Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writer: Eric Heisserer
Based on: Ted Chiang‘s short story Story of Your Life
Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma
Part of: Viennale
Seen on: 21.10.2016
Twelve alien spaceships appear all around earth. They don’t seem to do much, but may be trying to establish contact. To try and figure out their language, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is contacted and contracted. In a team together with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and others, and in cooperation with teams around the world, they try to figure out what the creatures could want – and if it’s peace or war they have in mind.
Arrival is the rare breed of science fiction that actually takes Science As It Is Properly Done Right Now seriously and obviously admires and respects it, which is absolutely refreshing as a lot of SciFi today feels mostly like militarized power fantasies with a bit of technobabble. For that alone, I had to like the film, but there are also the cinematography, the soundtrack and the characters to really make me love it.
Arrival is an exciting film, especially for somebody interested in linguistics (I actually was a linguistics student for a semester, so I’m counting myself towards that group) and scientists in general. What we get here is a pretty accurate representation of the scientific process as we understand it today. And that means: it takes time. Mistakes are plenty. Sometimes you need a jump of abductive logic to get somewhere, but then you’ll have to take pains to prove that the jump was in the right direction. And you’ll always have to keep in mind that what seems conclusive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true.
It doesn’t sound exciting, or like it was good TV, but Arrival manages to make it so regardless. Framing the science with beautiful images and a great soundtrack, adding really cool Aliens as well as timey-wimey stuff to the mix and putting it all on the shoulders of a great character in Louise with some nice supporting characters achieves what may sound impossible on paper to anybody who isn’t scientifically inclined.
The film isn’t flawless (what film is?). There should have been more women in it, and it could have left its US-centric perspective a little more. Personally, I also wasn’t a fan of the sweetly romantic ending and would have preferred a vastly less romantic version (and it was clear who the romantic interest was, so why treat that as a reveal?).
But even so, Arrival reminded me a lot of Embassytown, not only with its actually alien Aliens and its love for linguistics but also with the way it frames Science Fiction differently from what we’re usually getting nowadays.