Arrival is a classic science fiction about a problem on planet Earth. It uses the scientific method that used to be taught in middle-school science acknowledge the problem, study the problem, create a hypothesis and then proceed to apply a solution. Unlike Star Trek or Star Wars fantasy, Arrival is grounded by physical science fiction along the lines of The Day the Earth Stood Still and Contact. Fans of authors H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five will appreciate the Easter eggs related to the theory of time. Brush up on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity also.
We are introduced to Professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and her daughter. Within five minutes of screen time, we learn that the daughter dies of a rare form of Cancer and the mother grieves. Dr. Banks, a linguist expert, is then summoned by the military with the arrival of aliens from outer space. While the threat appears to be benign, the world reaction grows increasingly tense.
With the help of theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Dr. Banks overcomes the language barrier and communicates with heptapods – seven limbed star creatures that look like giant squids. As the aliens and humans become more intimate with each other, Dr. Banks subconscious becomes affected in which her dreams, nightmares and reality intersect.
Arrival is a thinking person’s motion picture. To director Denis Villeneuve’s credit, he clearly expresses Arrival’s simple narrative, despite multiple character details filled with dreamlike imagery. This film demands rapt attention and it is a film best seen in the afternoon to grasp all the film’s nuances.
It is Amy Adams’ performance that acts as a conduit between academic theory and human emotion. Her grief is real, as is her initial fear of the seven limbed heptapods, who they nickname Abbott & Costello. Her growth is real and one appreciates Louise Banks’ good days when she smiles later in the picture.
In the next couple of weeks, there will be plenty of science fiction movies that will be used to sell toys, including Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Star Wars Rogue One) Arrival is a special film that will appeal to one’s head as well as their heart.