Once that sinking feeling of emotion began to hit me, I knew I had witnessed something truly transcendent.
It’s so rare for a sci-fi film these days to ask bold questions about humanity, memory, language. But Arrival doesn’t just ask them, it introspects them. This is easily one of the most intelligent and meditative sci-fi films to come out in recent times and quite possibly the most thematically dense. On paper, it may seem like an alien invasion movie in the mold of a sci-fi blockbuster, but in reality it is something very different. And the deftness through which it explores such cerebral and intricate themes is perhaps the greatest affirmation of this.
Arrival’s greatest success lies in the movie’s masterful storytelling, owed to director Denis Villeneuve, author Ted Chiang, whose sci-fi novella Story of Your Life, served as the film’s source material and screenwriter Eric Heisserer who adapted it to the screen. The story’s narrative nominates a linguist, Louise Banks (Amy Adams), to decipher the otherworldly language of the Heptapods, an alien race who has descended across the earth. As the international community grows increasingly alarmed by their presence, and foreign and domestic armies prepare for retaliation, Louise is tasked with the responsibility of peacefully communicating with the Heptapods before global violence enters the conversation.
For the past few years, Denis Villeneuve has been flirting with making a masterpiece and going from strength to strength with films like Prisoners, Enemy and last year’s Sicario. Well, he’s finally gone ahead and made one. And I highly doubt this film could have been this good without Villenueve’s capable hands behind the camera. His collaboration with writer Eric Heisserer and cinematographer Bradford Young is an integral part of the process that truly does materialize on-screen. And thankfully, he also has an actress like Amy Adams to work with too, who gives an absolutely mesmerizing and soulful performance and anchors the film throughout.
But ultimately, as I already pointed out, what makes Arrival such an incredible piece of cinema is it’s deeply emotional core. It has unparalleled emotional depth and as the enigmatic story unfurls and the film arrives at it’s disarmingly emotional ending, with Max Richter’s magnificent On the Nature of Daylight playing in the background, it all starts to make sense and you finally begin seeing it for what it truly is: a beautiful and profoundly moving portrait of the human condition.