I’m familiar with a couple of Villeneuve’s other movies, like Prisoners and Sicario, both of which I thought were okay flicks. However, from the movies of his that I’ve seen so far, I believe The Arrival is the best. The movie is based on Ted Chiang’s short story, “Story of Your Life.” I want to read the story when I get a chance and see how the movie stacks up to the written page.
The basic premise of the movie is that alien spacecraft land in 12 different spots around the globe. With no real way of communicating with the aliens, the United States Military enlists the aid of Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who is a linguistics professor. The tension begins to mount as the world’s nations start to diverge on how to deal with the aliens, also called heptapods because they have seven limbs, bringing to the world to brink of war.
This movie, while epic in some proportions is kind of a slow burn (which is good). It’s also one of those movies that you have to pay attention to or you might miss something. I’ll do a spoiler review below (don’t worry, I’ll give ample warning) but know that there’s a fun twist at the end and it’s one of those movies that would be great to watch at least twice. Once to be surprised, and once again to see how everything is connected.
Working with Amy Adams, is Jeremy Renner who plays Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist. While they clash in some ways, they quickly learn how to work together and form an effective team. The biggest challenge they face, which forms the plot of the story, is that they have to break through the communication barrier before time runs out.
There was also a scene where they figure out that the Chinese are trying to break the communication barrier with the aliens by using Mahjong. Adams goes on to explain why this would change the frame of understanding by stating: “Imagine if we used chess. Our whole basis of communication would be based on victory and/or defeat.” It’s the little gems like these that made me smile and goes to show how important language is, and how unique it is to the culture it resides with. It’s also this concept that leads us into the spoiler territory. However, before I delve into the cave, I want to leave this little bit with the non-spoiler crew. If you are interested in aliens, linguistics, or good movies, do yourself a favor and see this show. Heck, even if you’re an H.P. Lovecraft buff, go see it. I’m not the first to point this out, but there are some Lovecraftian themes subtly weaved into this movie. I give it 4 out of 5 heptapods.
As the story progresses, the unity of the 12 nations that are interacting with the heptapods begins to collapse. They all get different interpretations of a message from the aliens that reads as: use weapon, or give weapon. This starts the countdown as the 12 different countries try to figure out what it means with China taking an aggressive stance by threatening to take military action. In the twilight hour, Adams finally figures out that she is seeing into the future, realizing that her daughter and the death of her daughter hasn’t occurred yet, also realizing that the father of that child is Renner’s character. It’s about this time that Adams finds out that the “weapon” is their language, which will allow them to see time as they do. The aliens also mention that in 3000 years, they will need humanity’s help, which is why they are bestowing this gift to them.
She gets a vision on how to stop the attack on the aliens by calling the Chinese military commander. This is where things get a little hokey for me. One, in her vision, she’s at a dinner gala and meets the Chinese general who basically lays everything out on a plate for her on what she has to do such as, gives her his personal cell number, what his wife told him on his death bed, etc…he seems to know that giving her this information is important. My problem with this, is that how would the Chinese general know to do this? Does he see into the future as well? It just seems a little too convenient to me. Anyway, long story short, she saves the day and they all avoid global warfare…or even planetary warfare (for now…who knows what will happen in 3000 years when the heptapods need their help).
At the end, Adams and Renner are hugging and she has the knowledge of what is to come. She basically asks Renner, “If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, would you change things?” In short, asking if he knew about their unborn daughter and what would happen, would he still choose to give birth to her? It’s a deep question, and really drives home what the movie is about…choice. That question lingered with me on the drive home from the theater. On one hand, you would miss out on ever having had any of those experiences or given life to another human being at all. On the other hand, you know that life is going to be cut short. Thinking to the love and bond I share with my daughters, it’s a heavy question. I know what the answer is.
But the real question is…what’s going to happen in 3000 years?