My levels of anticipation for Arrival were high long before all the glowing reviews started to appear. Not only is the film’s director, Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Enemy) responsible for Prisoners, my favourite film of 2013, but Christopher Nolan’s clever sci-fi blockbuster, Interstellar, took the top-spot the following year. And so, with this being Villeneuve’s first foray into the genre (ahead of his much-anticipated sequel to Blade Runner next year) it had all the makings of being my favourite film of the year from the off.
Certainly one of the best films of 2016, if not quite THE best – it has been an exceptionally good year for cinema after all – Arrival doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. It is a masterpiece through and through, featuring a central Oscar-worthy performance, stunning visuals and weighty themes, which further cements Villeneuve as one of the most exciting and original directors working today.
The director himself shows a great mastery and understanding of the genre, in that, like all good sci-fi movies, Arrival isn’t actually about aliens. Sure, aliens feature as the main plot device, but they only exist within the narrative here to allow the film’s writer, Eric Heisserer, the opportunity to explore and investigate the human condition.
This is something that’s made immediately apparent within the opening few minutes, in a sequence that holds back from the familiar imagery of giant spaceships approaching our tiny little planet, and instead focuses on the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Scored with a beautiful piece of music from Max Rithcer, entitled On The Nature Of Daylight – a piece of music that forms just part of what is a moody and memorable score from Jóhann Jóhannsson – it is a surprisingly sombre and personal introduction, which brilliantly sets up the tone of the rest of the film.
Quite unlike any other ‘alien invasion’ film you’ve seen before, the focus here isn’t on mass-destruction and carnage (no landmarks are destroyed by these extraterrestrials) and at times it feels as if Villeneuve makes deliberate efforts to avoid the generic trappings that come along with the territory; going so far as to draw our attention away from the brief moments of action that occur throughout.
Spectacle and thrills are instead found within Bradford Young’s cinematography – this year, few images in film have been quite as eye-bulging as that of a helicopter approaching a crescent-moon-shaped spacecraft, as a sea of clouds bend beneath it – and the raw human drama – drama that deals with love, loss and regret – that is the film’s beating heart.
But where Arrival becomes something truly special is during a narrative twist in the final third, where the events at the beginning of the film start to come together in an incredibly intelligent way. To say too much in this regard would be doing the film a terrible disservice, but just know that what appears to start out as a straightforward, linear story about a woman trying to communicate with aliens, becomes something else entirely by the end of the film.
Visually remarkable, expertly crafted and brilliantly performed by Amy Adams – who has to win an Oscar next year, by the way – this would all be enough to warrant recommending the film before taking into account its all-encompassing optimism. It is a film that preaches pacifism, communication, a united world, and, above all else, love. In these dark times, this means that Arrival transcends the cinema and becomes something much, much more vital. Altogether heart-breaking and hopeful, it may just restore your faith in humanity at a time where you might need it the most. Go and see it again and again.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com