Arrival has been in theaters for a while already, so I think I can do a full review, including spoilers. If you haven’t see this movie yet, please look away!
There are “feel good” movies that make you happy and all fuzzy inside, and you leave the cinema with a smile on your face. Arrival is not one of those. There is a gravitas, a weight, a darkness in this movie that will stay with you long after the last image.
I saw the trailer a couple of months ago and I thought “Yeah! Science fiction! Amy Adams, Hawkeye and a big ass spaceship, this would be fun!”. I was envisioning a kind of “Independance Day” adventure, with the twist that linguistic was the ultimate savior of Humanity. Wrong, Wrong and super wrong.
Imagine my shock when the movie starts : Louise (Amy Adams) has loved and lost her child. No director in their right mind has ever introduce a character like that. From now on, Louise was, for me, the inconsolable mother who had to witness the death of her cute, funny, adorable little girl. In the first minute of the movie, every parental fiber in my being was already crying for Louise. The gray and dull environment (when she wakes up and go to the university) let me think that the was still grieving her daughter, and that the melancholy of her character was a result of this terrible loss.
But, well, the father is nowhere to be seen, there was no aging effect to help us place this event in time, and basically, more questions than answers… (I understood later that this misdirection was skillfully intentional…). Louise seems to carry her sad burden through all the events that followed : the arrival of the ET, her “recruitment”process by the army, and her own arrival on the site. Meeting Ian (Renner) doesn’t even seem to cheer her up…
Then, comes the encounter with the Aliens. To be honest, the “fish tank” full of smoke, the tentacles and weird noises/voices reminded me of the 3rd season of Torchwood, where Peter Capaldi (who was not yet the 12th Doctor) tries to discuss/negotiate with children-demanding aliens (if you haven’t seen it, please go ahead, it was excellent). But once again : misdirection! Because, the aliens don’t seem to request any human beings, their language is visual, not sound based, and, amazingly, they only seem to be here to chit-chat about the weather… The more Louise discuss (or is able to discuss) with them, the more she has flashes, of what I thought was memories.
And that’s when it happens. The magic. The result of all this misdirection. You now know why the magician turned his back to show you an empty hat : it was to better get the rabbit from the box that has been on the stage all along, but that you didn’t even pay attention to! “The language is the weapon”. Oh My! Billions of Blistering Barnacles! How could I be so blind???? it was under my nose this whole time! Like the circular shapes they communicate with, the language of the aliens shaped the brain of those who “speak” it in a way that they can SEE the time in full circle, 360 degrees!!!! The loss of her daughter was not in her past, but in her future!!!
The bit of action (avoiding the nuclear war started by a few rogue countries) is only there for decoration : this is not “War of the Worlds”!!! What I thought was an epic science fiction movie with explosions and acts of courage became in one second, the most intimate, personal, human-psyche-analyzing movie I have seen in a long time. And the loss of her child transforms into, not a burden anymore, but a choice. Louise knows she will suffer, she knows what will happen.
Denis Villeneuve has done an excellent job (excellent is too weak : formidable would be more appropriate), and Amy Adams is so just, so true, so moving.
They say the silence following a Mozart’s concerto is still Mozart’s. Well, the silence following Arrival is still Arrival; and if you are like me, the silence will last quite some time, as I was only able to speak again maybe the morning after seeing this movie.