Even as I write these lines, I keep checking my own site thinking I must have reviewed Arrival before. I should probably reviewed before Annihilation, since I saw that movie as the unofficial lost sister to this one, but it almost sounds fitting now to review it after given the cyclical nature of time – as envisioned in the movie. There’s no official relation but they’re both smart, imaginative projections of the future. But while Annihilation does not give an explanation to its evolutionary mayhem, Arrival does go deeper in its attempt to envision language and time.
I didn’t love Arrival the first time I saw it. I had a lot of high expectations for it. I was actually glad for a serious science fiction film that contained actual science-fiction instead the usual action blockbuster with lasers and explosions. Don’t get me wrong, those have their place, but real classic science-fiction had been lacking from the genre. After my first watch, I was disappointed. I didn’t get into it. It stuck in my head though, leaving these ideas I couldn’t stop thinking about. Yes, I’ve changed my mind since watching it.
Director Denis Villeneuve brings us the story of Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) who is recruited by the army to help decode the language of an entire alien race. This is both the correct and incorrect description of the movie, as it happens. Dr. Banks and one of her counterparts, quantum physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) will end up establishing as close to a rapport with two of the alien heptapods they nickname Abbott and Costello.
Here’s where the movie started to draw me in long after I had seen it. The heptapods which mostly we only see vaguely, communicate via a circular, cyclical language. In explaining how that works, we learn how our language works. We talk in order, in a sequence of words that make sense to us because of the way we experience events. Our language is tied to the way we experience time – progressively, moving onward. The heptapods have a circular way of speaking which belies that they experience time differently.
Arrival conveys a cyclical nature of time by giving you clues in the narrative, but it does have to explain how language works. Annihilation does something similar for evolution, although it leaves most to interpretation. The movies work in a different manner although I would say Arrival does leave a more enduring question behind: if we change the way we speak, can we change the way we think and therefore experience things differently? Can we rewire perception by learning another way of communication?
Highly recommended for deep classic science fiction enthusiasts out there and people who don’t mind movies that make them think. I don’t know if it works as a movie for the casual viewer, the concepts might not make it necessarily an easy watch but if you have any starting interest in then topic it might just be what you’ve wanted. On the other hand, people expecting an action film might just want to look elsewhere.
That will do for now.