It’s becoming more and more rare to run into an actually good science fiction movie. Not that they’re necessarily bad, but the idea that a film is a science fiction movie just because it is set in space or that they fly spaceships; isn’t entirely true. They are space operas. If Shakespeare suddenly took place in Mars, you would still have the Montagues and Capulets fighting. I think you get my point; true science fiction is rare. Science fiction usually makes the viewer think not only about the world around them, but really man’s place in the greater world around us; where we stand as a species. Several themes are usually present: over-reliance on technology, fear of the unknown, and how little we actually know about our own minds and the world around us. Good science fiction, not space operas, make you think. Arrival is a thinking man’s movie. This will turn people away. On opening weekend, there were 6 other people in the theater with me. If you wanna see space marines blast aliens, this is not the film. Go play DOOM, or better yet; wait for Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2.
Arrival is the type of movie that you will talk about on the ride home from the theater. From the haunting soundtrack and creepy (at times) imagery, this film will sit with you for a while. Based on a award-winning short story by author Ted Chiang entitled: ‘Story of Your Life,’ Arrival was adapted for the screen by Eric Heissner (Lights Out) and director Denis Villeneuve. If you are familiar at all with any of Villeneuve’s work (Prisoners, Sicario), most of his movies have a cerebral element to them that are a character study of how a person reacts to a certain type of stress. With Prisoners, we see Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, jk) deal with the loss of his daughter, and with Sicario; we see how uninitiated FBI agents deal with the shock of how corrupt their government’s law enforcement really is.
In Arrival, we see how the stress and fear of a possible alien invasion affects not only the world’s psyche; but also the scientists that are tasked with how to deal with it. The film follows linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) and theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) as they are hand picked by US Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) for the task of communicating with the unknown aliens. The eeriness of the film comes from not only the soundtrack but also from the fear of the unknown. Much like the obelisk scenes of 2001: A Space Odyssey, they are unnerving because you only know as much as the scientists know. You don’t know if the aliens are going to attack, other movies (like Alien) would make you think they’re going to attack; and that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Denis Villeneuve really knows how to set a tone using sound and imagery that is captivating making it difficult to take your eyes off the screen.
Arrival really does capture your imagination and makes high concept linguistic theories like the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis palatable for the common person. Entertaining even. Just so you don’t have to Google it later, The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis states (and I’m paraphrasing) that the language we speak affects it’s speakers cognition and world view. One could argue that movies and television do the same thing. Like other films such as Ex Machina, Interstellar, Contact; and the aforementioned 2001: A Space Oddesey - Arrival is a film with some big ideas. Don’t go in expecting Independence Day, and I don’t think you will if you have a vested interest in seeing this film. But the film is a mind warp. It warps the mind.