After watching Arrival with my work boyfriend Ben, we had to go outside and have a smoke – and I don’t even smoke.
This is one of the most intense, emotionally draining and sublime movies I have seen in YEARS. Director Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) excelled in making a film, not just about aliens, but the human desire to connect. It is fascinatingly complicated to explain, but this is what I would compare it to:
It’s like watching a YouTube video that is narrated by a scientist as they describe how infinite space and time is and how fleeting our lives are - all whilst the most beautiful score plays in the background. I slowly fell in love with aliens and Amy Adams (Julie and Julia) and by the end of it, I questioned everything about my own existence.
I can only give a short synopsis because I don’t want to reveal any major spoilers. Here is what you need to know:
Louise (Amy Adams) is a linguistics professor who has spent her entire life studying communication. She knows about a billion different languages (don’t quote me on that, it’s probably more like 40). In the opening scenes of Arrival, 12 alien spaceships land all over the world and Louise is called upon to communicate with the one that landed in America. What happens next is a space roller coaster of emotion, science, math and language.
That’s about all I can tell you about the plot. Not because I am lazy, but because I want you to experience what I did - going into a movie you know very little about.
So instead, I will tell you about the rest of my evening as we tried to make sense of what we’d just seen.
Ben and I sat on the bench outside the theater with our legs folded. We gushed with mutual revelations of “Oh god I didn’t even pick up on that.”
Ben asked me “How on Earth (pun intended) are you going to review this?” I shrugged my shoulders and said, “maybe I will write it in the symbols that the aliens used to communicate with humans, but then I realized I am not a linguistics expert or an alien, so that idea was quickly abandoned.
However, I feel that I am an expert in spotting talent and Amy Adams has been on my radar for awhile now. We discussed how I thought she was a great actress but the characters she’s played in the past have annoyed the living crap out of me. But there was no such annoyance in sight with her portrayal of Louise in Arrival. Adams plays her exquisitely.
There is no dramatic speech about “this is our Independence Day.” She doesn’t scream and cry that the world is ending. Adams subtly and superbly plays a woman who is hiding a secret but doesn’t know it. Adams is so good in fact, she had me singing “somebody is getting an Oscar nomination” all the way to my car.
The last thing I did with my evening was call my mum, because this movie makes you want to call your family. If you don’t have a family, then it will make you call your friends. If you don’t have friends, then it will make you search the skies for aliens to talk to.
Why? Because this epic Sci-Fi film is not really about the threat of aliens, it is about communication. It is about understanding each other and our differences. We are all asking the questions, do you hear me? Do you see me? Does what I am saying matter to you?
After watching Arrival, it was not a question of are we alone in the universe, it was a question of, why would we want to be? And if there is ever a day when extraterrestrials come down to Earth, if I’m still alive, then I will be the first to shake their hand - or tentacle - or whatever.
As famous philosopher Paulo Freire once said - “only through communication can human life hold meaning”. Therefore isn’t the meaning of life found through how we connect with each other, through love and understanding? (Woah, wait...did I just discover the meaning of life?)