In 1938, Orson Welles incited nationwide panic as he narrated the H.G. Wells novel, War of the Worlds, as a radio news bulletin. Hysteria quickly spread throughout the country as listeners believed that what they were hearing was actually happening outside their homes. Aliens from another planet were here, and they were hell bent on eliminating the human race. Since then, alien invasion stories have captured the minds of the American public, spawning a wide array of books and films. Paramount Pictures’ latest film, Arrival, is the newest addition to this canon. Unlike many of its predecessors, however, Arrival is a story of unification not destruction.
The film centers around Dr. Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams. Dr. Banks is one the country’s foremost authorities on Linguistics. When the aliens arrive, naturally the government shows up on Dr. Banks’s doorstep seeking her help in communicating with our new found friend…. or foe. This is where the film really shines. Dr. Banks’s interaction with the aliens is inspired. Their look and their way of communicating are unlike any I have seen in previous films. Director Denis Villeneuve’s vision and design of the otherworldly creatures is new and refreshing. He is quoted as saying, “I wanted them to have a huge, strong presence, like a whale… I wanted to have this feeling of being near a huge beast underwater, where you feel a strong intelligence or presence.”
Of the course, the big question everyone on the planet wants to know is why did this alien species send 12 of their spaceships to land on Earth. What is their purpose? The clock is ticking as every nation works to communicate with their visitors, and discover their intentions. Dr. Banks is under the watchful eye of the military to get answers, but first she must make a connection with the aliens. She must establish a common ground of basic understanding between us and them. Amy Adams truly shines here. The relationship she builds with Abbott and Costello, as she calls them, feels real and genuine. The emotion she invokes in her character make the viewer forget at times that she is acting opposite a CGI creation. Jeremy Renner’s and Forest Whitaker’s supporting roles only further that bond.
As the story unfolds, the connection between Dr. Banks and the aliens grows stronger and stronger, leading to a jaw-dropping plot twist. I will not say what happens. You’ll have to see for yourself. I will say that ultimately it is discovered that the space visitors are friend not foe. They come to planet Earth bearing a gift. They are here to unite the human race, to teach all nations to set aside their differences and come together as one. I couldn’t help but think of how pertinent this message is right now. In these contentious times, perhaps this is the exact kind of film we need.
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