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Arrival

25/11/2016

Arrival is not your run of the mill alien encounter movie. You know the sort I mean: some Aliens rock up, they start causing a bit of a ruckus, humanity panics, and then, one or two mavericks somehow save the day in violent fashion (yes, I am thinking of Independence Day) . No, “Arrival” is much more interesting that that. The film is not about conflict but communication. (Bad communication, of course, as we are reminded in the film can risk conflict.)

Amy Adams plays Dr Louise Banks, a linguist charged with attempting to translate the language of the “Heptapods”, an alien life form which has landed 12 vessels on earth at different locations, and divine their purpose. Before Dr Banks’ services are procured, the team of officials have made very little progress towards understanding the aliens’ purpose for their visit. Jeremy Renner plays a theoretical physicist named Dr Ian Donnelly. He reflects soon after Dr Banks’ arrival on the scene that one pattern between the 12 cities is that 80s songstress Sheena Easton had a hit in each one. So, really, the authorities have no clue.

Dr Banks sets to her task: she meets the two main Heptapods to have landed their vessel in Montana and starts a process of language exchange. She begins with the collective “human” to describe her and Dr Donnelly then progresses to “Louise” and “Ian”. The aliens reciprocate with symbols produced with inky smoke which Dr Banks and the rest of her team work to interpret. Gradually the humans and the aliens exchange first words and then phrases and Dr Banks starts to glean the patterns of the language. When Dr Banks arrives at the scene, the 12 nations where “heptapods” maintain regular dialogue providing updates on the progress.

This all changes when the Chinese misinterpret a symbol and communication breaks down between the 12 countries. Yet, in spite of growing nervousness on the part of officials, Dr Banks is committed to the pursuit of knowledge. Tension builds to a crescendo.

The film is a real head scratcher at times, in particular the significance of mystic statements made by Dr Banks about time amid a montage of her treating her sick daughter. But overall I found it highly satisfying. It speaks to universal desires to relate through communication. Adams is superb and engaging. The best movie I’ve seen this year. Go and watch it.

PS: Reason’s insightful film reviewer Kurt Loder reviewed the film last week.

PPS: Here’s a link to the trailer.

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