Arrival (2016)


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I loved this film (thanks for the recommendation Kari). Sci-fi is not my favourite genre but this was directed by French-Canadian Dennis Villeneuve, who also made the superlative Incendies, so it is not your average US film. Stunningly beautiful, atmospheric, complex and emotional, it won’t be for everyone but I was clutched tight in its grasp and now, hours and days later, it still hasn’t let go.

Amy Adams is Louise Banks, a language professor called upon to decipher an alien language when 12 spaceships arrive on earth; smooth giant pebbles hanging motionless over 12 countries. As expected, the world goes into a military panic, with the strutting of the superpowers – US, China and Russia – breaking down any sense of humanity as a unified force. In the light of current US politics, I couldn’t help but see this as a profound example of the shortsightedness  and destructiveness of the ‘America First’ mentality.

Banks is teamed up with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), seemingly the only two civilians allowed to approach the US ship, and they are sequestered in a bleak temporary military encampment that is predominantly populated with humourless and posturing men. Banks’s fear is palpable and her physical stress entangles with dreams she is having that seem to be about grief and loss.

I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot as you are drawn, like Banks, into an unknown and potent journey. The dramatic and artistic realisation of the spaceship and aliens is juxtaposed visually, aurally and narratively against the fearful, colourless and uncaring chaos of the military encampment. The cinematography is stunning, the music is unsettling and the story arc is unexpected. For me, perhaps the ending was a little overplayed but I do like to be left wanting more.

Although the cast is predominantly male, Banks is at the centre of the story and it slowly emerges that this is a narrative about self-realisation – on a personal level but with national and global resonance.

Currently in cinemas

Bechdel test – pass
5 stars

5 thoughts on “Arrival (2016)

  1. Pingback: Moonlight | fillums

  2. Loved and was transfixed by this film too, Kate. Thanks for letting me know about your film review blog, and enjoy upcoming MIFF. My husband usually hates sci-fi, but has raved about this film ever since – especially because of its commentary on how our language shapes our thinking and our experience of time and reality. I downloaded and read the short story it was based on (by Ted Chiang), and was impressed with how the film stayed true to its essence and yet extended the story into an even more powerful commentary on humanity and politics.


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