TIFF Review: ‘Arrival’ is an Intelligent and Moving Sci-Fi Drama

Directed with documentary like precision by French Canadian filmmaker Denis Villenueve, who last year gave us Sicario (2015), his new film is a powerful study of humans attempting to break through the language barrier when a race of aliens land on our planet.

Twelve ships carrying septapods, the aliens, who have seven tentacles which look like starfish when pressed against the glass that divides them from us in their massive ships, and ejects an inky substance that forms their words on the glass, have landed in 12 sites around the globe.

Louise (Adams) is one of the leading linguists in the world and is brought in to try and discover their language and perhaps teach them ours. She is understandably terrified as she is taken into their ship, experiences weightless gravity once inside and sees them for the first time. Each day eighteen hours apart, the ship door opens and the humans go inside to try and break through the barriers that divide us. They are not humaniod in any possible way but rather creatures, but with an intellect that far out-distances ours in every way. The aliens sound are like whale only deeper, and they write through a series of circles in different shapes. Each day Adams and her team go in and each day they come out, hounded by the military for any advances they have made with the language breakdowns. Forest Whitaker is brilliant as an army man who needs answers to go up the chain of command and though he trusts Louise, he still needs those answers.

When China and Russia decide to break ties with the aliens and the rest of the world believing the aliens to be hostile, Louise valiantly tries to get answers from them about why they are here and what do they want, before a war breaks out.

Adams is again outstanding, creating a woman who has lost much and thrown herself into her work, which is language because she has nothing else. She uses much of the time she played with her daughter to teach and be taught by the alien race, stripping away ego and being willing to be a pupil again.

Does it out-Spielberg Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)? No, but it is a very different type of film. More cerebral, more demanding of its audience because an encounter with an alien race would make demands on we the human race that have never been made before. Because it is a thinking man’s film does not mean it is not moving, because it most certainly is, deeply so throughout, but never more so than through Adams eyes. She has felt the worse pain a person can feel, and the first time she sees the aliens, makes contact, that pain, finally, and all that life has taught her, was worth while. Living is painful, life can be filled with such, yet ask yourself would you trade a moment of bliss to NOT have to go through the pain

Rating: 4/5