So many people had recommended this movie that we finally went to see it. The Arrival may be one of the most cerebral and visionary movies I’ve ever seen.
The summary, from IMDB: “When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team – led by expert linguist Louise Banks – is brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers – and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.”
Actually, that summary doesn’t do the film justice. The way the movie is filmed is tricky, brilliant, a red herring in itself. It moves between the present, where Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and a theoretical physicist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) are struggling to establish communication with these aliens, while what we’re led to believe is the past, where Banks’s daughter is dying of a rare form of cancer, is also a red herring.
But – and here’s a spoiler – what Banks is seeing is the future. The gift she receives from these aliens is precognition – sensing the future – something we didn’t realize when we went to see the movie. At one point, Banks is remembering something her daughter, Hannah, asked her, and she tells her that her scientist father is better equipped to answer that question. This line is a big clue about the larger picture of what’s happening in the communication with the aliens.
Their language is holistic, non-linear, universal in that it doesn’t perceive time as divided into past, present, future, but as a continuous flow.
The movie is based on a short story by Ted Chiang and the screenwriter’s journey in translating the story to film is fascinating. It took him a decade to get it made. Instead of pursuing what the studios were demanding – aliens land, big shoot-em-up, humans win – Eric Heisserer followed his own artistic vision and it paid off. This movie is one to savor and see again. And again.
I downloaded the collection of Chiang’s short stories – 15 of them which have won multiple awards – and love the one on which the movie is based. But I think Heisserer took that story and totally transformed it into a masterpiece.