Arrival is a movie about a potential alien invasion that is based on the award winning short story ” Story of your life ” by Ted Chiang. 12 Podlike massive objects hover a few feet above the Earth’s surface in different parts of the world. The story we are following is set in a city called Montana in the U.S. Louise Bank, a reputed linguist who has priorly helped the CIA in translating, is called upon to decode the inscrutable sounds the ‘ aliens ‘ make. Despite the emotional ache she sporadically seems to suffer from and the haunting images from the past about her daughter, Dr. Banks takes up the opportunity to communicate with the beings from the other world. She is accompanied by a phycisist, played by Jeremy Renner, mostly a second fiddle to the stunning Amy Adams who blows you away with a face that projects beautifully, her emotional vulnerability.
Denis Villeneuve is the most underrated director of modern cinema. Each of his films define his mastery over the craft of filmmaking and as you lose yourself in the riveting drama he creates, the tenderness in his storytelling surfaces, emitting a gentle scent of humanity. This experience remains despite the paradigm shift in the genres he has dealt with. From a personally motivated revenge drama in Prisoner to the scientific profoundness of Arrival and Blade Runner, he has successfully conjured a culmination of newness and comforting familiarity, which, fascinatingly enables you to slip into the fantastical world he creates.
Arrival scores big in terms of production design. The shape, colour and texture of the Shell (UFO) is designed with great precision and realness which sucks you into the ominous mood of the film right from the first time it is on screen. Villeneuve, smartly, grounds the film in reality. The writing by Eric Heiserrer and Villeneuve’s pragmatic brilliance, prevent the film from becoming a flashy, fantastical, often cliched American SciFi dramas that are mass produced in recent times. The realism imbued into the unfathomable circumstances brews the anxiety within and because the idea is treated with a plausible approach, the fear of unpredictability also heightens and as a result you are sucked further into the proceedings, waiting to be rewarded with an emotional and intellectual catharsis.
Terming this movie as a SciFi drama would be a misnomer, as the film finds its heart in dealing with humans and their frailed humanity. Villeneuve uses the idea of Aliens entering Earth as a tool to explore the conspicuous divide among the human species. There is a subtle philosophical thread running through the narrative as we see the Heptopods, unintentionally, expose the lack of oneness among the humans. As the mega powers of the world go on the offensive, it is Louise’s empathy that shines light on to the purpose of their visit. In the introduction scene, between Louise and the two Heptopods, which are affectionately named Abbott and Costello by Jeremy Renner’s character, Ian, Amy Adams displays the joy of teaching one’s child to speak. Her first communication with the Heptapods brings a motherly joy to her face, as she laughs in jubilation. This is not only a thematic connection to Louise’s daughter but also a complex narrative point, which one discovers much later into the film.
The chilling soundtrack of the film is a terrific combination of sound mixing and music. This beautifully seamless integration of two crafts creates a visceral experience. The cinematography is both grand and personal in a unique way. There is a certain alignment in the storytelling style of Villeneuve and the sense of vision through the cinematography, which produces a visual so compelling that without any knowledge of the context, one could mull over in the macabre. The skilful editing keeps giving you pieces of information that hint at the big reveal in the end. The climactic revelation thrusts you into a limbo of contemplation, both emotional and intellectual. Arrival becomes a great piece of cinema as it wholly realizes both its emotional and scientific potential leaving the viewer in a state of mild cinematic cogitation.