BFI London Film Festival: Arrival

Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg
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by Joanna Orland

At its core, Arrival is an evocative existentialist drama.  In the guise of an alien invasion Sci Fi movie, the film is an emotional exploration of the meaning of time, memory and identity.  Many complex ideas are executed beautifully by director Denis Villeneuve as he creates a visually stunning, comprehensive cinematic achievement.

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is a professor of linguistics, enlisted by the US government to decipher the language of aliens known as Heptapods who have landed on Earth.  As she deciphers their visual language, she discovers the non-linear nature in which they speak and think.  When you begin to speak a language, you begin to think in the language.  And thinking in such an alien language has begun to alter Louise’s perception of time.

Amy Adams is captivating as Dr. Louise Banks, using moments of quiet to deliver a performance where her character’s emotions transcend time.  Accompanied by scientist Ian Donelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise’s initial encounter with the aliens and the unknown is a tense experience to watch as Adams’ performance is authentic and Villeneuve’s pacing suspenseful.  As Louise learns to communicate with the aliens, she somewhat befriends them, creating an engaging dynamic of interspecies communication.

The more Louise begins to think in the Heptapod language, the more the narrative shape of the film restructures.  The complexity of the ideas in this film is wittled down to be affectively comprehensible.  As unfathomable as the premise may be, the story is a relatable and resonant ode to human life.


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