Director: Denis Villeneuve
Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language.)
Running Time: 116 Minutes
Release Date: November 11, 2016
21 Laps Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment, Lava Bear Films, Xenolinguistics, and Paramount Pictures.
Written by: Eric Heisserer; adapted from the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang.
Conversations about how films impact people are some of the most wonderful chats to have because movies like Arrival foster such great debate and insight.
After mentioning that I had thought Arrival suffered some pacing issues and surged too quickly to the finish line, a friend of mine set me straight: “Right. But that’s on purpose, right? Fits with the story being told and makes sense that the whole movie quickens as she learns more and more of how to communicate. Kinda like life, no?”
Well yeah, that makes perfect sense.
And in hindsight, I admit that I was wrong. Once that conversation concluded and I went back and looked at Denis Villeneuve’s measured and lyrical science-fiction epic a second time, another layer of why this film is so terrific fell right into place.
Led by Amy Adams, Arrival is, in part, a film exploring communication, patience, and the awareness of what surrounds us. Though the film is built around the fantastical premise that a dozen alien vessels with creatures inside, known as “heptapods”, have descended upon Earth, Villeneuve’s film is less about what comes from above and more about lies within.
Villeneuve and screenwriter Eric Heisserer zip back and forth in a masterful, non-linear way, giving us snapshots of the past and future while we try and deduce what is happening in the present. Additionally, Heisserer crafts a dazzling mystery at the heart of the film; Why are the creatures here and what are they trying to say?
While the power of Arrival may not be immediate, admittedly the film did confuse more than a few people on a first viewing, it comes in the moments amid a crackling mystery, emblematic of the memories Adams’ character is trying to arrange and the cracking of the code of the countless circular symbols the aliens offer up to her. Jeremy Renner offers a nice supporting turn as a project assistant who may have more of an impact on Adams’ character than either of them initially recognize. And the world Villeneuve creates is something that feels like right now. We recognize everything we see and as a result, this is science-fiction that feels less a part of a dystopian world just out of reach in the future, and a film that feels present, close, and immediate.
Most films this densely layered get mired in complexities that people can never slice through. Arrival takes its time, with patience, steadiness, and a probing curiosity in wondering what is out there. But then, in a powerful way, it reminds us that to communicate effectively, we must listen, hear, and try and understand one another. In a final coda, Villenueve turns the premise around on us and asks, if we truly can hear and process everything around us, would we make the same decisions? Would we be the same people we are today? Would the world be completely different?
In the fall of 2016, Arrival had us all talking, listening, sharing, contemplating, and conversing about its various thoughts and themes. How many films can truly say they did that in 2016?
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- One of 2016’s best films is competing for 8 Academy Awards this year and delivers thought-provoking, dense, complex science-fiction that will keep you talking long after its credits disappear.
- There are more than a few people who have watched Arrival and were confused by the film’s ending. As a result, some have found it to be unnecessarily difficult and had it just been easier to follow, the film would have had more impact.