Review: Arrival (2016)

By Sean Gardner

For the past four years, there seems to be an awards caliber science fiction film come out in the fall. Last year it was Ridley Scott’s The Martian, in 2014 it was Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, the year before that it was Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.  This years annual sci-fi think piece, Arrival, stars Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker and is directed by one of my favorite up-and-coming directors Dennis Villeneuve.

Strange alien ships have landed in twelve different locations across the globe. Humanity does not know why the pilots of these intergalactic vessels chose to land on Earth or what they want from humanity. Governments all over the world are scrambling to send in linguists (Adams) and physicists (Renner) to try to get some answers.

Having previously directed films such as Enemy, and Prisoners, Villeneuve has his own distinct style that really shines through in this film. It is deeply emotional. It is stirring. It is uniquely thought provoking, and was an honestly spiritual experience. This film is the epitome of great science fiction. It takes real science and pushes it just past the realm of current understanding for dramatic effect. It makes us think about our place in the universe. It turns our understanding of the world inward and forces us to examine what kind of people we are. In a tumultuous time, especially in the United States, films like this make us ponder what kind of society we want to be a part of now, and what we should do the have a better one in the future.

As talented as Adams, Renner, and Whitaker are, Villeneuve is the real star of this film. Similar to EnemyArrival uses nonlinear storytelling that is chock full of symbolism. In a way, the nonlinear storytelling in itself is a symbol. The symbolism of the actual space ships reminds me of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey, which symbolized discovery and scientific advancement. Villeneuve’s decision to focus the story on Adams as the main character was a stroke of genius. Through her eyes, we experience this global event. Walking through tents endlessly filled with talking heads on computer monitors, we get the sense of how vastly influential the arrival of these aliens are. However, we never lose focus on Adams’ character. We are able to relate to her, feel for her, cry with her.

I know its been out for awhile but if it is playing near you, take the time to go see this film while it is still in theaters. Also, keep an eye out for it during the Oscar nominations in February. Expect Adams and Villeneuve to be nominated and the film for best picture as well.

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