I left the cinema barely able to wrap my head around the many layers and facets of ‘Arrival’, possibly the best Sci-Fi movie of a decade.
Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner; One year ago I wouldn’t have foreseen Superman’s girlfriend and the Avenger with no powers starring in a movie expected to receive at least a couple of Oscar nominations at next year’s awards ceremony. Here we are in late 2016 entertaining that very prospect. Both are in demand in their respective careers.
Adams is on a roll with ‘Arrival’ receiving almost unanimous critical acclaim and the highly anticipated ‘Nocturnal Animals’ hitting the big screen next month. There’s a television series ‘Sharp Objects’ lined up for release in 2017 and the actor will reprise her role as Lois Lane for the ‘Justice League’ movie.
Renner also has plenty of screen-time lined up for his character Hawkeye in the Marvel cinematic universe as well as appearing in the film ‘Wind River’ alongside Elizabeth Olsen and Jon Bernthal, each with their own ongoing commitments to Marvel properties. There’s a rumoured part in another Bourne movie and Mission Impossible 6 is lined up for release in 2018.
None of these roles are quite akin to those the pair portray in this year’s hit sci-fi epic ‘Arrival’.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve ‘Arrival’ is a multi-faceted science fiction story that tackles the current political and military landscape around the globe, deconstructs our concept of time and the very nature of humanity through the events surrounding ‘first contact’ with an alien race.
Adams’ emotional performance as Dr. Louise Banks is supported by Renner’s less sensitive disposition as scientist Ian Donnelly. Events surrounding the appearance of twelve alien vessels around the globe are presented sequentially whilst intercut moments from Banks’ life are seen in flashback or dreamlike sequences that don’t always follow a linear path. Yet, the two are intrinsically linked with a twist that doesn’t so much take you by surprise as gently dawn upon you.
This gentleness is evident throughout the film. ‘Arrival’ is a slow burner, but don’t misconstrue that as a negative, many of the greatest science fiction stories committed to celluloid are sedately timed yet addictively engrossing in their wonder and mystery. See ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, ‘Silent Running’ or ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’.
The first contact element of the story is prefaced with key information as to explain Dr. Banks’ demeanour, setting up something of a rollercoaster ride for the emotionally invested. My wife admitted to have been brought to tears twice by the closing credits. Her empathy as a mother key making her especially prone but anyone with compassion can sympathise with the events Banks goes through and the choice she ultimately has to make.
‘Meeting’ the aliens promotes mild anxiety, the series of events leading up to actual contact delay the reveal sufficiently as to promote a sense of trepidation mixed with claustrophobia. It’s tense, and yet over time the visiting ‘Heptapods’ take on a personality that, as unappealing as they look, is strangely endearing.
Whilst it would be easy to describe governmental actions and personal tribulations as subplots set to a story or first contact, that wouldn’t be accurate. There is no singular main plot. The whole story is intertwined and symbiotic and this is where director Denis Villeneuve really excelled. Not everything makes sense on the surface but everything is linked. You, the viewer, need to actively take part and make the connections.
There are technicalities you could pick holes in, but none of these will unravel the plot or lessen the impact of what’s happening on screen. And there’s a lot happening. So much in fact that I left the cinema needing time to process what I’d just seen. I couldn’t adequately articulate my feelings or theories about this movie until now, almost 24 hours later.
Earlier in the year I saw ‘Midnight Special‘ a film I’d hoped would satisfy my craving for a spectacular science fiction film that provided wonder, and integrity. I came away disappointed by a movie that failed to administer a spectacular final act.
‘Arrival’ provides in abundance. It’s not just a sci-fi movie. It’s a GREAT sci-fi movie, a human story, and an observation of the state of our divided world and cultures right now. It’s possibly the greatest Sci-fi movie in a decade.
Arrival is in cinemas now.