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Arrival movie 2017 is both heartfelt and very entertaining, and it brings back hope for sci-fi movie, which has been lost since the overwrought disappointments of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar and Jeff Nichols’s Midnight Special.
Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi contact drama is dreamy, freaky and audacious. Arrival movie skirts the edge of absurdity as anything like it must but still manages to keep the story clear. The movie includes a big flourish in the manner of early movies by M. Night Shyamalan.
As expected for this kind of movie, the protagonist is a flustered and bewildered civilian with special expertise, brusquely pressed into service by the military, which has got the spacecraft surrounded in the short term. Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a professor of comparative linguistics with nothing and no one in her life but her work.
Dr. Banks was once seconded as a military adviser to translate a video of insurgents speaking Farsi. Then, when a dozen giant spaceships land in 12 different locations on Earth, a bunch of army guys led by Col Weber (Forest Whitaker) show up on her doorstep demanding she come with them to help translating what the aliens are saying. At any rate, Louise’s liaison is the flirtatious Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). He is a military scientist, who is in a stereotypical and fallacious way, equating his masculinity with science and affecting to despise what he sees as the softer discipline of linguistics.
More about the movie lead, there is a secret tragedy in Louise’s life. She lost her child who died of cancer in her late teens. Her attempts to communicate with the aliens cause painful but illuminating echoes in her mind.
As Wittgenstein said, if a lion could speak, we would not understand him. Does the same go for aliens? That the main question throughout Arrival and other movies of the same genre. Spielberg solved that issue elegantly in Close Encounters of the Third Kind by making the form of communication including a five-note musical phrase. Villeneuve’s solution is more literal. The aliens have a code which Louise finds herself more or less able to crack with the crowdsourced expertise of the other 11 human-contact teams around the globe. Still, it is her human intuition, vulnerability and spontaneity that finally enable her to reach out to the visitors.
Inevitably, these “contact” moments are where the movie’s real impact and atmosphere have to be, and Villeneuve doesn’t disappoint us in those sequences of eerie and claustrophobic strangeness. There are also touches of comedy, for instance, Ian and Louise decide to call two aliens Abbott and Costello as they maybe in homage to the linguistic misunderstanding in the duo’s famous routine about a baseball team’s positions. By coolly switching focus to political intrigue and betrayal within the human ranks, Villeneuve keeps a grip on his story and creates ballast for its departure into the realms of the visionary and supernatural. He also prepares us for the film’s sense that language itself, freed of our usual sense of its linear form, might be more important than anyone thought.