Director: Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Based on an award-winning 1998 short story by Ted Chiang titled ‘Story of Your Life’, Dennis Villeneuve ventures and departs from the successful path he carved for himself with 2010’s Oscar nominated INCENDIES, 2013’s ENEMY and PRISONERS, and last year’s gritty drug cartel drama SICARIO. The director’s first foray into science fiction, however, retains the quintessential Villeneuve rhythm and pursuit of a grand meaning in the burnt mundane swamp, albeit the mundane being laced subtly in the narrative that characteristically tends to speak anything except that. In a pensive and allegorical portrayal, the movie takes a gander beyond the overdone Hollywood trope of an alien invasion and sheds off the loudness of a destruction porn to create an ambiance that lets every sensation to be felt rather than merely watched.
Villeneuve, currently filming the unnamed BLADE RUNNER sequel, bridges the gap between auteur films and commercial Hollywood. With screenwriter Eric Heisserer, a focus is created around language to raise a problematic, uncharacteristic of modern blockbusters. The story revolves around Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguist who is called upon by the U.S government, when one of the twelve extraterrestrial pods to emerge into Earth’s atmosphere hovers in the air of Montana, to decode the language and, thus, potentially determining the intentions they harbor. Staring with almost a spiritual lens into the decadent cinematic theme of alien invasion, the Canadian filmmaker nurtures a tale of mourning and tonally invests into hope amidst his trademark chilling murkiness. While the apocalyptic horns blaring in MAN OF STEEL remind of the trumpets in the Book of Revelation, it is eerie silence which intensifies the mystery surrounding the heptapods that communicate through images and gestures. The elliptical storytelling crescendos with admirable control over its intended tension, all the while glazing over a character study with flashes of Banks’s personal tragedy. Forest Whitaker’s grizzled and brusque Military Intelligence Colonel recruits theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and Banks to help the gun-toting alpha males decide if they can resort to violence and instead is encountered with a dialogue between the two species in the pursuit of understanding rather than conquest.
When a genre is as fashionable and hip science fiction, it is actually a daunting task to challenge the norms at which the creators of ARRIVAL undeniably excelled. Intelligently knit, ARRIVAL puts the question in a realistic manner as to what mankind would perceive of themselves and what would be the reactions by presenting contrasting approaches by the global powers. When most other movies optimistically views alien invasion to ally the political adversaries, ARRIVAL emphasizes the human penchant for confusion and symbolizes it through the picturization of a translucent membrane which serves as the screen of communication. It brilliantly teases the idea that human intentions interpret the gestures rather meaning getting derived from absolutism. ‘Language…is the first weapon drawn in a conflict’, says Banks. In this thought-provoking movie of large-scale mistrust and miscommunication, time emerges as the inevitable protagonist that rewards perspective to the characters and a sense of serenity is juxtaposed to embody the actual message. A more or less uniformly paced yet scintillating narrative, it is carried with elegance by aptly transitional revelations, helping the plot mold into something new every now and then and, thus, finds an undercurrent of human coalescence and collaboration peeking behind the confusion.
Amy Adams has undoubtedly transformed into an apt leading lady and built upon her success of ‘The Fighter’ and ‘American Hustle’. Laced with a calm demeanor, Adams brings her character to an emotional pedestal which compliments the range of a palpitating linguist walking into the unknown to the confident mind that can go toe to toe or even bluff the likes of Stuhlbarg’s Agent Halpern and Whitaker’s Colonel Weber. Renner’s restrain in delivering as the second justifies the minimal role with utmost candor.
Cinematographer Bradford Youngmerges the two worlds without pouring over into the screen which is a mind-numbing feat when the canvas allegedly begs for extravagant imagination. As the heptapods try to convey their message, Young’s poised lenses offer the dialogue a chilling touch of urgency without thumping the chest of modern technologies. His elegance holds up the paragon created in his career – ‘Selma’ and ‘A Most Violent Year’. The venture is also definitively etched with the musical language by composer Johann Johannsson. He played with the sensations on screen through the lattice of silence and orchestra to bring forth a work that echoes his success in ‘The Theory of Everything’ and ‘Sicario’, deserving at least an Oscar nomination.
ARRIVAL is a fresh breeze among a world of movies that has pampered the viewers with linear storytelling and dares to nudge them to thinking. It unravels the cogs of humanity by an array of possibilities which have titillated the minds since a long time. Villeneuve creates a cinematic masterpiece which soars above the rest easily with the exception of a single letdown when the conclusion, in its pursuit of tying all the knots, kept calling for somehow a more satisfying send off.