Denis Villeneuve has created his most intelligent movie yet
There are so many things right in Denis Villeneuve’s latest directorial masterpiece. From Bradford Young’s crisp cinematography to Johann Johannsson’s minimalist score, Arrival is probably this year’s best movie. It will likely spawn comparison to Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar as they both deal with complex philosophical concepts and life beyond Earth. While the comparison is earned, Arrival is smarter and better executed than Interstellar.
Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is one of the best linguists in the world. When aliens have landed in 12 distinct places on Earth, the military calls upon Louise to translate the alien’s foreign language. They speak by releasing black smoke that creates weird circular symbols. Those symbols represent an intricate language that humans need to understand in order to ask the pivotal question – “What is your purpose on Earth?”
With the help Dr. Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), Louise must find out if their otherworldly friends may actually be foes. Louise knows more than anybody else that language is the key to understanding a group of people and she may not be ready for the consequences this knowledge brings to her.
Again, Villeneuve continues to create visually stunning films. The long wide shots of the alien pods and the interaction with the aliens capture some of the most beautiful cinematography this year. Using symbolic language helps add to the movie’s already incredible visuals. The aliens themselves, covered in white smoke, are elegant even if they are not ascetically attractive.
Amy Adams give one of her best performance as the gifted linguist. Her story is emotional and powerful. Adams convey every emotion and help paint a strong female character. Her character is always one step ahead of everyone including the audience. She establishes that she is, in fact, the best linguist for the job.
Just as smart of Adam’s character is the incredibly complex story. Sci-fi is always a difficult genre to execute. Usually dealing with complex philosophical ideas and theories, Arrival is not different. Villeneuve tackles the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is the idea that learning a foreign language rewires your brain. Along with the theories of time and dimensions, these big ideas get executed to almost perfection. The puzzle this movie assembles gets every piece to fit together
Villeneuve never gets scared of Arrival’s big ambitions. He takes the necessary time to tell his story both visually and verbally. The pace may get tiresome for mainstream viewers, but for fans who enjoy great cinematography, you will not get bored.
Arrival is ambitious, and while sometimes that ambition can be a movie’s downfall, it is its biggest strength. It draws upon complex ideas and nails every one of them. Amy Adam, cinematographer Bradford Young and composer Jóhann Jóhannsson all add to propel the movie to success. The team has made a film that they can all be proud of because not many of this sorts of movies can say that they nailed every ambition.