Concise Review: Arrival (2016)

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In the heartfelt final moments of Arrival, (the new film from French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve) a Theoretical physicist called Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) says to linguist expert Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) that his life has fundamentally changed because of meeting her as opposed to the encounter that he has had with extraterrestrial life. The moment is an encapsulation of the picture’s personal and intimate interpretation of humanity’s first encounter with beings beyond our world.

Villeneuve crafts many scenes in this vein. For example, when Banks first meet the aliens, the filmmaker combines scale with the gargantuan silver interior of the ship engulfing the frame and the experiential nature of the situation with close-ups of the character who portrays abject terror. The scene had echoes of the crew of the Nostromo exploring the vastness of LV-426 in Ridley Scott’s Alien. Another great moment is an elegantly constructed 360 degrees aerial shot that slowly pans across the shell alien craft amidst green pastures and visible clouds. The shot ends with a top down view of the military base of operations and signifies the potential threat that the visitors pose.

Both scenes embolden the central theme of the picture, which can be read as the inherent miscommunication and perception that resides within humanity. In the background of the central story, that showcases two teams communicating and ascertaining the alien’s purpose on Earth are news reports. They serve as a chorus of intense fear and escalating tension as people around the world perceive the shells as looming threats to be combated, which results in many countries aligned in their view to destroy the crafts. In the tail end of the main narrative thread, the creatures send a message to the two main characters that say “offer weapon.” Immediately, the military and bosses of the operation view the message as a threat as opposed to a possible miscommunication based on the difference between a weapon and a tool.

Nevertheless, the unfeigned potency of Arrival comes in its ending, which introduces a philosophically intriguing question that combines the terrifying implications of determinism juxtaposed with the touching dimension of parenthood. In essence, Arrival is a magnificently cerebral and emotionally moving triumphant.

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About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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