Screened Out – Arrival

By : Stephen Miller
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Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forrest Whitaker

If the careful, beautiful film Arrival finds a wide audience, it says more people want well-made intellectual mind-benders. This is smart science fiction, built for deep discussion. Finally, it shows us something about the power of learning someone else’s language.

Is that courage to explore completely foreign viewpoints something Americans need to hear right now, where anyone “alien” to us is considered a threat? I’ll leave that decision up to you.

Adams is Dr. Louise Banks, a famous linguist. When 12 alien ships land across the globe, the American government/military enlist Dr. Banks to figure out what the aliens are saying. She is a woman in shock, somnambulistic from her past and her current life. However, she shows a great aptitude for deciphering the aliens’ strange language. In short, she’s a character easy to admire for her knowledge and her bravery, as she tries to connect with the other beings.

Arrival's Denis Villeneauve directs in a way that can film film lovers with joy and hope.

Arrival’s Denis Villeneauve directs in a way that can film film lovers with joy and hope.

And the aliens desperately want to talk to us. Actually, they take great steps – even though their environment is completely different – to make it possible to talk. (If only this were happening across America right now.)

“When you learn another language, it changes the way you think,” Dr. Banks says.

“Why are they here?” Arrival’s poster asks.

Well, that’s a question that only breezily gets answered. Instead, Arrival deals with exposure – taking risks and struggling to learn a literally alien language and culture. That sort of openness can transform a person!

And Arrival is also full of visual panache. It’s not a sensory assault; it takes its time. Sill, it gives us plenty to look at!

The visuals of Arrival are quiet yet tense and thrilling at the same time.

The visuals of Arrival are quiet yet tense and thrilling at the same time.

Arrival is shot in dim squares of grey, green, and brown, with bright boxes and frames of light. They vaguely remind me of the shining light at the end of the tunnel we supposedly see at death. I still haven’t figured out why the filmmakers chose this, but it’s very noticeable, and I desperately want to know ! I would guess that this is a symbol for the death/birth – the change – that meeting the aliens and expanding our minds brings. Arrival invites that sort of intellectual pondering.

Given that, anyone who knows me understands why I love this film.

Of course, not everyone is as fearless as our Dr. Banks. At the same time, others across the globe are on the verge of attacking their alien ships. The tension arises in finding out what led these visitors to Earth before someone declares irreversible war.

Ratings Key

See it now! Buy the DVD! Quote lines at parties!

Definitely worth the price of admission

It’s useful as a distraction

Maybe if someone else pays and you need a nap

Slightly worse than eternal damnation

Denis Villeneauve directs. He also directed the excellent Sicario, and he’s set to lead the new Blade Runner project. Any perusal of his work could fill a film lover with hope.

In fact, all of Arrival could fill us with hope. Because of this, I hope you see it.

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