Arrival is the most hopeful and emotional film I have ever seen. Denis Villeneuve being the one behind this makes it all the more surprising, his American films are not inspiring films that make your heart soar.
Dark explorations of the human mind and questioning of morality paired with a level of filmmaking technique that puts Christopher Nolan to shame. Arrival is not that dark gloomy family drama about morality or a conversation about government overreach.
Arrival is a story about humanity at it’s worst and at it’s best. Amy Adams is a linguistics expert named Dr. Louise Banks brought in by the army. A result of her classified clearance given to her from once helping locate a terrorist. She’s joined by Jeremy Renner playing a military astrophysicist tasked with helping Louise make meaningful contact with an Alien ship. The Alien race onboard dubbed by the film as Heptapods who have. From there the implications of conversing with aliens and how that effects mankind are explored in detail.
We see the fear of the other in Arrival, fear in such a real and understandable way. Young Soldiers are led to revolt because of talk radio fearmongering and the legitimate panic they hear talking to their loved ones. Foreign countries in the film declare war at the first sign of trouble and men kill to protect government secrets.
Optimism and the rejection of jumping to the lazy conclusion also plays a part. Adams in the treats her assignment like any other. Taking evidence into account and building a thesis while never backing down as military enforces a “the sky is falling” policy. Always assuming that the Heptapods are there in peace, and not stopping till she finds a way understand what she’s dealing with.
It builds drama so effectively and uses film technique to such great effect I can only marvel at it. Arrival engages in simple but perfect trickery.
Using flashbacks and dream sequences to convey not just emotion but significantly move the plot forward without slowly spelling out the answers is one of many achievements Arrival makes.
Arrival portrays human beings as just that. There is no cartoonish heroism or mustached villain. Human beings doing what people do. Calling their husbands and wives because they scared. Believing all that they see on TV and bugging their grown children with horror stories on the news. Soldiers seeing a war that does not exist and acting before it can ever happen.
The human quality of the film adds to the verisimilitude. The Colonel Weber played by Forest Whitaker is like every military man I have met, to the point and by the rules. Still a human being with human reactions. the line “Why does this feel like it’s worse” as delivered by Whitaker once the Heptapod Ship begins to move for the first time since landing is so small but so weighted and it’s all in the delivery and Villeneuve not holding any longer than he needs to, the brevity strengthen the already building tensions. Michael Stuhlbarg who plays Agent Halpern gives him a sense of detachment you would expect after researching the CIA. That “I’m smarter than almost everyone” behavior balanced against a genuine panic in his face throughout the film. Like everyone, he is a human being and his human reactions ground Arrival. The two authority figures that could easily be just sources of conflict are fuller characters in this movies than they should be and it make Arrival all the more impressive.
The work of Jeremy Renner should not be underplayed, Renner is not just boring angry guy with a secret or blank feeling action hero. He’s playing Sweet and awkward nerd. The way he plays it is just the perfect mix of everything. He’s every bit the scientist Adams is and he becomes her biggest ally. The two slowly develop a personal connection but it feels genuine and unrushed. There’s no romantic kiss in the second act, but not to say the film doesn’t feel full of love.
Love is the hidden lesson of this film, love is what bring this film safely to the runway. Arrival does not make grand statements about love or spell it out. Love is just there, Adams bring the world the world together through love. She finally understands exactly what the Heptapods are and how they exist because of love.
Arrival is emotional and grounded while being smart and even wry at times.
Do not wait on Arrival. Take your family, your daughters and sons now.