Arrival is the most recent major feature film by critically acclaimed French Canadian film director Denis Villeneuve. His previous project was Sicario starred Emily Blunt as a tough female FBI agent battling the war on drugs between Mexico and the U.S border. It considers the harsh reality of being female in a violent and problematic male dominated world. Here in Arrival Villeneuve addresses more maternal and personal issues women face after tragedy. He is creating a reputation as a male director who is bravely constructing female characters who are layered with emotion and intelligence.
Arrivals central story follows Linguistics professor Louise Banks who is scouted for her skills by a team of special U.F.O investigators. Unusual otherworldly spaceships land in 12 countries around the world which causes panic and chaos. The threat of potential global war looms as she tries to translate the Aliens intention on planet earth.
Traditionally the science fiction genre is metaphorically used to explore more than just outer-space and aliens. It often examines what it really means to be human and hope for the existence of some grander between life and death. Arrival focuses on this area in relation to one woman Louise Bank’s journey through life and how she overcomes the loss of her daughter to Cancer. Arrival is science fiction on a more psychological level than action based scenes and visuals usually present in this genre.
One of the best aspects of Villeneuve’s Arrival is Amy Adam’s performance as Louise Banks. It is refreshing to have the lead central character in a sci fi be a woman. A grieving intelligent female linguist is a long way from Will Smith in Independence Day or Harrison Ford in Star Wars/Blade Runner. To go back and highlight his work on previous film Sicario, he is a director who portrays women in an innovative and versatile manner. Amy Adams plays Dr Banks with intimacy but also subtly. We see her fear, courage and personal grief all without the use of heavy make up, fashion/wardrobe or dramatic crying. She is the savior of the film and ultimately continue to watch until the end is to see her personal narrative outcome as a character rather than the actual alien invasion itself.
For a sci-fi thriller to concentrate on communication and language rather big action sequences places it in more of a cinematic discussion of how humans understand each other. Audiences who expected the film to formulaic resemble ‘Close Encounters of the third kind’ or ‘War of the Worlds’ would perhaps find it slow paced. Where the film falters in the focus of the screenplay. It is extremely ambitious in themes. At one point it is unclear whether it is about the importance of a bond between mother and daughter even after death, time travel, alien invasions, language and communication and even global politics. I think his intent was to tell the story of a woman’s path to feeling for-filled and back to herself after a huge family loss. This is personally achieved through Dr Banks heavily focusing on the alien invasion translation task. It’s a film with a lot of potential all the components of a great film are there. It slightly just misses the mark by attempting too much.
Von Von Lamunu