Science Fiction is a curious beast. It’s generally grounded in real science, and yet the narratives are, by the nature of the genre, fictional. They aren’t real, and they may often border on fantasy. Therefore, it is the duty of science fiction writers and creators to bind us to these alternate realities, to convince us to find them true.
Arrival, in my honest opinion, does a better job at this than almost any other film this year. It’s adapted from a short story by Ted Chiang, which I haven’t read, but it’s directed by Denis Villeneuve, who made Prisoners and Sicario. Villeneuve, in the measured touch he gives his films, cements their reality, making the viewer never question the validity of these plots. He makes you feel as if these are not things that could happen, but things that already are, and possibly already have.
The film centers on Louise Banks (Amy Adams, Man of Steel), who seems to have lost a child to a terrible disease. She’s a linguist, and when 12 mysterious ships arrive around the globe, she’s called in to help translate. Assisting her are Jeremy Renner (The Hurt Locker) and Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland), a physicist and a US Army colonel.
Not much is known about the creatures inside, later named Heptapods, except that they communicate with an unknown, circular system of language, which various countries interpret to mean different things. Some may see “weapon” while others see “tool.” The more Dr. Banks learns about this language, the more she begins to understand, I should say, what these creatures are telling her, and she then must use that knowledge to prevent a global war. It culminates in a twist ending that must be seen to be comprehended.
This film is a masterpiece, in my view an instant classic. It succeeds where Interstellar didn’t quite, in that it does not make you run off and see if it was real science. The magic of this film is in the fictional aspects, and that’s what makes it surprisingly authentic. Perhaps we can all find our realities by letting go of them.
Amy Adams is predictably incredible, and the cinematography by Bradford Young (Selma) is out of this world. Without these two, even with Villeneuve’s direction, I might not hold the same opinion of the film. It’s a slow-building piece, trust me, but their efforts keep me just invested enough to make it until the end, at which point there is no question of the film’s greatness.
If you see it, which I truly hope you will, you just might agree with me. For a film that is, in the end, about time, Arrival‘s themes and presentation are profoundly timeless, poetic, and true.
Arrival is in theaters now.
Like us on Facebook.