Movie Review: Arrival

arrivalI have now seen Arrival twice in theaters. The very first time, I dragged one of my friends who knew absolutely nothing about the movie and we both walked out of the theater talking about how it was one of the best movies either of us had seen so far in 2016.

“Linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) leads an elite team of investigators when gigantic spaceships touch down in 12 locations around the world. As nations teeter on the verge of global war, Banks and her crew must race against time to find a way to communicate with the extraterrestrial visitors. Hoping to unravel the mystery, she takes a chance that could threaten her life and quite possibly all of mankind.”

While I usually keep my reviews as spoiler-free as possible, there are some aspects of this movie that I really, really want to discuss. So if you want to wait to read this review until you have seen the movie, I encourage you do to exactly that.

I had seen a little bit about the movie which I think was an interview or something about how it was an intellectual and linguistical movie and not an action movie, which was very interesting to me, and so when the movie actually came out, I made a point of going to see it.

This was probably the most realistic version of aliens arriving on earth that I’ve seen yet. The day starts as any normal day would and if you’re not one of those people who listen to the news on your way to work or watch the news before you leave for work, the world could change drastically and you wouldn’t know it. And since something as huge as first contact with an alien race who is clearly technologically superior to humanity would cause everyone to have a lot of mixed reactions, it would only make sense that no one would be able to focus and everyone would want to leave work and go home. Some would attack, some would try and communicate, and some would flee. But no one person and certainly no one country would have predictable reactions to the arrival of an alien species.

I was more tense during the first viewing of this movie than I have been for a lot of other alien movies. This movie had very little in the action category and yet I was so entrenched in the plot and characters that I spent most of the movie very, very tense. There were no super jocks who punch aliens, no massive and technological battles, and no trauma-related battles between opposing forces. There really wasn’t much violence and action in this entire movie, and yet, the story had me so hooked that I was seriously more tense during this movie than I have been through most action movies involving aliens and alien contact. I think the reason that I was so tense is because I’ve seen the direction our modern world is heading and it worries me because with a lot of the incoming administrations, their first instinct for everything will be to try and kill it or make it bow to their way of thinking, which isn’t the right answer at all. I worry about the future of our planet and those fears are only getting stronger as we approach the new year. But that’s a rant for another day.

I’m going to start getting into some movie spoilers in the next paragraph so if you haven’t seen the movie yet, I would encourage you to stop reading and wait until you’ve seen the movie yourself to read the rest of my comments.

One of the absolute coolest parts about this movie to me was when Louise absolutely owns Colonel Weber when he starts asking about why she went off script and this was pretty much the biggest nerd moment for me I’ve had because of a movie. He’s asking why she was using the words she was using in the session with the aliens and her response is to write on the white board and when she goes to erase a portion of the science equations, Ian is like, “not the stuff on top” which made me laugh. But the true nerdy moment was when she wrote the sentence, “What is your purpose on earth?” and broke it down for Colonel Weber. She explains in detail the entire sentence and how language is actually incredibly complicated. She says they have to understand the actual meaning of the alien words and not just infer what they think the aliens might have meant with any given communication session. She explains the difference between “you” meaning an individual and “you” meaning a collective whole and why that difference matters. She explains that they have to make sure the aliens understand interrogative sentences and pronouns. Having just finished my Teaching English as a Second Language certification, all of this linguistical knowledge and its use really made me exceptionally happy to be so nerdy. I think that was my absolute favorite part of the whole movie just because of the level of nerd I appear to be.

This is where I’m going to spoil the true hidden part of the plot so if you’re still reading and you want the movie to unravel naturally, this is your last chance to stop reading.

This movie really plays with the concept of time and I found it fascinating in a lot of ways. Having memories of events that haven’t happened yet would really mess with your ability to focus on the here and now. It would also mess with your concepts of reality. Perhaps because Louise knows that Hannah has an incurable disease makes her appreciate absolutely every second of Hannah’s life. It’s also possible that Hannah’s disease is because of Louise’s unprotected time in the alien atmosphere, but without the aliens’ arrival on earth, Louise and Ian would have never met, and certainly never started a life together. Is Louise trapped by time in the sense that even though she knows what’s coming, she still makes the same choices. She still marries Ian and they still have Hannah. She knows why Ian leaves her later and still makes the choice to tell him about how she knew Hannah was going to die before either of them. In some ways, knowing your future and knowing what kind of life you’ll have must be kind of calming because you know that you won’t have to struggle and you know that things will work out positively for you. In other ways, though, knowing your whole future might feel like a trap because no matter what you do, your path is set. And you know that you would have to stick to your path because if you don’t, you’ll impact your memories in the past when you were actively attempting to save humanity. It’s a fascinating mental game and I continuously think about it.

Overall, I’d say this movie is a low five. I intend on buying it when it comes out and I enjoyed watching it so much that I saw it twice in the theater, but since it’s such a heavily intellectual movie, I can’t imagine that I will wind up watching it over and over again because I normally only turn on movies when I want to veg out or when I’m working on other things that divide my attention and Arrival is not a movie where you stop paying attention or veg out.

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About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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