We spotted Arrival on the iTunes store rental list, and the other night decided to give it a shot. The plot of this movie follows a linguist who is called upon to help communicate with alien ships that have suddenly appeared at various locations around the planet. At this point, I need to put up a warning that the rest of this review will involve SPOILERS. There’s really no good way to talk about this movie without going into things that will give away major plot points. If you haven’t seen the film I’d suggest turning back now.
My first reaction when reaching the end of this movie is how similar it was in tone and style to Contact. You have a brilliant scientist who is somehow able to engage with an alien race and in the end, saves the day. In this case Amy Adams plays that heroine, however she appears flawed due to what appear to be flashbacks to the death of her daughter (more on this later).
One of the things I enjoyed about this movie, is that it didn’t play up the political conflicts more than they should have been. It felt very real and accurate as to how the world would react to suddenly finding out that they’re not alone in the universe. Many movies like this would turn the story into an action flick with a singular bad-guy from the CIA who has secret orders to kidnap the aliens and use them as a weapon. Despite the fact that there is a CIA guy in this movie, he’s pretty well benign, and simply does his job.
Even when a rogue set of soldiers plant a bomb on an alien ship, causing the death of one of the heptapods, it didn’t turn into World War III. There are only a couple of foreshadowing moments with a certain soldier watching right-wing propaganda, and you never really get to know him very well. It ensures that the story stays focused on Louise and Ian and their journey of discovery with the aliens.
I have to admit, I thought about the non-linear time scenario somewhat early on, but I dismissed it, as I thought it was too much of a stretch. My wife stuck with it though. She pretty much had it figured out from about mid-way, and her predictions turned out to be right. When it was obvious what was happening it became an emotional roller coaster, because just like the heptapods, time doesn’t need to be linear for the viewer. In many ways we were experiencing the events in a fashion to how the heptapods perceive time. We saw reality unfold in a manner that wasn’t linear, and it turned what could have been a gimmicky trick, into a moving plot device that dug into your emotions.
It was heartbreaking to realize that everything you thought was in the past was still yet to come. The twist forced everyone watching it to think to themselves if they would have made a different choice and changed the future. Yet, Louise doesn’t change the future, and instead chooses to embrace the beauty of life, despite knowing how short it could be. It is a beautiful testament to the value of human life, and the power of overcoming suffering to see every moment and precious, despite the pain. This message is amazing and powerful, and made Arrival a movie that went above and beyond normal sci-fi fare.
I don’t know that I would watch this more than once, as I think it would be even more heartbreaking a second time. However, I’m incredibly glad that I watched it, and loved the beauty of the message that is presented.