So it took me a long time to really sit down and begin this impressions because “I fucking love it” didn’t seem like enough. I had desperately wanted to see Arrival but various things kept getting in the way. I finally was able to rent it and it was everything I expected and more.
The first point to make is a lot of people saw the final “twist” coming. Whether you did or not does not actually change the impact of it, and that is in my opinion pretty telling.
Arrival is a “first contact” sub-genre of sci-fi film. The aliens land and everyone is responding as expected, not so well. The military approaches Louise, our main character, for help in translating the alien language. From the moment they talk to her she is tough, she wants what she wants, and she is not afraid to stand strong to get it. She refuses to simply agree with what they want and stands her ground. The end result is she is picked as America’s top linguistic representative for the aliens.
What unfolds is an interesting look at how we as a people would actually attempt to deal with the issue of first contact. Louise is very interested in developing a language and finds herself more than a little attached to the beings. Various countries accept her methods, while others remain not only wary but ready to strike out. Louise is attempting to balance her own curiosity with the desires of the world to find out who are these beings and most important “why are you here”.
Aside from Louise’s story with the aliens is her own personal struggle with the child she has lost. She is constantly being pulled into memories of what she felt was her most important role in life, being a mother. She is haunted by what she did right and wrong, and often finds that conversations she had with her daughter, help her with the current mystery.
Outside of Louise’s story is the very real reality of the negative response that many people would have to this situation. Many countries are ready for a violent strike, and many Americans encourage this. The world is constantly at a near war state, and while Louise and others wish to stop it many more wish to move forward. It’s rather depressing to watch the movie unfold to a violent end knowing that you could see this being the realistic response. People have no reason to respond violently to the visitors, and yet they do.
As it all unfolds some hints at the greater point of the film are revealed. Some will be totally shocked when it happens, others will be like “yeah I saw that coming”. However, as I said at the beginning of this it doesn’t actually change anything. Louise and the rest of the world’s hands are forced, and we have our drastic moment.
What happens after is powerful, moving, and touching. What helps sell it is the rest of the movie has been all those things as well.
Arrival is not perfect. Some things about the characters are left rather questionable in the light of the big reveal, and some that saw it coming will be disappointed. However, it is easily one of the best modern sci-fi flicks I have ever seen. In fact it’s probably in my top sci-fi flicks overall. It’s well acted, directed, and has a great story. Not only that but it’s nice to see sci-fi move beyond horror, or space epics, which we haven’t seen much of lately. If you have any interest in linguists this movie will also fascinate you.
I find this one of the hard things for me to be objective about. On a personal level this is easily one of my favorite movies. It has so many wonderful and challenging things to say about so many different issues. On a more objective level I can see problems, but I just simply don’t think they matter enough to degrade the overall film.
So my bottom line- Sci-fi fans watch it. People that are iffy about sci-fi still watch it. People that hate sci-fi… you might be the only ones that will find nothing to appreciate here.