Are we alone? This question has haunted mankind since they first gazed at the stars. "Arrival" answers this question with an abrupt no. Other films have tackled the question of humanity being alone in the cosmos, from classics like "The Day the Earth Stood Still" (1951) "The War of the Worlds" (1953) "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977) "Arrival" deals with the idea of alien landings in a much different way than traditional Sci-Fi films. While the picture focuses on creatures from another planet, it still has the uncanny ability to question our own humanity.
Although "Arrival" is set up like many other Sci-Fi films with a doctor being needed by the government to do some top secret work to save human kind, it is not a traditional Sci-Fi film. Being Denis Villeneuve's first leap into the Sci-Fi genre "Arrival" is a story of self-reflection which is helped along by an alien presence. For no particular reason 12 alien ships land all over the planet in seemingly random locations. The only true form of communication takes place from a single opening in the bottom of the alien vessel, where Linguist Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is tasked at trying to open up dialog with the visitors. Physicist Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) is tasked with finding out how the alien vessel is capable of travel through space and how it seemingly defies gravity. The real question however remains in not how the aliens got to earth, but why?
What sets this film apart from others in the genre is the way that it plays with the notion of time, love and the essence of being human. Which is showcased in director Denis Villeneuve and writer Eric Heisserer's effortless ability to jump from time and place. While trying to discover what the Aliens are, and their motivation, Dr. Louise Banks discovers what makes herself human and questions everything held sacred to her. "Arrival" is just as much a film about aliens landing on earth, as a film about self-discovery and the value placed on love and loss. Dr. Banks although participating in some of the most ground breaking work a linguist could ever be involved in, is haunted by the tragic loss of her daughter. This coupling of discovery and loss is reflected perfectly in the acting performance of Amy Adams who is often torn between several emotions throughout the film.
Just as in his previous movies "Sicario" (2015) and "Prisoners" (2013) Denis Villeneuve employed composer Jóhann Jóhannsson who created an eerie and often unsettling composition for "Arrival". The sound pairs perfectly with the strange other worldly images of the aliens and their craft, the composition adds another layer of complexity to the already foreign and creepy world that is the alien craft. Visually the film is fantastic with an expert play on light and dark imagery, and the very deliberate use of color to emphasize certain characters and events. This transfers into the shadowy and smoke filled environment inside the alien vessel as well as the ink like Rorschach style alien writing. The visual effects used in Arrival give a sense of other worldly presence making the ship look as if it were a great technical feat of some unknown civilization, yet at the same time look organic as if were merely plucked from the surface of some far off planet. The aliens themselves look as if acquired from a Guillermo del Toro set, they are octopus like with long tentacle arms and gunmetal gray coloration, which begs the question of how a creature like this could have the dexterity to craft a sophisticated vehicle.
The film comes together to create a package of visual, intellectual and audible bliss. The composition of Jóhann Jóhannsson is second to none and at times the sound plays a critical character in the film. The cast with inclusion of Michael Stuhlbarg and Forest Whitaker (2 actors not really know for Sci-Fi) was a welcome addition. The dynamic between Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner seemed organic and a hallmark of great acting. But the stand out performance was that of Amy Adams who played a truly troubled and conflicted character.
In "Sicario" Vileneuve finished the movie with unanswered questions and left a lot to the imagination. In "Arrival" the film ended with a perfectly packaged ending that felt too neat and tidy. The film went into some sophisticated ideas that dived into the essence of humanity, yet did not give the same license for abstract thought with the conclusion. Ultimately Arrival is not just an exploration of alien beings, it's an exploration at what makes us human, and the positive and negative aspects that are associated with that humanity.