Arrival Film Review


The film “Arrival” was released to the public November 11th 2016 and was directed by Dennis Villeneuve, previously known for directing films such as Prisoners, Incendies, and Blade Runner: 2049. It’s based on the short story “Story Of Your Life” by Ted Chiang. The film was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture. Despite only winning an award for Sound, it was critically acclaimed for its implementation of emotional, personal storytelling whilst dealing with the complexity of it’s science fiction narrative. I’m very fond of Villenueve’s films and have been a fan of his for a while and this film is no exception. Visually it’s groundbreaking, emotionally it’s captivating, and it’s message important.

When multiple alien ships touch down on earth in various locations, Linguistics Professor Louise Banks works with scientist Ian Donelly and must examine and learn to communicate with the alien beings figuring out why they’re here, while at least seemingly recalling memories of her and her daughter. The film takes the audience through an emotional captivating story, crafted with care. 

Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score in the film is not only emotionally moving but plays a key role in evoking emotion from the audience. His music is moving and personally reminds me of life in general, from the good memories to the dark times and everything in between, thus at least as how I see it, representing human life on Earth. This score is very well suited for a film such as this that addresses humanity. Without the music the emotion is unseen. If one was to see the opening montage, arguably the most emotional scene in the film except with the music revoked, the result would be a scene that lacks the emotional energy demanded to draw the audience. It would even stand out as awkward or unusual because audiences nowadays are so accustomed to music in film, whether they praise it or not. It’s as essential to the film. Famous Director Martin Scorsese once said “Music and film are inseparable. They always have been and they always will be”. This shows us that

Bradford Young’s cinematography is not only breathtaking but elevates the story to a new level emotionally. “The function of camera movement is to assist the storytelling. That's all it is. It cannot be there just to demonstrate itself.” (Mike Figgid). While most films see the camera as a tool to simply record the action, simply demonstrating themselves, Young understands that the camera is meant to strengthen the story. In the opening montage, we quickly witness Louise go through the stages of life with her daughter from birth to death. This moment best cumulates the effect of Young’s cinematography in one scene. In the moments of joy, Young utilizes a shaky camera, such as when Louise first holds her child or runs with her enjoying life. Young’s shakiness resembles happiness and the overwhelming emotions that it carries. Contradicting this, when dealing with death, the camera is stable and in a way lifeless, residing with the emptiness that one experiences when facing death. Every frame in the film has a purpose, whether to utilize darkness inside the heptapod to portray unfamiliarity with the bizarre scenario or to highlight the unavoidable presence of the heptapods when walking outside. This may all seem subtle, however it takes the emotional to a new, perhaps spiritual level and enhances the story.

The science fiction genre highlights the message of communication. Villenueve is able to employ his terrific theme creation skills, established in prior films such as Prisoners along with Incendies and apply it to not only provide but rather saturate this film with meaning. Without giving much away, the arrival of the aliens creates a conflict among the humans that questions the correlation between comprehension and divide. The lack of comprehension enrages the divide between the humans and aliens. This divide is simply a conflict that’s been heightened into the scope of science fiction. Writer Isaac Asimov said that “Today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s science fact”. This means that science fiction must correlate to show us a world that may eventually come to fruition. Most good films tend to useScience fiction as a warning sign of what’s to come (eg., dystopia). However Dennis Villenueve takes a unique twist to this approach. Instead of showing us a world that’s decaying, he shows us the possibilities when we communicate. Villenueve uses science fiction to show what is a simple lesson everyone learns at one point or another in their life, teamwork, and signifies its importance on a grander scale. I personally find this quite refreshing. In a world where films tend to focus on the exhilarating aspects of science fiction (eg., space and time travel) it’s refreshing to see a film that sees the genre for it’s full potential.

Filmmaker, Jean-Luc-Godard once said that “cinema is something between art and life.” It both gives and takes from it. Dennis Villenueve Arrival is a perfect example of a connection between art and life. It takes our current scenario of mis-communication and gives us a world with communication, a world full of hope. With superb craft and excellent utilization of science fiction, Arrival presents itself as a story that very few films nowadays can claim. A story about humanity. For that reason I rate this work of art a 9/10.

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