the two heptopods in the shell that has appeared in Montana, who Connelly names Abbott and Costello, once they confirm that the heptopods have individual names. It also handles the core issue of the film in a much more philosophical way than previous sci-fi films have attempted to.
Ultimately, Arrival is a meditation on language, time, and humanity.
What it is NOT is a popcorn movie. Arrival is a film that should have you thinking long after you leave the theater.
Be sure to also follow the Visually Stunning Movie Podcast on Stitcher or iTunes (or at vsmoviepodcast.com and twitter @vsmoviepodcast), as we record a much more in-depth, informative, and likely spoiler-y review later this week.