“All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”
~ Victor Hugo
The last time I was optimistic about an upcoming science-fiction film, I got slapped with Independence Day: Resurgence. It’s rare, nowadays—as with horror—that I actually see an entertaining, thought-provoking sci-fi film. But this was not your typical “alien invasion” movie; in fact, only a fraction of the story even gets us close to the actual visitors. For most of Arrival’s two-hour run-time, we’re on the outside, looking in—seeing through the eyes of the thinkers trying to understand why it is that these beings have come to Earth…and what a whirlwind two hours it is.
Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are a perfect pairing for their respective roles of Drs. Banks and Donnelly. A lot of their interplay is really engaging, even for non-academic types—bouncing hypotheticals off of each other, attempting to solve the mystery of the aliens before Earth’s governments start launching missiles at the ominous ships. With deadlines for concrete answers constantly being pushed up by Forest Whitaker’s bare-bones Col. Weber, I could understand the stakes as they tried to get to the bottom of the long-prophesied “greatest event in human history”. The real antagonist in this story is Man, more willing to obliterate a strange, new opportunity, rather than seek to fully comprehend it. The scientists (Adams and Renner) are the underdogs here—knowledge-seekers living in an unfortunate age of paranoia. This movie is about the people. It shows just how dangerous we are to ourselves, let alone what lies beyond our little world, which makes the twist allthemore satisfying when it…arrives.
This movie is the antithesis to any work by Lovecraft; discovering or becoming more than ourselves is not always as terrifying as we may sometimes perceive. Like any other invasion film, it plays on our fears of realizing just how small we actually are, but the purpose of the visitors is a lot more complex than that—which is something that the world’s governments are all-too-quick to dismiss. Their choice to respond with force asks us to perform an introspection of ourselves: if a seemingly-benevolent race of creatures showed up on our doorstep tomorrow…how would we respond? Would we be able to put aside our petty differences, and become more than we could ever have dreamed? Again, this is not as far-fetched a plot as other invasion films have exhibited; instead of uniting in retaliation, the film wonders if we would be able to unite in something much, much greater than our own, selfish needs.
The score, overall, is minimalist—an accompanying feature meant to highlight certain moods and mindsets of the film and the characters within. There is only one part, relatively early on in the film, where it’s a tad extreme in its crescendos, but otherwise, Jóhann Jóhannsson did well in driving home the film’s tone. Partnered with the drab color palette, the feeling of urgency is at the forefront.
The film does leave me questioning the visitors’ true purpose; their base intent is realized, as events unfold, but…why did they choose us? And who is it that sent them? A sequel would be warranted, but, as I’ve said in prior reviews, I don’t mind piecing these things together, myself.
Final ‘Risk Assessment: *****/. Denis Villeneuve and his crew have woven an excellent story that asks us to look at ourselves, before we look to the stars.
Next review: Moana