“Come back to me.”
‘Arrival’, directed by Denis Villeneuve in 2016, is an American science fiction movie starring Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner. Adams plays Louise Banks who is recruited by the US military when mysterious pods the size of skyscrapers appear in twelve locations around the Earth. With the help of theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly, played by Renner, she is tasked with translating their language, a strange collection of pictograms, to discover their intentions. Adams realises that the alien beings exist with no concept of the past or future, and as she learns their language she begins to find herself thinking as they do. It’s an elliptical, metaphysical movie that plays with the notions of time and memory, but also with the conventions of cinema. In this film, with its strange mix of flashbacks, dreams and hallucinations, nothing is as it seems as the aliens’ uncanny nature begins to warp the narrative of the movie itself. In imagery and cinematography it’s reminscent of Tarkovksy, and indeed it does simlar things with time to both ‘Mirror‘ and ‘Solaris‘. It also has a Tarkovsky-like focus on the natural world, particularly in the hallucinations Adams suffers from. It’s also a well-timed film. ‘Arrival’ is the latest in a run of intelligent, hard-science fiction movies that place scientists at the heroic centre of their stories. Like Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ and Ridley Scott’s ‘The Martian’, ‘Arrival’ fetishizes expertise, innovation, improvisation and intelligence. Recent events have made it clear how important this is as UK politicians claim that ‘Britain has had enough of experts’; as creationists and climate change deniers have gained a foothold in the White House; and as the latest rumours name Sarah Palin as a possible Secretary of State of Education. In ‘Arrival’, Adams, the linguist, spends her time deciphering the alien language, but finds that the real problem with interpretation comes from the Babel-like languages on Earth, whose only common word seems to be ‘war’. It’s a serious, smart and tricksy film that will reward repeated viewing.
Would I recommend it? Yes – especially now. It’s a movie that seems to be attempting to counter-balance the strange ‘post-factual’ world that intelligent people find themselves marooned in. Watch in a double bill with ‘The Martian’, a movie with a similar message, but more straightforward and funnier.