tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Arrival’ Confounds Expectations

Arrival is a daring experimental work masquerading as a sci-fi blockbuster.

NBHD movie 5 ticketsArrival is about linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams), who is presented with the challenge of a lifetime when the military recruits her to try and communicate with the aliens in a spacecraft that is floating over Montana. She, along with physicist Ian Donnely (Jeremy Renner), are leading up the team trying to root out the aliens’ purpose her on Earth. These aliens have also landed in eleven other sites around the world, and not every nation seems to be taking the same approach Louise and her team. Soon, she’s racing against the clock to work out their unconventional means of communication, before more aggressive forces take hold.Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 12.12.39 PMBut this is not quite the sci-fi adventure one might be expecting. The film actually opens with a deeply emotional prologue, quickly running through the touchpoints of a deeply personal tragedy with a sense of distant wonder that recalls the work of Terence Malick. The events of this prologue end up factoring greatly into the story this movie ends up telling. Because this isn’t just a movie about first contact with aliens. This is the story about the way we communicate with each other, and what it might mean to look at the world beyond the confines of our limited perceptions.Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 12.01.51 PMThe film expands on the source material by giving it more of a geopolitical bent. It takes the time to show how the rest of the world is reacting to this strange new development in the history of the planet, and lets that grow into a narrative crisis. But again, this isn’t the real focus. The movie is mainly about Louise trying to figure out a means of communicating with these alien creatures, and dealing with the consequences of being able to share something with a creature that sees the universe in a completely different way.Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 11.55.57 AMIt comes down to being a study of language, which might not intuitively seem like a very good fit for cinema. But the movie manages, somehow. The dialogue ends up feeling a little clumsy at points because it has to explain so much, but it all pays off wonderfully. The movie unfurls an astounding experiment in form, playing around with the language of cinema and editing to play an interesting trick of structure. The inherent qualities of cinema prove to be an apt fit for what the movie is ultimately trying to say, its scenes compressing time in fundamentally unintuitive ways that point to something greater than a linear narrative.Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 11.56.14 AMScreen Shot 2017-02-06 at 11.59.25 AMIn short: it’s brilliant. This film doesn’t lose a beat in translating the unique narrative properties of its source material. Director Denis Villeneuve crafts an atmosphere of disorientation, his scenes always slightly off, reflecting the inhrent strangeness that the characters are constantly facing in their work. Amy Adams is wonderful in this film. It is a wonderful, subtle performance built on a very human paradox of a character. Confronted with the impossible, Adams projects fear, wonder and curiosity all at once. Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker provide solid performances in supporting roles, but this is Amy Adams’ show through and through.

Screen Shot 2017-02-06 at 11.55.36 AMScreen Shot 2017-02-06 at 11.56.52 AMArrival is an astounding of profound ambition. It is a movie that is able to subvert one of most fundamental principles of cinema in the delivery of a narrative that proves to be both emotionally and intellectually satisfying. It is a wild experiment masquerading as a sci-fi blockbuster that also happens to feature a quietly amazing performance from one of the most underappreciated actresses around. It’s a strange film that will confound expectations, and that’s always something that’s worth seeking out.

Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
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