After too many Metaphysics 101 (Malik’s “Tree of Life” and Gaspard Noe’s “Love” come to mind) and anguished what’s-the-meaning-of life questions awkwardly addressed, Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival” takes us into adult territory. The Canadian filmmaker has already accustomed us to his diverse and masterful corpus of works, so his venture into science-fictionish territory doesn’t disappoint.
Twelve spaceships, for lack of a better word, land in various parts of our planet where they remain, silent, inactive, possibly unoccupied. If they have carried to earth beings from outer space, what is their intent? Peaceful? Belligerent?
Various military and security agencies in our country and others involved need answers badly. They turn to a professor of linguistics, Louise Banks, (Amy Adams, in an excellent turn), a scientist (Jeremy Renner) and other technology and security experts, under the supervision of Forest Whitaker in a part that doesn’t provide him with much to do except relay orders from the hierarchy or look puzzled.
The premise of the movie reminded me of that sci-fi classic, Robet Wise’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” with its message of hope. Aliens, beings from other planets, creatures who arrive unbidden, are not necessarily out to destroy us. Rather, they may have taken pity on us. With perhaps a longer history than ours and more time to reach a higher understanding, they have watched our struggles and our woes and come to guide us, to show us a commonality, how to live together, cooperate for the greater good, understand others instead of confronting them.
The linguist, compassionate and erudite Dr. Banks, her brain trained into discovering patterns and learning new modes of expressions, is ably helped by the mathematician into making sense of the newcomers and engaging with them.
The possible cooperation, the assistance the occupants of the twelve spaceships can bring us in living in peace together, let alone with others from distant galaxies, are hindered by the military, the men used to fighting their way through problems, not taking the time to understand anything they don’t recognize.
The two scientists are thus racing against time, in a suspense as melancholy and spiritual as anything recently shown on a screen. Flashbacks surprise and haunt Louise throughout, until we find out in a stunning development that they are anything but.
See the film. It’s worth it.
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