By: Billy Jepma ’18
Arrival is one of those rare movies that strikes a perfect balance between social relevance, an independent story and flawless filmmaking. It is a masterclass in science fiction, representing some of the very best that the genre has to offer and will likely go down as one of 2016’s defining films.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Arrival is a story about aliens, but it is also a story about communication, understanding and acceptance. Without going into any plot specifics––as the story is best experienced with as little information as possible––the film grapples with themes that not only come across as strikingly relevant for our country today, but also manages to say a lot without ever falling into bland exposition monologues.
This is primarily due to a tightly paced script by Eric Heisserer and a stunning cast to back it up. The plot seems to take its time in setting up, but it is all for show, as Heisserer’s script manipulates the audience into a false sense of comfortable and familiarity before pulling the rug out from beneath them. Yet, the plot twists never come across as hackneyed or uncalled for, but rather feels like the sudden epiphany experienced upon finally figuring out a complex puzzle.
The cast, while sparse, are phenomenal, and manage to extract a lot of depth from the open-ended material they are given to work with. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner star as two scientists challenged with an impossible task, a premise seen many times before, and yet they manage to seamlessly avoid cliches with their portrayals and never for a second come across as generic.
Instead, Arrival is a brilliant example of the classic storytelling device “show, don’t tell,” as it never takes advantage of its audience but allows them to interpret the plot for themselves. This is a film that does not hold its audience’s hand, but rather offer them an invitation into a deeper, complex narrative that truly has to be experienced firsthand.
Denis Villeneuve and Cinematographer Bradford Young’s camera work are some of the most breathtaking seen in a film this year, and it is remarkable how he is able to capture a shot that is simultaneously unsettling and beautiful. He emphasizes the faces of his actors repeatedly, which helps him establish an intimacy between his viewer and the characters that only makes the film that much more compelling to watch. When Villeneuve’s directing is paired with the haunting, melodic score from Jóhann Jóhannsson, Arrival transcends mere entertainment and becomes an emotional experience that will linger in the thoughts of the audience long after the credits roll.
Arrival is not only one of the best movies of the year, but quite possibly one of the best science fiction films to premiere in the last decade. It is a stunning display of emotion, character, and humanity that is destined to become a classic. Do not let it fly under your radar.