Denis Villeneuve’s new science-fiction film, Arrival, starring Amy Adams, would be best described as an experience. The plot builds onto itself, appearing clumsy and strange as the story begins, alternating between a slow buildup with frequent repetitions, and plot advancements which seem to happen too fast. The flow is murky and shifting, and yet the film takes hold in a very powerful way at a critical time, and from then, is unrelenting. The film’s form, in this sense, is intimately connected to its subject matter: Linguistics.
The film explores the socio-political ramifications which the arrival of aliens would cause in our current political landscape. Specifically, it deconstructs the subtle complexities of language, communication, and the common traps which hinder proper understanding between cultures. The film’s thematic exploration of linguistics, then, parallels the form in the way in which the movie structure itself is a representation of language. The slow clumsy introduction building into further logic and flow simulating understanding until the film reaches the point where, just as the main character begins to truly understand the complex language of the alien creatures, the viewer is made to understand the film as an entity.
With phenomenal acting, particularly on the part of Amy Adams, strengthening the film’s already interesting plot and cinematography, Arrival becomes nearly flawless. Much like any other film, however, it has faults. The camera focus is unsteady and strange, perhaps to give an impression of subjectivity, in the way it seems to mimic eye motions, but while it could have potentially been interesting, it eventually becomes frustrating and takes the audience outside of the experience. Similarly, while the main storyline is fascinating, the inclusion of a love interest seems somewhat forced, and the chemistry between the actors is minimal. For a film which has such an interesting premise and such creative visuals, it’s quite disappointing to see it delve into traditional Hollywood cliché. Fortunately, the ramifications of the love story are interesting enough, and beautiful enough to excuse its faults, especially in a film where most everything else is built in such a masterful way.
Arrival is an atypical film from an atypical director and it is refreshing to see a challenging movie in an industry which is built on mass appeal, especially in a genre which has been so reductive to its potential in the past few years. The film has an interesting appeal in both plot and form and is both complex enough for film enthusiasts to appreciate its subtleties and enjoyable enough to generate mass appeal. There may be no such thing as a perfect film, but Arrival comes close to it.
Overall Score: 9 / 10