ARRIVAL Movie Review
By Victoria Alexander, Film Critic
Las Vegas Informer
Avoids sloppy sentimentalism and gives the most probable contact with other beings we will likely encounter.
Last month The Astrophysical Journal published the results of work led by Christopher J. Conselice, an astrophysicist, on the new number of galaxies in the Universe. The new number is two trillion galaxies, with every galaxy having millions or billions of stars. Using new mathematical models, the number of two trillion is a rough estimate since current technology only allows us to glimpse 10% of what is out there – known as the “observable universe.”
If we believe that what we are told is reality is indeed reality and nothing more, than to believe that the Universe is teeming with intelligent life that looks exactly – or more intelligent as us – is absurd. In consensus reality, I believe in the Rare Earth Hypothesis. It just took too many twists and unreliable turns and vast geological changes to get us looking and thinking like we do.
However, I believe in the concept of a “multiverse” (the theory of a cosmological multiverse permits universes that have different laws of physics from those of our present universe) and within this “multiverse” is the total collection of all the “parallel universes” that can possibly exist (parallel universes are expected to have the same laws of physics as ours containing someone exactly like each of us).
And ARRIVAL subtly suggests the merger of a “parallel universe” with our own known universe.
As you know by now, ARRIVAL is about alien contact. The aliens are so unlike anything living on our planet that they may in fact come from another universe parallel to ours.
These aliens have not arrived to make friends, hang out in closets, or destroy our cities. They are not here to enslave us to mine gold for their planet. They are not interested in having sex with humans or doing anal probes (most everyone over 60 has had a colonoscopy and has the color results in their files if the aliens need to see it).
Twelve enormous egg-shaped structures suddenly appear all over the world just above the ground. One “egg” is in Montana. The U.S. military is leading the operation under the command of Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). Weber’s team includes theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and CIA Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg), the government’s liaison on the operation. The U.S. military has gotten inside the “egg” and met its inhabitants. Communication is impossible.
Colonel Weber goes to visit Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), a linguistics professor, who is in a deep depression over losing her 12-year-old daughter Hannah to cancer. Long divorced Louise raised her daughter alone in a “Hollywood movie” house by a vast lake. It’s a house without a speck of junk. Typically, like all of us do, Louise drinks wine alone while looking at the water from her glass-walled house.
Immediately, as predicted by those fearing knowledge of E.T.s would spread panic and anarchy in the world, people loot, buy up milk and go naked-crazy in the streets. No one goes to work and the basic foundations of ordinary life go haywire. With no one at work, there is no one to call when cable service goes out. No one answers 911 calls. Louise’s lectures are empty.
With 12 “eggs” around the world, no one can dope out the one simple question – “What are you doing here? – whichever country makes first intelligent communication wins. All the countries keep their information about the “eggs” secret. Russia and China get ready for war. Scientists are not interested in how they got here, where they are from, what kind of technology they have and what do they want in exchange for it.
Weber slyly convinces Louise to try to make contact. Louise agrees and goes into the “egg” and meets the aliens, who are safely behind an impenetrable glass wall. The two inhabitants who represent their race are astonishing creature sunlike us in every way. Without thumbs, their race has managed to build twelve spaceships that have traveled from someplace to here.
The gigantic octopus-like beings do not seem at all repulsed by humans and they have a language that Louise attempts to figure out. This part of ARRIVAL is sensational – and if contact is ever made – this is probably what we will be dealing with. Not the Grey tech workers, the evil Reptilians or the lovely, angelic Nordics.
I would have gone with the universal sound “m” but Louise had her own method.
Named by someone as ‘heptapods’, Louise begins the slow process of figuring out their language while still grieving over her daughter. The haunting memories Louise has about Hannah begin to bleed into her work with the heptapods.
What do they want? A misinterpreted word sends the well-meaning operation in another direction than the one planned.
This is a difficult role for an actress and Adams delivers enough long-lasting depression that resonates with the powerful emotion of losing a child. Louise has not gone on with her life, not dated a colleague or is even curious about alien life. Does Louise realize she has been given an incredible opportunity so few human beings will have?
ARRIVAL leaves the viewer furious with the handling of this exceptional encounter. You would think scientists would demand the world do nothing to jeopardize communication. But, wiser minds prevailed and recalled what happens when a superior intelligence comes across an “inferior” intelligence.
On Columbus’ first trip to the Caribbean, the Spaniards tested the sharpness of blades on Native people by cutting them in half, beheading them in contests and throwing Natives into vats of boiling soap. There are also accounts of suckling infants taken from their mothers and dashed headfirst into large rocks. Columbus forced the enslaved Natives to work in gold mines until exhaustion. Those who opposed were beheaded, had their ears cut off or had their hands cut off, which were tied around their necks while they bled to death—some 10,000 died handless.
And then there was the Spanish arrival at the borders of the Inca Empire in 1528.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve with a screenplay by Eric Heisserer (from the story Story of Your Life written by Ted Chiang), ARRIVAL avoids sloppy sentimentalism and considering how knowledgeable and educated the public has become about the size of our known Universe, some form of contact is guaranteed. ARRIVAL delivers simply because it is intelligently presented.
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Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at firstname.lastname@example.org.