While the US is seemingly tearing itself apart through narrow-minded interpretation and megalomaniacal levels of self interest, it’s invigorating to see a movie that explores the way in which we communicate with each other. Through a step-by-step deconstruction of language, context, and meaning, Arrival reminds us that we’re all just one small piece in a very large puzzle that’s still being put together.
Before seeing Arrival, I imagined the worst. From the trailer and synopsis it looked like an ultra-serious re-packaging of Independence Day. While it’s true that Arrival is an alien invasion movie of sorts, it’s more concerned with asking bigger questions about the intentions of a superior life form rather than depicting an alien overlord that’s hell-bent on Earth’s destruction for no reason whatsoever. It’s definitely a cerebral and methodical film, but it’s an engaging, thrilling, and mysterious ride. I can honestly say that Arrival kept me guessing from start to finish, and — when most movies follow a “paint by number” blueprint — that is a rare and refreshing thing.
Arrival is directed by cinematic auteur Denis Villeneuve. This is only the second of Villeneuve’s movies that I’ve seen — the other being the equally fantastic Prisoners from 2013 — and, I have to say, I’m a big fan. Arrival is the kind of movie that would make the “Big Three” of science fiction (Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke) proud; it’s chalk-full of big concepts, hard science, and beautiful storytelling.
I would argue that the movie’s ending could have been trimmed by about 5 minutes, it over-explains itself in a lingering final montage, but that’s just splitting hairs.
Arrival is a breathtaking examination of life’s most important questions. Who are we? Why are we here? What do we want?