[Spoiler-infested waters. Swim at your own risk.]
There was a time when Amy Adams lived a happy life. She got to sing and dance next to Patrick Dempsey after escaping her own storybook and got to be a princess in real life. I’d like to say the same for Jeremy Renner, but I guess he just likes suffering on screen. What I will say, however, is that their fictional sacrifice in Arrival was a fair price to pay for the chaos they prevented.
This is the one-liner offered on IMDb: “A linguist is recruited by the military to assist in translating alien communications.” I can hear people groan over the “linguist” part already. And I get it, if you’re not familiar with how badass language is, you probably won’t get the thrill. But hear the movie out:
After losing her only child to an incurable disease, linguistics professor Louise Banks (Adams) is trying to carry on with her life (or at least you think). However, the arrival of twelve alien spacecrafts across the globe puts an end to any sense of normalcy. When the military fails to communicate with the aliens, they enlist Louise (who already has government clearance thanks to past translation jobs) to decode their language. To aid in the mission, they also recruit scientist Ian Donnelly (Renner) who, unlike Louise, believes the basis of civilization is science.
Once in the Montana UFO sight, Louise will break all the rules and give no shits about protocol in her attempt at decoding the alien language. Ian will follow suit because he is as smitten by her brain as are the rest of us. Go Lois Lane 2.0!
The Good Moves
Thank you, Arrival, for proving that it really isn’t that hard to include the whole world in apocalyptic movies. Hollywood has been trying to convince me for years that aliens are aware of white supremacy and imperialism and therefore, know to land in midtown Manhattan. Really, bro? Although the movie only focused on the pods located in the US and China (and Russia for dramatic effect), I will give them props for placing these UFOs in Venezuela, Australia, India, and other places on the globe. Yay, diversity!
Forest Whitaker was there to add some PoC flair and the main character was a ginger woman who was at no point sexualized. I, however, refuse giving the movie a perfect score solely based on the fact that they had a decently inclusive (because by no means perfect) production.
Honestly, I take my hat off for this one. It wasn’t until today when I was reviewing character names on IMDb that I realized there are very few actors in this movie. The plot is carried out entirely by Adams, Renner, and Whitaker, with some special appearances by Adam and Renner’s daughter who is played by three different actresses and a baby (Jadyn Malone, Abigail Pniowsky, Julia Scarlett Dan). There are a handful of characters that come in and out to keep the plot moving, like the Chinese president.
Adams’ anxiety attacks were pretty spot on, and my favorite moment is Renner puking after meeting the aliens for the first time. So real.
Arrival was smart. I loved that it took the science behind linguistics and ran with the theme in every direction. The result was a movie that doesn’t only deal with language, but with communication and understanding. While we were busy trying to figure out how on earth Louise was decoding the weird circles she understood to be the alien language, a personal storm was brewing on the sidelines.
When we finally figure out what is going on, the biggest question of the movie arises. Is everything fair when we can justify somebody’s actions? In other words, If we can understand where someone is coming from, can that excuse them? Louise asks Ian at the end (after we know she has seen their future) what he would do in her position (without telling him any specifics). His response was that if he knew how his life would transpire, that he’d say what he felt more often.
Did that solve their problems? Not quite. Did learning the universal language worth it? It did stop a third world war. But here’s the problem with sci-fi films: the minute you test the plot, it unravels. If everyone could understand the language and their brains morphed as it did for Louise, wouldn’t they all be able to continue altering the end result? Wouldn’t Ian, even, have been able to also see their lives?
But if we forget about this craziness and just take it for what it is, Arrival was pretty great. And honestly, it made my wanting to get a PhD sound even more badass.
So, should you watch it? Yes.
Um, I’m going to leave you with a picture of Louise and Ian because they were very nerdy and very cute. OTP except for, you know, all the sadness.