Director: Denis Villeneuve (‘Sicario,’ ‘Prisoners’)
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg
The perplexities of life are always plaguing people’s sense of humanity and identity, as they struggle to find the true meaning of their purpose on Earth. Exploring the true nature of life as they contend with conflict and knowingly approach death is often the best way for people to maintain their humility. That’s certainly the case with the protagonist and the supporting characters of the new sci-fi movie, ‘Arrival,’ which grippingly points out how disconnected many people truly are from society. The drama, which was directed by ‘Sicario’ helmer, Denis Villeneuve, features actress Amy Adams as the lead character, who tries to figure out the mysteries of life, while she tries to overcome her grief. The film, which will be released in theaters on Friday by Paramount Pictures, is based on the 1998 short story, ‘Story of Your Life,’ by Ted Chiang.
‘Arrival’ follows divorced linguistics professor, Dr. Louise Banks (Adams), who has been content living alone following the death of her 12-year-old daughter, Hannah (Julia Scarlett Dan in flashback scenes), to a rare form of cancer. The professor still communicates with her decease child, as a way to cope with her grief. As Louise reflects on the pain she still experiences over the loss of her child, she realizes that there are days that defines everyone’s story beyond their lives, particularly the day an alien race arrived on Earth.
Twelve alien spacecraft unexpectedly land at 12 seemingly random points around the world. The spacecraft, which are 1,500 feet high and are shaped like elongated eggs, remain suspended just above the ground. When one of the spacecraft lands in middle America, Louise is recruited by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to attempt to make contact with the alien beings. The colonel feels the professor is the right person for the job, as she previously helped the military translate sensitive Farsi documents.
Once she reaches the site where one of the spacecrafts landed in Montana, Louise begins collaborating with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). They’re working under the guidance of CIA Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg), who’s the chief government liaison on the ground. Even though the group realizes the spacecraft doesn’t appear to be emitting gas, waste or emissions into the atmosphere, the foreign beings are still viewed as a threat. Their presence is causing widespread alarm, which leads to an international state of emergency.
Weber and Halpern encourage Louise and Ian to quickly find ways to understand the aliens’ language and communicate with them through their hieroglyphs, as a way to uncover why they landed on Earth. But the professor and physicist care more about emotionally connecting with their visitors, as the world’s inhabitants try to figure out a way to best save humanity.
‘Arrival’ powerfully sets itself from other high-profile studio sci-fi dramas in the fact that it relies more more on its stunning performances than its action sequences to drive the plot. The five-time Academy Award-nominated actress naturally draws viewers into the heart of the story of a mother trying to reconnect with her humanity while in mourning over the loss of her young daughter. Still driven by the vulnerability of watching Hannah lose her battle to cancer, Louise is stunningly brought back to life as she tries to understand the aliens’ motivations and emotions.
Adams enthrallingly shows how the linguist is standing in as the voice of reason, as she embraces humanity’s evolving relationship with the new-found civilization. As she begins to translate and understand the purpose of the aliens’ visit, she begins to view and perceive the meaning of life in a more profound way.
Not only did Adams help bring a sense of serenity and purpose to the rapidly changing world through her powerful portrayal, so did the sensational visuals that were created by the remarkable crew. Villeneuve brilliantly brought ‘Arrival’ away from the large emotional and visual scope that’s often showcased in sci-fi dramas. Through Louise’s shock and challenge of trying to maintain her humanity during another devastating experience, the way she and her colleagues approach trying to determine the aliens’ intelligence is an essential element of the story. From artist Martine Bertrand, who helped design the aliens’ written language, to production designer Patrice Vermette, who created the stone shape of the visiting species’ stone-shaped ship, the crew also helped highlight the aliens’ stunning intelligence.
‘Arrival’s skilled cinematographer, Bradford Young, also proved how essential it is for the film’s visuals to focus on the delicate exploration into how humanity contends with tragedy and conflict through his camera set-ups. Not only did he showcase the delicacy of Louise’s ever-evolving relationship with her daughter, as well as her subdued, but still present, grief over her death, he also showcased their interactions as being fragile. As the professor tried to offer her child comfort during times of despair and conflict, she also offered the aliens the same kind of contentment, which the cinematographer effortlessly emphasized through varied close-up and wide shots.
Striving to find a sense of humility, after becoming acquainted with some of life’s biggest dangers, is an intimate and essential process many people are forced to face throughout their lives. Exploring the nature of life as they contend with conflict and knowingly approach death is often the best way for people to maintain their humanity. That’s certainly the case with Adams’ stunning portrayal of the determined protagonist in ‘Arrival,’ which effortlessly points out how disconnected many people truly are from society. Combined with Villeneuve’s enthralling emotional talent as a visionary, along with the stunning visuals that were led by a talented cinematographer such as Young, ‘Arrival’ stands out as a successful and ambitious genre film.
Written by: Karen Benardello