Arrival Review

The Day the Earth Picked Up the Phone

1950’s Day the Earth Stood Still capped decades of international conflict. The film berated, scolded, and chastised humanity for ceaselessly bombing one another. Arrival agitates much the same, but comes packed with elegant contemporary intellect.

Arrival is a film of language – an appropriately nerdy but enthralling two hour cinematic symposium on language. Told with a visually lyrical pacing, the film breaks down alien invasion tropes, a military movie without aggression. In a film with 1500-foot high spaceships, the most unbelievable thing is how reserved humans are with their weapons.

In perspective, Arrival changes the formula, locking in on Amy Adams’ language professor, Dr. Louise Banks. Through her, an expert linguist who urgently values communication when faced with space-born visitors, Arrival spurs a narrative soon to be tapped among the elite of sci-fi landmarks. Since the genre tends to wrap itself up in broad escapism, maybe it’s time to consider a different genre denotation for pieces this enigmatic and crucial. It’s a shame hi-fi is lost to the electronics industry.

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Arrival isn’t watched so much as explored. Instantly captivating and comforting in its idealism, the drip feed narrative builds an enticing mystery. With immediacy, pleading dialog asks “What do they want and why are they here?” Critical questions asked with insistence, treating intergalactic visitors to the dialog of border crossings. The timing appears all too coincidental, releasing the weekend after a particularly vicious immigration-laced election cycle.

[Arrival] blossoms into a two hour call for thoughtful international discourse and understanding

Much of the film spends its time innate and motionless, devoid of threatening disposition. In an era of shaking lenses and rowdy camera movement, even Arrival’s cinematography elicits the feeling of pacifism.

Even on its surface, Arrival laces itself with scenes of practical, reasonable response opposed to brute force. Intelligence wins. Thought wins. Rationality too. Deeper, and Ted Chiang’s adapted short story (Story of Your Life) blossoms into a two hour call for thoughtful international discourse and understanding. It’s an expressive piece on how learning changes us, and an exposure to time isn’t meant to inhibit our thoughts, rather grow our capacity for understanding. This from a movie with intergalactic octopus men who live in a flying space egg. Strange times.

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Mutually assured destruction this is not. Instead, it’s mutually assured assistance. Louise’s approach to the stressful circumstances is partially built on instinctual fear – and also on scientific discovery – but ultimately that in which exits to make us better. Adams gives a near effortless performance, helped by an impeccable non-linear format. Arrival finds grand substance in this method, composed for its elliptical storytelling value as much as the greater metaphorical punch.

At a time when leaders hawk about building walls to further separate people, a film which stands as a contentious objector to those policies speaks volumes. In basic terms, Arrival smacks down those ideologies blinded by political venom. More than its classification as alien invasion, Arrival serves as a brilliant introspective on our entire species.

Day the Earth Stood Still told us not to blow each other up. Consider society and civilization drooped far enough since, we needed a movie to tell us to pick up the phone and talk. Depressing, but Arrival feels like the possible antidote.