'Arrival' Gives Plenty to Ponder, but Possibly Misguides on Alien Purpose

Slow, methodical pace accentuates the drama in Denis Villeneuve film.

Arrive from Above

A writer, I am poor. This means I get my Science Fiction Movies free from the library, and Arrival is only a three day loan. No time to watch it twice, this movie requires another viewing, and a two dollar a day fine would eat up all my profits. I also don’t feel like enduring three weeks on the waiting list to get the chance to contemplate its depth and give a full accounting. I don’t want you to wait either. So here it goes.

Arrival certainly presents as no other alien movies we’ve ever seen. A series of crafts quietly levitating, a watershed moment awaits an invasion force or diplomatic mission in vertical encasements that look like a whale without a head or tail. An apt analogy for a film that really lumbers along. But while that can typically imply a two hour snore, Arrival uses the slow pace to ensure your attention span and keep you thinking. 

But Arrival’s beginning is as down to earth as it gets. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) flashbacks to the life and then tragic death of her 12 year old daughter. “There are days that define your story beyond your life. Like the day they arrived,” Amy Adams makes the first tie to her personal tragedy and the impending beginning or ending of the Earth.

Alien Invasion is on?

So without fanfare or a proper introduction of purpose, the interstellar ships take their precarious positioning to 12 locations around the world. The world is obviously left at a loss and speculation becomes sport in all quarters of society. “The most plausible theory is that they chose places on earth with the lowest incidences of lightning strikes. But there are exceptions. The second most plausible theory is that Sheena Easton had a hit song in each of these sites in 1980,” the news anchor futilely expresses the panorama of possibility. 

A Whale of Thought in Alien Invasion

Georg Wolf Photo

Of course, the respective militaries don’t miss the geopolitical situating of the 1,500 foot objects, and suspicion isn’t just reserved for the visitors as the world attempts to unearth a translation. “An agreement on sharing scientific discoveries was closer tonight as Russia and China at the United Nations…”

With the inadequacy of human relations also hovering over the drama, the government enlists Louise to help make sense of the aliens’ indecipherable discourse. Their octopus shaped form and gargled language skills further alienate our understanding, and Jeremy Renner’s left brained quantum physics acumen acts to complement the wordsmith’s expertise.

The duo do not operate in a vacuum, and their efforts must conform to the inherent national security paranoia of the military. Forest Whitaker serves as the vehicle and states the case as Louise tries to school him on British efforts to communicate with Australia’s indigenous population. “Just remember what happened to the Aborigines,” he instructs her. “A more advanced race, nearly wiped them out.”

Pace not Typical to Science Fiction Movies, Still Rivets

Suddenly the slow pace seems to move at light speed. At the same time, the methodical puzzle they are trying to solve rivets as much as Will Smith’s F-17 dash across the desert in Independence Day.  

The pivotal moment comes as Louise conveys purpose to the the aliens arrival in a word. Again, she is not alone, and nations around the world have come to the same conclusion.

Escalation occurs as military might and national interest don’t necessarily subscribe to a linguist’s sense of the message getting lost in translation. All as the race is on, to clarify, Louise flashbacks to her daughter’s life and a possible answer emerges in instances that dovetail the present.

Foretelling paradox, the ultimate unraveling of alien purpose renders human life inert in my estimation. But that surely is not the film’s intent, which has my own hovering thumb inclined to point down. Even so, Arrival gives you plenty to ponder in both a practical and theoretical sense, and hopefully when my number comes up again at the library, I can tie more of the threads together and give purpose to the actual outcome.

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'Arrival' Gives Plenty to Ponder, but Possibly Misguides on Alien Purpose