The slender short tale that inspired this ambitious “first contact” Arrival 2017 movie involves discussions of Fermat’s principle and diagrammatical explanations of refracted light, rather than a blueprint for a multiplex-friendly fantasy movie.
Still, from the a temporal tale of Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life, in which the narrator recalls events in the future tense, screenwriter Eric Heisserer has brought an admirable script for a movie as cerebrally adventurous as it is emotionally accessible. Firmly directed by French-Canadian moviemaker Denis Villeneuve, making his first move on the sci-fi genre before the upcoming Blade Runner sequel, Arrival 2017 movie features a bold course between the guiding stars of Robert Zemeckis’s Contact and Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, with just a touch of the gravitational pull of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris.
“I used to believe this was the beginning of your story,” Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams) speaks over the opening sences of Max Richter’s On the Nature of Daylight, a theme to which Arrival 2017 will return crucially in its closing entry. With startling economy, Villeneuve features a picture of motherhood cut short by a daughter’s death; love and despair painted with surgical precision. From such tragedy we move with equal economy to the main event – a string of spaceships leaving the globe for unknown reasons. Leading linguist Dr Banks is immediately set into service as an interplanetary translator, teamed up with Jeremy Renner’s tetchy-but-cute physicist Ian Donnelly, who keeps on insisting that “the cornerstone of civilisation isn’t language, it’s science”.
Together, this star-crossed duo must travel into the void, trying to converse with creatures who are seen through a glass darkly, and who communicate through inky circles, what Chiang refers as “mandalas… in which premises and conclusions were interchangeable”. Forest Whitaker’s typically succinct army intelligence officer wants quick answers to: “What do they want? Where are they from?” But for Banks, understanding these aliens will demand a more intuitive, elliptical approach.
Although the spectre of low-hanging spaceships surrounding the world appears to evoke the apocalyptic iconography of Independence Day, it’s the rough-hewn beauty of British director Gareth Edwards’s sarcastically titled Monsters to which Arrival 2017 movie owes the bigger debt. From the “dirty sci-fi” aesthetic of Bradford Young’s tactile cinematography to the soft, odd-couple chemistry of Adams and Renner, there’s an intimacy here that resounds with Edwards’s low-budget debut in 2010.
On contrary to such human touches, the pebble-shaped alien vessels are impressively out of the world, creeply recalling Douglas Adams’s description of spaceships that “hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”. Once inside these shells, production designer Patrice Vermette’s sets appear every bit as odd as HR Giger’s Arrival 2017 movie Alien environments – enormous and unknowable, their otherness emphasized by Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score. Yet even in these sets we can still feel Louise’s all-too-human heartbeat, with Amy Adams’s gift for telegraphing tangible emotions through tiny facial gestures shining through the isolating wrap of an orange hazmat suit.
Anyone knows the Tralfamadorians of Kurt Vonnnegut’s 1969 book Slaughterhouse-Five, who regard time as permanent, like “a stretch of the Rocky Mountains”, will recognize the hidden themes, both philosophical and emotional, which make Louise Banks a latter-day Billy Pilgrim. Still, while the source codes may seem familiar, there’s a satisfying answer to Arrival’s dramatization of such sophisticated concepts as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, a theory that language explains cognition, which Dr Banks experiences first hand. While the military hawks press for strategic benefit, Louise finds her world rearranged by alien semantics (“Are you dreaming in their language?’), ideas of happiness and sadness refracted through the prism of a linguistic stargate.
As befits the director of Incendies and Sicario, Villeneuve also fuses a sociopolitical touch into the fantasy narrative, with increasing international tensions and demands an armed response striking a very contemporary nerve, alongside intense discussion about understanding “the difference between a weapon and a tool”. Still, such details remain secondary to the main story of parental bonds passing through time and space, positioning this in the same cinematic constellation as Christopher Nolan’s equally emotional Interstellar.
“They should have sent a poet,” Jodie Foster’s astronaut Dr Ellie Arroway said in Contact, another character scarred by the loss of a loved one, stuck in a galaxy-spanning fight between facts and faith. At a time when some of us, petrified by events on Earth, are seeking the stars for reassurance that love can really win over tragedy, Arrival 2017 movie online may be just the poem we all need; a departure from the dystopian perspectives which now appear all too real, a memory of a future in which light still shines in the darkness.