Arrival ~ A Capsule Movie Review by Allen Kopp
A huge pod-like object, obviously an alien spacecraft, has landed in the farm fields of Montana. We soon learn that there are eleven other pods in different locations around the world. Have aliens come to destroy human life on earth? If not, what are they (the aliens) here for? They seem to be trying to communicate in a non-human language but, of course, humans don’t know what they’re saying. The military engages the services of a renowned teacher and language expert named Louise Banks (Amy Adams, superb in any movie she’s in). She is taken to the alien pod in Montana where, it is hoped, she will be able to figure out what they are saying.
Louise Banks is a recent divorcee with plenty of heartbreak in her life, having lost her young daughter to disease. This, of course, means that she is provided with fellow language researcher and love interest in the person of Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner). Louise and Ian ascend into the alien spacecraft to confront the aliens and try to discover what they hope to accomplish by coming to earth.
Right away we see the aliens as Louise and Ian see them. They aren’t acid-slobbering killing machines as in the classic sci-fi movie Alien, but they are not pleasing to the eye. They resemble octopuses at the bottom of the sea, except that they have no eyes or mouths that we can see. The researchers right away dub them “heptapods” because they are about seven feet tall and seem to have seven legs or tentacle-like appendages. Louise discovers that they have names and they communicate in a strange language that, unlike human languages, is not based on sound or symbols but on thought. Inside the alien spaceship, she removes her bulky hood and breathing apparatus so the aliens can get a clearer picture of what humans are like. Ian does the same. This helps to establish a connection with the aliens.
The aliens communicate by extending their tentacles and writing before them, in an ink-like substance, in large, semi-circles with feathery extensions. After studying these “writings,” Louise begins to get a clearer picture of what the aliens are trying to communicate. She learns, for one thing, that time for the aliens is not “linear,” as it is for us. (This is a difficult concept for humans to grasp.) The aliens want to help humans because they will need help in the far-distant future (this is very vague.) Louise also learns that her own life has taken, or will take, a non-linear course and that this will allow her to know what will happen in the future. Her past, her life, and her future are somehow bound up with these strange creatures from an alien place.
Arrival is dark, in the way it looks and in its tone. There’s a sense of foreboding throughout much of the movie, a feeling that we don’t know what the aliens are going to do—or what might be done to them while they’re on earth (some countries are calling for aggressive military action). If the ending is unsatisfying because we don’t learn as much as we’d like to know about the aliens, we forgive it because the rest of the movie is so much more interesting than the rest of the stuff that’s playing at the multiplex.
Copyright © 2016 by Allen Kopp