America needs Arrival.
Directed by Denis Villeneuve, Arrival begins on the day that (the latest) aliens appear over major cities around the world. Resting silently and still above the earth, these objects send the population into a moment of fear as everyone awaits what will happen next. When the military begins the process of communicating with their visitors, they assemble a team led by linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker). As humankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks, Donnelly and Weber take a chance that could threaten their lives, and quite possibly, humanity.
Despite the familiar premise, Arrival is far from your traditional ‘alien invasion’ film. While films of this genre generally play out with intergalactic space battles or wanton destruction (yes, I’m looking at you Independence Day: Resurgence), Arrival carves out it’s own unique and compelling place amongst the very best of science fiction by focusing on the pratfalls of language.
Caution: Potential spoilers ahead…
Playing out like a sci-fi vision of the Cold War, humans and aliens wait anxiously to see who will make the next move. Will it be an act of aggression? An offer of peace? Unlike other sci-fi entries, the real tension within this film exists in the realities of learning how to communicate with another who you neither understand nor trust. Of course, the obvious implications of this are between human and alien… however, the film reveals that similar issues lie amongst the people of Earth themselves.
Having first seen the film at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, I found myself struck by the boldness of this film. However, to be honest, I could never have predicted how timely it would become. Living in the shadow of the Presidential election, it has become frighteningly clear of the breadth of the divide amongst the American people. As thousands of people protest the election results in rallies across the country, philosophical differences have never been more apparent and anger and fear appear rampant amongst the people. The ability to humble ourselves and have conversation has given way to bitterness and resentment.
As a pastor, I wonder where ideas like either ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged’ or ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ have gone in a moment like this.
But Arrival hasn’t forgotten.
Here, as military officers increase the pressure to attack their visitors, linguist Banks cries out for patience, even when the communication seems as though it’s gone awry. As the challenges of communication increase, Banks and her team recognize the value in the other and fight for the reality that words matter. They understand that one narrative doesn’t tell the whole story—and that that builds bridges.
In a time where American culture seems primed to rip itself in two, the notion of seeing beyond our own views and truly listening to one another couldn’t seem more poignant.
In the end, Arrival is a film about risking our lives not for a cause, but for the benefit of others. It’s a film about leaning into suffering for the sake of receiving blessings along the way.
It’s a film that shows that every life matters and that communication requires humility on our behalf to connect us.
America needs Arrival.
Special features include a look at language (“Xenolinguistics: Understanding Arrival”), sound and score (“Acoustic Signatures: Sound Design”, “Eternal Recurrence”), the editing (“Nonlinear Thinking”), and time (“Principles of Time, Memory & Language”), all the main elements (in addition to Adams) that make the film great.