by Sherry Lipp
The Lowdown: Though a bit underdeveloped, Arrival offers a lot to think about in this attempt to see what an alien visitation might really be like.
Arrival is a philosophical look at the choices we make in life set in the backdrop of an alien visitation sci-fi film. It’s not often that alien invasion would be the background story of a film and that is part of what makes Arrival interesting. The aliens are an ever present enigma, but they are not what this film is really about. I don’t think Arrival is completely successful in its exploration of the human condition, but even long after seeing it I’ve found myself thinking about the questions it asked.
If you know what the future holds would you still make the same choices? Hindsight is 20/20 or so the saying goes, but what if the present is dependent on a future outcome that may be negative, or at the very least not something we would normally choose? What if we can only experience something great if we can live with the something bad we know will eventually happen? Arrival considers this as characters are thrust into an unwitting guessing game with a group of alien visitors.
Expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is tapped by the military to decipher the seemingly unintelligible language of the visitors. She partners with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) to learn everything they can about the aliens before the world goes to war with them. One of things I really liked about this film is that the first course of action was to learn about the aliens and attempt to communicate. Killing them is only a last resort. We’ve had plenty of aliens go to war with humans over the Earth movies and this was a refreshing change from that.
As Louise learns more about the aliens we learn more about her, which is where the philosophical look at life comes in. As she learns more about herself and the aliens she discovers insights into her own life that may give her a glimpse at her own future. This gives her the power to make decisions that may save the planet, but it also gives her the ability to change her own future.
While I enjoyed thinking about these questions I didn’t like that the film seemed to present Louise as making the right choice in the end. I don’t want to give away any of this film’s secrets, but I do wish there had been more ambiguity in that aspect. I was actually more inclined to side with Ian, who is sadly underdeveloped as a character, about the final outcome. I still do recommend Arrival because it provides a lot of food for thought.
Arrival is available on Blu-ray and DVD February 14, 2017.
Arrival Images: Paramount