If movies are to be believed, aliens only visit Earth for one of two reasons: colonization or exercising kinks on whoever they abduct. Arrival proposes another invasion, where the aliens instead talk humanity into submission. As boring as that may sound, Arrival takes this premise and delivers one hell of a movie.
When 12 alien spaceships land in different locations around the world, the American military recruits the linguist Louise (Amy Adams) and the scientist Ian (Jeremy Renner) to communicate with the otherworldly strangers. The two race against the clock to decipher the aliens’ motivations before the divided nations of the world accidentally declare war on the visitors.
If you’re the kind of person who can’t wait to show those pesky “libertards” how wrong they are about gun control laws in the midst of an alien invasion, then Arrival is not for you. Arrival relies on emotional investment and patience to get its points across, not knee-jerk reactions and alternative facts born from creative imaginations.
Close Encounters Of A Different Kind
Rather than highlighting a special effects laden intergalactic war where humanity’s fate is at stake, Arrival focuses on how a first encounter would impact real-world diplomacy and politics. Gone are the bombastic tropes and cliches that make every single big screen alien invasion predictable and nigh indistinguishable, and in its place are careful analyses of the situations at hand and timid human beings who are understandably nervous about the strange visitors.
The end result is a grounded and very human take on a premise that has been done to death, creating an unpredictable chain of events that may or may not lead to armed conflict between species. The tension in Arrival is derived from the miscommunication and the threatened concept of peace on Earth, and this sparks new life into a genre swamped by idiotic action heroes who get a pass because they waved a flag in the face of some alien war machine.
Based on those descriptions, it should be expected that Arrival is a slow-burner. The movie takes its time building up the required atmosphere of uncertainty and tension to emphasize how important every little decision is, but it never feels like it needlessly drags out every second. Arrival uses every chance it gets to develop the characters and show off some nice cinematography, making sure that no minute is wasted.
Because of its narrative style, it’s easy to see why Arrival will not be everybody’s kind of movie. But the fact that the movie puts an emphasis on the meaning of languages over aliens with laser beams fighting flag-humping Alpha Males should have made this point pretty obvious.
Maximum Speech Skills
Pacifism is usually the last thing characters in alien invasion stories think of, but Arrival shows how powerful the act of talking can be when dealing with the unknown. With a lesson on how much better a pen is than a sword, one can be forgiven for fearing that Arrival would be pretentious and be one of those pompous Sci-Fi movies written by humans with serious self-loathing issues.
Here’s to you, every single fucking Young Adult movie with an alien invasion and a pile of shit masquerading as a plot.
Thankfully, Arrival portrays all sides as evenly and respectfully as possible. The armies of Earth are more than ready to blow the aliens to Kingdom Come, but this is more of a last resort than an impulsive decision. The few who are actually prone to violence get their daily news from glorified conspiracy nuts who think chemicals in the water supply turns frogs gay, making it hard to take them seriously even if their actions do have dire consequences.
Yet as thought provoking as the subtext and messages of Arrival may be, the movie still fails to avoid some pitfalls movies are prone to. By the third act, major plot threads are solved through contrived coincidence. Though the movie gives plausible explanations, one has to wonder how different things would have been with the aliens if the conveniently timed Deus Ex Machinas came in a few seconds too early or otherwise. These are the kinds of afterthoughts that can weaken the impact of what should have been fitting conclusions, and these scenes come off as cinematic obligations rather than the most logical conclusions.
In the same act, characters other than Louise gradually fade into the background to the point of irrelevance. While this may be understandable since Louise is the main character, it would have been better if Arrival balanced out the characterizations from the start instead of showing off an all-star cast of award winning actors before turning into a solo character piece starring Amy Adams.
Language Is Power
There are a few nitpicks that keep Arrival from becoming perfection incarnate or the greatest Sci-Fi movie ever made, but these issues affect nothing in its overall quality. Even if some parts of the story fall into melodramatic territory and could have been told better, Arrival still stands tall as one of the most significant movies made in recent memory. Not only does it do wonders for the genre in terms of critical recognition, but it’s that rare movie that came out at the right moment.
No matter which side of the political spectrum you may align yourself in, Arrival has a message of understanding and peace that anyone who actually gives a shit about humanity can relate to.
Granted, Arrival is the kind of drama that can bore some people but this is not the movie’s loss or fault. Arrival is a smart and well written Sci-Fi drama that never panders to general audiences, but neither does it claim to be highbrow art that only the culturally enlightened can comprehend. Arrival may succeed more as a message than a mainstream movie, but it’s something that shouldn’t be skipped.
Give it a shot before Hollywood reverts to alien invasions that are as brainless as the aliens who lost their mothership to a ’90s era computer virus.
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