Saturday, December 24, 2016


The movie Arrival was one of my most anticipated movies of this year, as the director Denis Villeneuve has previously helmed some of my favorite films: Incendies (2011), Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015).  I blogged about some of the trailers for the movie, which stars Forest Whitaker, Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner and is based on an award-winning short story by Ted Chiang called "The Story of Your Life."

I saw it with a friend at the AMC Tysons Corner 16 in Northern Virginia opening weekend. The fact that the movie's source material is a novella is not surprising because in some sense it feels like there are a limited number of characters in the story, almost like a play. The main character is obviously Amy Adams who plays Louise Banks, a Prius-driving, professor of linguistics who it appears has recently(?) suffered the loss of a child after a long illness (these events are told in a prologue).

The movie really begins with the sudden arrival of a dozen egg-like spaceships, suspended in mid-air in various locations around the world. It turns out that the ship in North America is somewhere in Montana. Forest Whitaker's Colonel GT Weber shows up in Professor Banks' office soon afterwards and on the helicopter we meet Renner's Ian Donnelly, a theoretical physicist. Eventually, the three principals don the world's bulkiest hazmat suits to enter the alien ships and try to find out a way to communicate with our alien visitors in order to discover why the aliens have come to our planet and whether their intentions are peaceful or violent.

One of the memorable aspects of Arrival is the design of the ship and the aliens, which do not look like anything we have seen before, i.e. they really appear to be extra-terrestrial. In particular, the language and the manner in which the aliens communicate is so mind-bendingly original that it sets Arrival apart from other first-contact movies like Contact and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Some people have issues with the ending of Arrival but I thought this was the key point which elevated the film into one of the more thought-provoking cinematic experiences of the year. Some aspects of it were a surprise but there were some hints dropped at earlier points in the film which led me to make some conclusions before they were revealed in the narrative. Even though I was not surprised by the eventual twist at the end this did not diminish its emotional resonance with me.

Overall, Arrival is a brilliant, well-crafted depiction of first contact between humans and aliens which gets resolved in a way that reveals an existential question that confronts the viewer.

Title: Arrival.
Director: Denis Villeneuve.
Running Time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.
Release Date: November 11, 2016.
Viewing Date: November 13, 2016.

Writing: A+.
Acting: A.
Visuals: A+.
Impact: A.

Overall Grade: A/A+ (4.16/4.0).

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