Given the massive praise for this film, with my criticism I felt like the only poor sap who flunked the bar exam after graduating from law school.
Maybe it was the trauma I experienced after the election of Donald Trump for President, but Director Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival left me both puzzled and confused. While I, like many, really liked it, I am embarrassed to say I can’t explain why.
As most of you know, the movie involves 12 cylindrical alien spaceships that mysteriously arrive at various locations around our planet. Communication proves to be impossible, and all affected governments struggle to find out if these aliens are friends or foes.
In the process, here in the States our government summons Louise Banks, marvelously played by Amy Adams, a linguistics expert and University professor trying to escape the trauma of her past. She joins a team in Montana where a spaceship is located. Her associates include Ian (Jeremy Renner). a physicist, and their relationship evolves beyond my ability to adequately explain. Simply stated, they proceed to enter the spaceship where they struggle to understand the alien dialect.
It is this struggle that forms the center of the film as governments around the globe cut off communications with each other as they prepare to use force to attack the hotdog-shaped pods. What becomes sadly clear is that various countries not only fail to understand the aliens but each other.
In that sense, Arrival is a reflection of the breakdown in relationships existing today between the United States, Russia, the Philippines and various other countries in the Middle East. The question Mr. Villeneuve poses is whether the aliens can succeed in promoting friendly interactions between governments on Earth or allow them to destroy each other.
I have great respect for Mr. Villeneuve, and I love several of his prior films such as Incendies (2010) and last year’s Sicario. However, while Arrival allows Ms. Adams to continually reflect back on a failed marriage and a daughter who died of cancer, it is here that the movie lost me. It became a time travel film that left most of the audience questioning whether Ms. Adams was visiting her past or future. More to the point, did the aliens succeed in allowing Ms. Adams to relive her past so that she could recreate it in the future, or did she simply gain the ability to embrace life and start over?
As I left the theater, I stopped three patrons walking ahead of me and asked them if they could help explain what we just saw. They shook their heads, and one said, “I don’t know, but I really liked it.” That is the best way to describe this movie.