Saturday, July 1, 2017

Arrival Movie Review

Arrival (2016) 

Rent Arrival on Amazon Video
Written by: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (based on the story "Story of Your Life" written by)
Directed by: Denis Villeneuve
Starring:   Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Rated: PG-13

My rating is simple, Watch It, It Depends, Skip it. Read my previous movie reviews!

When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is  tasked with interpreting the language of the alien visitors.

Intriguing story that plausibly depicts how we would interact with an alien species. This is like an opposite to Independence Day, focuses on raising questions instead of action. The subplot of Amy Adam's memories throughout have a huge pay off towards the end as we further explore how language shapes how we see the world. It's a great piece of film.
Watch it.

The movie opens with quick clips that tell the story of Louise's daughter while Louise ruminates on beginnings and endings in a voice over.
Twelve oval shaped structures appear around the globe and people go crazy. With a less is more approach, the structures are just oval shapes.This movie feels very grounded in how the military and world would react to extra-terrestrial life. Louise is recruited to make contact since she's a linguist. The lead up to her and the military attachment entering the alien structure is great. This is a Villeneuve movie so it looks impressive and the mood remains intense despite the fact this movie is just two species learning to communicate.

This is a cerebral experience, pondering how language shapes cultures and thought. It's a sci-fi movie that's more cerebral and less action. The tension is derived from the need to figure out what the aliens wants and later the threat of attack. At first all countries are working together, but as fear increases all countries stop contacting each other and sharing information. Throughout the movie, Louise's task at hand triggers memories of her daughter. I figured there had to be more to her flashbacks, and there is.

When the aliens talk of a weapon the military is ready to attack. Louise warns that the aliens may not be using the word correctly, the trouble with not establishing a base line. The military wants answers immediately, but Louise convinces them to wait. This is reinforced with the Chinese who used chess to communicate. When your basis of language is winning and losing, the aliens communicate in those terms.

The subplot of Louise's memories of her child come back in a big way towards the end, but it also feels like a trick. Louise's memories aren't quite what they seem and it's incredibly odd she never questions it or even talks about it. If she did, it would steal thunder from the end, but her reaction just seems odd once we get to the twist. I like the question it generates. Is it better to love and lose than to not love at all? I just wish the movie got there without it feeling like subterfuge. Louise knows something and doesn't tell us just to not spoil the end.

Despite my complaint, the movie just keeps getting better. It's an amazing movie that explores questions about freedom of choice, language, and perspective. A question the movie doesn't ask directly is whether we have free choice.

Towards the end, General Shang whispers to Louise his wife's last words. It's not subtitled on screen, but what he said was, "In war, there are no winners. Only widows."

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