Humans are once again visited by extra-terrestrials, we all know the drill – they are here to take our planet and kill us all!
Well, actually no, no they are not.
Thankfully director Denis Villeneuve has taken a leap of faith with Arrival by turning a lot of these expectations on their head, which ultimately pays off.
Present day and twelve ‘spaceships’ hover unnervingly peaceful over various points on Earth. These strange arrivals spark frenzy globally as the question of: ‘are we alone out there’ is finally answered. World leaders are attempting to cooperate to efficiently find out the intent of the extra-terrestrials, and in Montana, America, linguist Doctor Louise Banks is brought in by the military to not only decipher the alien language but also communicate with them.
One of the pleasing features of Villeneuve film is his directness at getting to the ‘nitty-gritty’ if you like of the film’s plot. Villeneuve wastes no time in Banks’ backstory, a woman very much at the top of her subject but also very much alone due to a personal trauma. Amy Adams was perfect casting for the role, whose face beautifully captures the whirlwind of emotions Banks must feel in a) realising extra-terrestrials exist and b) being the one to attempt a conversation with them. Literally thrown into the deep end, Banks is joined by Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) a physicist as they both enter into the heart of the spacecraft to encounter an unknown species.
In a stance to entirely alienate the viewer from the extra-terrestrials, Villeneuve chooses a design of the species unlike any other and a language completely lost on us. This disengages an empathetic view, yet encourages a hostile opinion of the viewer to the peculiar visitors. It is only as the relationship between Banks/Donnelly and the extra-terrestrials develops during the cause of the film, do we realise that this initial approach was mistaken. After this, does the true magic of Villeneuve’s film come to light.
This is not your average sci-fi film exploring the heroic nature of mankind but rather the direct opposite. The film is a study of a realistic example where humanity feels threatened by an advanced species, with violence being the only resort. (Yes good one, guys!) Whereas, Banks and Donnelly fight against time to prove the integral need for communication to achieve the best solution, even if it is a long drawn out process.
With a sci-fi film not solely focussed on the aggressiveness of extra-terrestrials, but to flip the coin and show the unwillingness of humanity to use non-violent methods to understand their purpose on Earth is a refreshing take on the old genre – complete with a few twists along the way.
Arrival is currently playing at all major cinemas.