Moving on with our Oscars Retrospective series on 2017’s ‘Best Picture’ nominees, we have ‘Arrival.’ Directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Amy Adams as well as Jeremy Renner, ‘Arrival’ became Villeneuve’s second movie nominated for an Academy Award. It has also become one of my personal favorite movies of all time, and perhaps this article will explain to you why. SPOILERS AHEAD
Beautifully shot and masterfully written, ‘Arrival’ tells the story of Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguistics professor, who is recruited by military officer Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to communicate with extraterrestrial beings that have landed ships in 12 different locations on Earth. Along with a theoretical physicist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise attempts to speak to the seven-limbed aliens (named “heptapods” in the movie) that have landed in order to understand their purpose for coming to Earth. The two must work around the clock to understand the otherworldly beings as other countries are deciding whether or not to wage war against them. Throughout the film, Louise is plagued with flashbacks of a daughter she can’t remember and seeks to figure out why she is getting those visions.
I really want to talk about how beautiful the movie looks and sounds, the environment is truly awe-inspiring. The CGI is incredibly detailed, especially the aliens and their smoke-like inky writing. Though the score is somber, it fits perfectly with the tone of the movie: gloomy, mysterious, and tense. Think about it. Aliens have come to Earth in shell-like ships, landing in 12 of the most powerful countries, and no one knows why they have arrived because they have remained silent. Things would be gloom, mysterious, and tense and the sounds and music of Arrival perfectly encapsulates that.
Adams and Renner own their roles, providing deep emotion and depth to their characters. The chemistry between the two is rarely awkward and plays out excellently. You can tell how much time and effort they put into their parts and how devoted they were to mastering them.
Every time I watch this movie, I discover more about its two real themes, which are unity and time. Let’s start with unity. Deep into the film, Louise finds out the aliens’ purpose, which is to “offer weapon.” After breaking this to all of the leaders around the globe, General Shang of China declares war on the heptapods, with other countries following suit. Louise and Ian go back into their Shell to ask the heptapods what they meant, and they reveal that the countries must work together. Global cooperation was needed if everyone wanted to figure out why the heptapods came to Earth.
The second theme, time, is expressed throughout the entirety of the film. The so-called “weapon” the heptapods gives to the humans is their language. Their language gave Louise the ability to perceive time without structure or order. Using this ability, she is able to see into the future and uncover how to stop General Shang from firing upon the heptapods. The child that Louise seems to have flashbacks of is actually her future child that she will have with Ian Donnelly, so those “flashbacks” weren’t really flashbacks. They were more like “flash-forwards.” This is an intriguing revelation which upon first and subsequent viewings totally transforms the film and how we perceive the characters.
Now, I had an interesting little thought about this whole “flashback” ordeal. Louise and Ian’s daughter’s name is Hannah, which is a palindrome. A palindrome is a word that can be read the same forwards and backward. Considering the fact that the “flashbacks” of Louise’s daughter were actually from the future, the movie could be seen as a palindrome itself. The film both begins and ends with the beginning of Hannah’s life, just like how the name “Hannah” both begins and ends with the letter “h.”
There’s so much I love about ‘Arrival’ that I rarely see in other films, which is part of the reason why it’s become one of my all-time favorites. The movie truly deserved its Oscar nomination, and I was saddened to hear that Amy Adams was snubbed for the Best Actress Oscar; she deserved one. I hope that many others will watch this film and adore it the way I do and think about its themes and deeper meanings.
Written by: Nick – @SuperNickNF on Twitter