Arrival; science-fiction / drama, USA, 2016; D: Denis Villeneuve, S: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
When 12 mysterious, black, oval spaceships appears all around the world, linguist Louise Banks is given an assignment by the US Army to go to Montana and try to figure out the speech of the aliens and ask them what they want. Together with physicist Ian, she and a couple of other crew members enter the spaceship and encounter the aliens that look like walking squids, yet their communication is aggravated since the creatures only use written signs in form of circles. Upon mistranslating that they "offer weapon", the Chinese army decides to attack the spacecraft if it doesn't leave, but by learning how to read the alien language, Louise also gains their perception of time - she can now see in the future and manages to prevent a strike by calling the general. The aliens say that they gave the people this power of seeing the future since they will need human help in 3,000 years. Louise has a vision of having a baby that will die from a terminal illness.
Denis Villeneuve's breakthrough film, "Arrival" is an untypical science-fiction film since it treats the alien encounter scenario from a different perspective: its point of convergence is actually the language barrier between the two civilizations, a some sort of "Lost in Translation" between humans and aliens, and it spends most of its time depicting how difficult it would be to find a common link with a more advanced and less advanced intelligence, since the aliens communicate only visually, with circular signs, which is incompatible with the human language that is based on speech. The first half an hour is excellent, portraying a wide array of circumstances on Earth if several alien spaceships landed, ranging from fear to panic; the long helicopter take of the oval, black spaceship just standing on the meadow while clouds from the mountain are descending beneath it causes awe, whereas the sole first entrance of the heroine Louise and other scientists into the spaceship, when they encounter the aliens that look like walking squids, is extremely suspenseful and intense. Unfortunately, the ending makes no sense — actually, once you think about it, you realize that it is so illogical that it retroactively undermines the whole story up to it.
*Spoilers* The concept of trying to figure out alien communication works up until it is revealed that they actually have the ability to see everything in the future, "Slaughterhouse-Five"-style — but in that case, they should have already knew how to talk to humans, since they would have already known all of this. Also, since the aliens are more technologically advanced, wouldn't it have been their burden to better articulate their language to the humans? Even worse, the story actually proposes that, once they could learn how to read the alien language, humans could also obtain the alien ability to see into the future (without any technology!), which is preposterous. Imagine a man who always falls on ice, but is amazed when he sees a Norwegian guy who can ice skate with perfection, like a professional. Once the man would learn how to speak Norwegian language, would he then also automatically become the best ice skater in the world? Of course not. Simply put, by learning a new language, people simply don't get supernatural powers. This is where the film, just like "Interstellar", traversed from a quality, serious science-fiction into a fairy tale, and such a disparity is a pity. *Spoilers end* Another complaint is that the storyline has a serious deficit of character development. All of the characters, from Ian up to the Colonel Weber, are just one-dimensional extras. Even the heroine is meagerly developed: how could the viewers describe Louise as a character? Except that she is a kind mother, there is not much else what can be said about her (dry and humorless) personality. Still, "Arrival" is interesting for symbolically talking about fatalism and free will, using the whole Sci-Fi story as an analogy for Louise's own personal coping with a tragedy and the ways to come with peace faced with it.