Denis Villenueve’s “Arrival” is an exciting, provocative, intellectually stimulating sci-fi thriller! Combining the wonderment of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” while jettisoning the perception of linear time, it’s about Earth’s first contact with an alien civilization. When 12 mysterious spacecraft touch down around the globe, renowned linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is summoned by Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) to try to decipher their intergalactic intentions. Read on…
Still mourning the death of her young daughter, Louise realizes that this is a mind-bending adventure. En route to the nearest landing site in Montana, she’s joined by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), an expert in binary code.
While they evaluate the unnervingly dark, 1,500-ft. high, ovoid spaceship, panic ensues as foreign governments attempt their own extraterrestrial ‘first contact.’ According to CIA agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg), China and Russia are particularly aggrieved.
Aboard the vessel, they must adjusting to minimal gravity in a steep shaft and ascend to a chamber where Louise attempts to communicate with its otherworldly inhabitants, immense squid-like creatures, called heptapods, hovering behind a transparent, protective barrier.
Dubbed Abbott & Costello by Louise and Ian, two aliens materialize out of a dense mist. Louise notices that the clicking, whale-like sounds they emit don’t correlate with the ideograms that their splayed claws squirt forth – squishy, enigmatic calligraphy, resembling Rorschach ink blobs.
Decrypting these symbols results in a stunning concept which Louise eventually comprehends. Alluding to Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, it’s the idea that your language determines how you perceive the world.
Eric Heisserer has adroitly adapted Ted Chiang’s cerebral novella “Story of Your Life,” directed with subtle resonance and admirable restraint by Denis Villenueve (“Sicario,” “Incendies”) – with flashbacks evoking poetic concepts of life and death, love and loss.
Luminous Amy Adams’ vulnerable melancholy is enhanced by Bradford Young’s gray, overcast cinematography, Patrice Vermette’s fantastic production design, and Johann Johannsson’s eerie score.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Arrival” is a thrilling 10, an enlightening, inspiring allegory for our times. One of the year’s best!