Film Review: Arrival (2016)

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival has been getting praise and appreciation from critics and moviegoers alike. And this is not surprising at all. Denis Villeneuve has crafted a masterful work that breaks away from the typical formula of a sci-fi film: Extraterrestrial beings arrive on Earth, war ensues, explosions everywhere, and it usually ends with a hero saving the entire town. Arrival on the other hand, is nothing like this. This film is more than just your typical sci-fi blockbuster film. Arrival, at the end of the day, is just about the importance of communication and connection we have with one another.

Arrival opens up with the arrival of 12 unknown spacecrafts all over the world. Without any forms of communication with the foreign beings, mankind has trouble deciphering the purpose of these aliens in this planet. Luckily, the American government has contact with one of the greatest linguists, Louise Banks (Amy Adams). Following the journey to the answer to, “Why are they here?” Arrival tackles multiple themes such as motherhood, time, dealing with the unknown, and ultimately, the importance of language and communication during rough times.

This film is one of the smartest, bravest, daring, and emotional films of 2016. Denis Villeneuve is unstoppable. He managed to intertwine all elements of film into one successful masterpiece. He perfectly executed the basic lesson in storytelling: Show not tell. That is such a basic concept in storytelling and yet a lot of directors and writers seem to have a hard time following it. However, Villeneuve is at the top of his game with this film. Not only did he let the information and the story unfold without literally spelling things out for the audience, he also did it with great precision and direction.

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This is honestly one of the smartest films I have seen in a long time. The story knows where it is going, the film knows its direction and pacing. Arrival is so certain about its story, its themes, direction, and pacing that it does not need to tell people what is happening. Arrival trusts its audience so much that it does not need to explain itself. And this is the beauty of show not tell. This is storytelling at its finest. 

The nonlinear structure was also perfectly executed in Arrival. This structure is effective for this kind of story because it not only shows that Villeneuve has complete control over his story and its direction, it also shows the complexity of the story and the film in general. Undeniably, this structure is a masterful work. Additionally, the way this film is structured throws the audience off and the information just creeps up to everyone without them noticing until the lightbulb moment comes in and you just get why the scenes are edited that way and then everything suddenly makes sense

What sets Arrival apart from its fellow sci-fi films is the way they handled the alien invasion storyline. Typically, after the aliens arrive, people panic and then war starts to brew. Then enter the explosions, crashes, and boom! Arrival showed that you can have an engaging film without any explosions and shootouts. This film showed the angle that not a lot of sci-fi films tackle: Importance of communication.

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It is a human nature to fear what we do not understand. It is natural to be in the defensive mode if an unknown being suddenly appeared in your backyard. What Arrival did was to show that war will get you nowhere. In this terrifying time for humanity, this film showed what exactly we need to do to keep our sanity, our lives together. This film showed that war, guns, bombs are not the answer. Everything boils down to communication, to making sure that everyone is unified to see the bigger picture. For a film that deals with non-human species, Arrival is bursting with humanity.

Now, with those information, it is undeniable that this film is one of the greatest films of 2016. It was even nominated for 8 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. But the inconceivable part is that this entire film revolves around Louise Banks, portrayed by Amy Adams, and yet, she did not get an Oscar nod. Now, I know that not everything is about the Oscars or receiving awards but ignoring Adams’ performance in this is just questionable. Her acting was incredible. Everything was so subtle and yet, the impact was powerful.

Amy Adams is the soul, heart, and mind of this film. The camera literally follows her. The audience follows her because this is her story. Arrival was never about the aliens. It is about a linguist trying to shed importance to the unity and communication of every party involved. This veteran actress gave such an emotional and humane performance that is definitely one for the books.

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It is rich in themes, story, and message. Arrival is one of the smartest, engaging, and moving films I have seen in a long time. It is not a sci-fi film per se, the science fiction part is just a backdrop to tell the story of two species trying to converse with one another using the most effective weapon of all: Language.

If you are expecting an explosive alien invasion film, you will be heavily disappointed. Arrival is not about the extraterrestrial life, it is about mankind and its humanity. It is about language and its importance to society.

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