There are well in excess of 6500 languages on the planet, so it is little wonder that the advent of new technologies hasn’t rapidly brought us all together. The difficulties in communication across a small yet disparate globe are at the heart of ARRIVAL, a science fiction film with a difference from French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve. It’s a film that demands discussion, even if it makes a few conversational leaps of its own.
Based on Ted Chiang’s short story “The Story of Your Life,” the film supposes that 12 extraterrestrial objects appear at seemingly random locations across the globe. US Army Colonel (Forest Whitaker) requests that Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) join him in helping to translate the alien languages. In the process, they learn about communicating with each other.
Villeneuve’s ARRIVAL distinguishes itself from other blockbuster invasion films by being a deeply reflective one. Adams once again proves herself to be a chameleon, never disappearing into the lonely bubble she creates, and showing strength through the visible fear her character realistically possesses. Cinematographer Bradford Young and composer Jóhann Jóhannsson create a wholly atmospheric production, pulsing your senses constantly in an otherwise deliberately paced picture.
Unfortunately, ARRIVAL also succumbs to a stumbled denouement, labouring the wibbly wobbly twists and turns of its final moments, and elongating its explanation. It’s as if Eric Heisserer’s script walks us up to the end, explains it, and then runs it through us a few more times in case we missed it. Which is a shame, because Villeneuve’s film is a smart and thoughtful construct otherwise, allowing us to contemplate the possibilities of a better world through the lens of sci-fi.