Based on Ted Chiang’s short story ‘Story of Your Life’, Arrival is a very special movie. The term ‘Intelligent Science Fiction’ is enough to make a lot of people run a mile, which is a shame because films like Arrival are so much more than science fiction. Have you ever watched a film backwards and not realised until you got to the beginning? Probably not. And the prospect probably appeals as much as ‘Intelligent Science Fiction’. As a famous time-traveller once said – People always assume that time is a linear progression of cause and effect. But it’s really more of a big ball of wibbly- wobbly, timey-wimey stuff. Which doesn’t really help to understand how a being can ‘be’ all at once. But that’s where Arrival triumphs. It actually succeeds in explaining how that is possible; maybe not on a single viewing, but when you watch it for the second time it will all make sense. A remarkable achievement.
‘Arrival’ refers to the day when twelve identical alien monoliths appear in Earth’s atmosphere and touchdown at twelve apparently random locations across the globe. The ‘Shells’, as they become known, give off no radio waves, absorb no energy and make no exhaust fumes. They just float, impossibly, 18 feet off the ground. The American militarily, in the form of Forest Whitaker’s Colonel Weber, co-opt top scientist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and linguistics genius, Louise Banks (an amazing performance from Amy Adams) to make contact with the occupants of the one ‘shell’ to land in America. They are flown to Montana where they realise that so far nobody has succeeded in communicating with the aliens. Tensions rise worldwide with riots, prophesies of doom from religious cults and military sabre-rattling from the Chinese and Russians. The human race can only solve the puzzle by uniting but the opposite is happening and the clock is ticking for our heroes. Every breakthrough they make is counter-balanced by rising paranoia from the US government.
Denis Villeneuve, director of ‘Incendies’ and ‘Sicario’ shines in his sci-fi debut. Making minimal use of green screen (the alien ship interior is an actual set, and looks stunning) Arrival looks completely unique and has the ability to change the way you think about your time on this world. Stunning.