Thursday, December 22, 2016

Movie with Abe: Arrival

Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Released November 11, 2016

There have been so many alien arrivals and invasions shown in movies and on television that it’s hard to imagine what the actual event would be like in real life. This year’s big extraterrestrial-oriented film features a similar introduction to Earth with ships appearing all across the world with no explanation or communication, but it’s not the major blockbuster that movies with like premises in the past might make it seem to be. Instead, “Arrival” is a drama above all else, using the unexplained presence of alien life to explore what it really means to communicate, a fascinating perspective on what first contact can look like.

Louise (Amy Adams) is a professor of linguistics whose stable life and career are interrupted when the sudden arrival of alien ships paralyzes America – and the world – and causes all normal activities to cease. Because of her extensive familiarity with languages, Louise is called upon to travel to the ship that has landed in America and join forces with a physicist (Jeremy Renner) to figure out what the aliens are trying to tell them. Awed by the situation, Louise takes it upon herself to go one step further and attempt to open up a dialogue, learning how to interpret their language and teach them how to understand words rather than merely shapes and symbols.

“Arrival” is primarily a film about discovery, one that puts action and visual effects aside to focus in on the search for answers – not about the existence of extraterrestrial life but on what they can learn from this fascinating species shrouded in mystery, both figuratively and literally, as they interact with humans from behind a wall shrouded in mist and fog. As the entire world grapples with what to do, the lines of communication between countries that rarely speak open up in a collaborative effort to understand what is happening, presenting an optimistic if shaky view of what can happen when everyone on the planet is in the same position of uncertainty and actually tries to work together.

This film is mostly earning praise for its score by Johann Johannsen, which also includes Max Richter’s magnificent “On the Nature of Daylight” used to mesmerizing effect, and for Adams’ lead performance. The way that Susan jumps into her work and approaches it with such an intellectual curiosity is wonderful to watch, and this is easily one of Adams’ best cinematic turns recently. After exploring different themes in “Incendies,” “Prisoners,” “Enemy,” and “Sicario,” director Denis Villeneuve has found a mainstream platform and done a marvelous job of making a sci-fi movie that’s truly accessible and widely endearing. When it finally achieves its unexpected resolution, this film proves to be a wondrous, satisfying exploration of how humanity should respond to the news that there is something else out there, as expressed through the singular energy and commitment of its strong female protagonist.


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