Directed by Denis Villenueve (Prisoners, and Sicario)
Written by Eric Heisserer (Lights Out)
It has been a long week, and my faith in humanity is at a low. With the election of Donald Trump my liberal bubble was popped. Misogyny, racism, homophobia, and many other isms won. Americans let their fear win, and in this there could be references to Star Wars, Green Lantern, and any other mythology that provokes the concept of fear. I felt as though I was clinging to a weird metal post, with the Emperor pushing me to let my fear take over, There have been many things which helped foster hope, family, friends, comics, some Murder She Wrote, and the purpose of this write up, Arrival.
The alien invasion film has been around in cinema for a long time, my first foray into this this world was The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), but there were probably others. I watched this as a young child and for my film cinema class in college. I remember as a child that fear was the main construct in this film the outsider was here to invade the planet, and the government, and others were on a mission to put an end to these aliens from destroying our world. Arrival uses many of the common concepts around the alien force coming to earth from many films like Earth, or Signs (2002), but this film is so much more.
Arrival is based on the short story from Ted Chiang and while science and philosophy are rooted within this story, the main crux of the film is communication. What is your purpose on Earth? Everyone around the world wants to know why these aliens have touched down. The government brings in Amy Adam's Louise, a linguist who is meant bridge the communication with the aliens, and their language. Louise is paired up with Ian played by Jeremy Renner, and the two get to work on trying to understand the aliens language and their purpose rather than going right to the offensive,
Without giving more away, the films builds on the subject material by Chiang but it's Denis Villenueve and his creative team who have built out this world, and opened this up to be a a true masterpiece. Villenueve has had an impressive resume since 2010, Incendies, Prisoners, Enemy, and Sicario. Each of these films explores humanity in so many different ways. You rarely see a a director weave brilliant worlds with so many different screenwriters, but Villenueve continues to hit it out of the park. In this film his workd with screen writer Heisserer turns out an emotionally gripping tale about love, communication, and hope. Together these elements provide the core, which are only enhanced by the sumptuous visuals and technical aspects.
Villenueve's visual world is beautifully captured by the fantastic Bradford Young (A Most Violent Year, Selma). Young is a reason this film moves beyond the traditional sci-fi alien picture; he works the camera from different angles and pushes you to see things from different perspectives. Young's work also adds depth and humanity, and brings about so many emotions, which adds to the power. Johann Johannsson scored the film and has worked with Villenueve twice before (Prisoners and Sicario) provides lovely and haunting music which enables the journey of Louise to take flight.
While Villenueve, Heisserer, and Young deserve tons of praise for helping crafting this journey, it's the brilliant performance from Amy Adams, which brings everything together. Adams gives a quietly brilliant performance, which could have been over the top, and had histrionics, but she creates something more powerful in this role. Adam's main job in the film is to provide a connection to the aliens with her linguistics skills. Adams performance soars showing empathy in a way that most science fiction tends to avoid. Adams is fighting to bring humanity together, and her role brings everything together.
Arrival helped me to find hope, and while there is a ton of bad stuff going on in this country and in the world, it's wonderful to find a film which believes in humanity, and is plain fantastic.