Full disclosure: I didn’t watch this film as closely as I would have liked to, as whilst watching I came down with a case of norovirus, which started with intense stomach cramps so bad I thought that I was in a sci film myself and an alien was going to erupt from my stomach! I find there’s something strange about watching films which have a deep meaning or message to them when you’re not well; I tend to question things more. I watched Ex Machina on the sofa last year when I was sick and by the time it was finished I was questioning humanity itself! Now I tend to stick to You’ve Got Mail if I’m feeling ill and sorry for myself.
But back to Arrival: heralded as another ‘intelligent sci fi film’ – which I am always cautious of; I personally wasn’t a fan of Intersetellar, controversial I know. But I think Amy Adams is always fantastic and I LOVED director Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners, so I was keen to see what this film held in store.
Adams plays Dr Louise Banks, a linguist who lectures at a university and is approached by the government when large pods from outer space appear on earth. She has done some translation for the government before so has security clearance – they need someone as soon as possible to try to communicate with whatever is inside these pods to establish what they want and why they have arrived on earth. There are 12 that have landed in seemingly random locations all around the world. She is taken to one that has landed in remote Montana in the US.
She is joined by scientists Ian Donnelley, Jeremy Renner -,who is not being action man running about and punching people as he usually does these days. The team is lead by army Colonel Weber, Forest Whitaker. They arrive at base and are given their own teams tapping away on computers to instruct; they suit up before entering the pods in an attempt to communicate with the aliens.
It’s hard to talk about much more about the plot without revealing anything, as so much of the enjoyment of watching it comes from the viewers’ questions: will we see the aliens? Will they talk back? How do you go about talking to an alien anyway? Is there going to be a battle – the army’s on standby with big guns, and China and Russia are involved, so probably!
The story unfolds, interspersed with a series of images of Adams with her daughter growing up, who sadly suffers from an incurable illness in her teens. This is the opening sequence of the film, Louise narrating ‘the day when you arrived’ – leaving us unsure if she is talking about her daughter or the aliens.
The film is intelligent – it’s about communication, miscommunication and humanity as much as it is about aliens. There are some things that I found a bit inexplicable, but it’s sci fi, it doesn’t have to be logical. It’s a generally well-thought out film with good pace and effective moments of tension. As the humans learn to communicate with the aliens, what really comes through is peoples’ inability to communicate with each other, whether it’s the members of the task force or the the twelve countries who are talking to each other as they tackle the mystery of the pods in their own countries.
I watched Adams on the Graham Norton show talking about the film and she mentioned an ‘elephant in the room’ in the film – the thing that makes everything make sense is effectively staring you in the face the whole way through the film. I got there thirty seconds or so ahead of my boyfriend, but unfortunately not until the secret was being revealed and I kicked myself for it! It’s very clever! I will say no more on the matter…
The film has the typical heavy, Michael Bay style base in scenes where it is called for, but it’s not overused as it now often is in so many space and action films. The score is actually rather beautiful, particaluarly in the scenes of Louise with her daughter, arguably the most emotive parts of the film. But there is also something beautiful in the way the aliens are portrayed and despite the thriller elements to the film, it is as time almost serene.
Although this is science fiction, it is one alien invasion film that does seem plausible, it’s not got the brashness of Independence Day or the melodrama of Signs. The film mentions the government’s contingency plans, which led me to question: does the world really have contingency plans for alien invasion or arrival? Is there really someone who’s job is to decide what happens if or when extra terrestrials arrive on Earth? Probably, yes. And Arrival is a good cautionary tale of how mankind should act should the scenario ever arise.