Last night I re-watched Arrival with my girlfriend and her parents. The first time I saw it at the cinema was actually accidentally (my GF brought us tickets thinking it was a different film) but one which I am very glad of. There are few films which have left me almost comically slack-jawed when they finish, but Arrival was certainly one of them.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on Ted Chiang’s ‘Story of Your Life’, the film manages to deftly combine the raw power of human emotion with the intellectual stimulus of the sci-fi genre. I won’t go into the plot too much as I don’t want to spoil anything, but the story revolves around a concept often skipped over in sci-fi films – How do you communicate with a being who isn’t from earth, when there is no mediator or translator to help?
The answer comes in the form of Louise Banks, a linguistics professor played by the brilliant Amy Adams, who delivers a refreshingly strong female lead role. Her emotions viscerally splayed across her face throughout, in a way we literally see the film through her eyes. The performances throughout were generally strong, although this is in part owed to the brilliance of the script. The film manages to convey fairly complex ideas and narrative timelines with an elegance which would leave any scriptwriter with a similar expression to mine at the end of the film.
The cinematography was incredible, contrasting extreme long shots breathlessly intimate closeups which must have left the focus-puller with a stump for a hand. The precision and crispness of the film very much reflected its genre’s love of all things technical. Coupled with the Jóhann Jóhannsson’s haunting soundtrack, the film promises a powerful experience.
Overall, the film was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time, skilfully mixing the unknown with the powerful familiarity of human emotion. In speculating how we would interact with beings from another world, Arrival becomes an introspective analysis on ourselves, the way all great sci-fi should.