Review: Arrival (2016)


Director Dennis Villaneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) directs Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner is what may be one of the best films of 2016.


If you knew how the entirety of your life was going to unfold; would it stop you from living that life if the joy to come were offset by sorrow?

This is one of the very interesting questions Villaneuve poses in Arrival, a heady yet accessible film that presents us a world much like our own and asks what would happen if one day aliens came to visit our fractured and contentious sphere. Amy Adams plays Louise Banks, a specialist in linguistics, who is contacted by government to find a way to communicate with an alien ship stationed over Montana. Twelve of these ships have stationed themselves around the world over different countries with no rhyme or reason and all of those nations are struggling to find a way to communicate with the alien life forms inside. Together with a science analyst, Ian Donnelly (Renner). Banks works to find a way to communicate with what she dubs “Heptapods,” the 7 limbed aliens who communicate with intricate symbols made of floating ink. A task made all the more difficult when the Chinese grow weary and speculate these aliens are not benevolent but instead seek to impart a weapon.

One of the reasons the film works as well as it does is the nature of the film. Villaneuve grounds the film in the sense that it could be happening in the real world. The scenes of people reacting to the aliens’ arrival are errily reminiscent of the world the day 9/11 happened. Shock, bewilderment; some try to carry on but ultimately all one can do is process what is happening and try to make sense of it. Banks is a driven character and the audience sympathizes with her struggle and ambition in wanting to communicate with the heptapods and her struggles in explaining to the military why she needs to explain things in the simplest way possible in order to ask more complicated questions that will yield meaningful answers.

The other reason the film works is because of the chemistry between Renner and Adams’ characters. Throughout the film, we’re given glimpses of the bright daughter that Louise has; how she passed away from a rare disease and how this influences Banks. Ian is presented as someone that can fill this void that Banks has in her life. The two develop a rapport and makes one that much more engaged in the proceedings. Especially once we’re given an inkling at the deeper meaning behind the heptapods language and the true gift it can impart on humanity.

Arrival is one of the most engaging films this year. It channels the work of Terrence Malick, while reminding us of other grounded science fiction films like Contact and Interstellar. Definitely a contender for the best of 2016.