Wow, after watching Arrival I cursed myself for missing this one while it was still in theaters. It also reaffirmed in my mind that Denis Villeneuve is one of the best directors working today. Arrival is not just an eloquent take on smart science-fiction, but also a dramatic human story about our relationship with time, how we define them and how they mold us.
Amy Adams’s Dr. Louise Banks walks over to give her lecture on the difference between Portuguese and the other Romance languages, numb to the clusters of students stuck to their phones watching what seems like an important news event. She enters her rather empty classroom and instead of proceeding with her planned lesson, a student asks her to turn on the news. There’s our introduction to Them, those ominous and otherworldly black spacecrafts hover over twelve random locations on Earth. Villeneuve detracts from that bombastic entrance alien-invasion blockbusters treat their alien arrivals like, instead he has the incredibly talented Bradford Young capture the arrival in a subdued manner, introducing them with an eerie quiet that raises all the more questions than an ostentatious presentation à la Independence Day would ever present. The perfect combination of Young’s subdued camera-work and Jóhann Jóhannsson’s beautiful score makes for a properly tonal presentation of what we’re about to experience in Villeneuve’s human-scaled sci-fi tale about the power of communication.
Once presented with this mysterious introduction to the aliens, we’re then rightfully introduced to the Heptapods. Alongside Jeremy Renner’s Dr. Donnelly, Dr. Banks has been tasked with uncovering the purpose of the Heptapods on Earth. In doing so, she must find a way to communicate with a species we’ve never had contact with, use an entirely different form of communication in which they’re lettering which most resembles that of ink-like morphing crescent figures represent ideas and sentences instead of words. The task is seemingly impossible, especially as political tensions escalate and Whitaker and Stuhlbarg’s government officials constantly breathe down the two geniuses’ necks, pressuring them to get the answer they want to hear as soon as possible. Do they come in peace?
We’re then sent on an emotional, intellectually stimulating quest as Dr. Banks looks for the words that can bring two species together. The way Villeneuve calmly directs the journey is breathtaking and once we reach a revelation of cosmic proportions that blew my mind as the editing, acting, and directing came together so perfectly, I don’t believe a better film came out last year. Then again, I haven’t watched Moonlight, but simply gazing upon the sci-fi genre, no other film in the genre surpasses the genius of Arrival apart from the audacity Shane Carruth presented in Upstream Color, maybe if you were to classify The Lobster as sci-fi that does it, but that film swims in a strange surrealist stream where the fantastical interweaves itself with what we define as sci-fi. Then again, there’s something so intelligent about Arrival that wants to make me eliminate the concept of fiction from its genre, it really seems like something that could this very moment.
What else can I say about Arrival? Amy Adams steals the show delivering an extremely subtle performance for which she was snubbed over Streep. Everyone else that makes up the cast does a terrific job but no one beats what Amy Adams was able to do in her role. Bradford Young delivers striking cinematography throughout the film and Jóhannsson’s score chants to perfection across the film. If Blade Runner 2049 and Dune work as well as they’re expected too, Denis Villeneuve will be revered among the rockstars of science-fiction filmmaking. What he was able to do in adapting Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life is a remarkable feat and hopefully he continues on the glorious path he’s on. Arrival is a captivating piece of grounded science-fiction that goes beyond the reach of science to capture true emotion and present it as art. With Arrival, Denis Villeneuve has cemented himself as a director that can tackle any genre and one of the best directors working today.